Coronavirus: Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden defends students’ university return

A sign saying "help us, send beer" at Murano Street Student Village in Glasgow, where Glasgow University students are being tested at a pop up test centre. Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Hundreds of students are isolating in university accommodation including at Glasgow University

The culture secretary has defended students going back to university in England saying there were “clear guidelines” on coronavirus in place.

Oliver Dowden told the Andrew Marr show it was important students did not “give up a year of their life” by not going.

Labour has called on the government to consider pausing the return after Covid outbreaks meant thousands of students had to isolate in their accommodation.

A scientist who advises the government said the situation was “inevitable”.

Mr Dowden said: “Young people have paid a huge price during this crisis and I think it is only fair to try and get them back – we have got clear guidelines for them to follow.”

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Media captionOliver Dowden: “They are going to university and paying the fees accordingly”.

Prof Mark Woolhouse, who sits on the government’s pandemic modelling group SPI-M, said the situation was “entirely predictable” and had been modelled.

He said students were not to blame for the outbreaks and with students converging from around the country it was “inevitable there would be some spread”.

Modelling showed the risk areas were first year halls of residence and face-to-face teaching, he said.

Students have been told to isolate in their accommodation at several universities in England and Scotland, including at Manchester Metropolitan University – where students say they are being prevented from leaving by security guards and police.

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Media captionDavid Lammy MP: “The government is now threatening to lock them up at university”

Mr Dowden said the experience was “not as it would be” due to the crisis but that students should still pay tuition fees as they were receiving it.

Asked by Andrew Marr if students should get their fees back, Mr Lammy said: “Look it’s clear that there are actually lots of universities struggling financially so there’s a balance here to be struck. Many of us have gone online, the key now is to get students online successfully and for them to have face-to-face [tuition] where it is safe to do so.”

He called for Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to make a statement to the House of Commons on Monday.

Labour shadow education secretary Kate Green told BBC Breakfast the government should consider pausing the start of term while an “effective, efficient testing system” was put in place, with students given a choice of learning from home if they felt safer there.

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