North-east universities have reassured students and staff that campuses will be safe for their return, after experts warned academic facilities could become ground zero for a second wave of Covid-19.
The movement of an expected one million students around Britain as they return to universities in the next month has led the University and College Union (UCU) to warn the government it is “encouraging a public health crisis”.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the mass movement “could lead to universities being the care homes of any second wave of Covid”.
She also accused the Government of a lack of planning, with more students expected on campuses following the admissions fiasco as data emerges that infection rates are increasing among younger people.
“So the very people who are increasingly getting infected by this virus are being encouraged in mass numbers to move all around the country and congregate and live together,” Ms Grady said.
“It doesn’t make sense.”
— UCU (@ucu) August 30, 2020
The UCU wants students to avoid campuses until Christmas unless a testing scheme begins operating at universities.
It comes after a group of scientists recommended universities test all students and staff for coronavirus as they arrive on campus and avoid face-to-face teaching.
Independent Sage reported on August 21 that all courses should be offered online – apart from those which are lab or practice-based – as in-person teaching carries a higher risk of virus transmission.
The group also recommended socialising among students should be restricted to “residential bubbles” in the first few weeks to prevent infection.
Bosses at Aberdeen University and Robert Gordon University have said facilities are now safe and ready for students.
An Aberdeen University spokesperson said: “The university’s campus planning group is dedicated to facilitating a return to campus following the guidance for universities and colleges in the Scottish Government’s route map.
“The health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and students, as well as our wider community, is our key priority and our return to campus is being managed in such a way to ensure that we adhere to public health guidelines and protect our community.
“We are looking at all our teaching and study spaces to determine what is safe and possible to support physical distancing requirements and taking all steps necessary to ensure the safety of students and staff. This includes robust hygiene measures such as providing face coverings and hand sanitiser at key locations and increased cleaning of touchpoints.”
The university did acknowledged that some things, such as large lectures or large group session, “will not be possible” while social distancing is still in place – large group exercises will instead be held online.
We are not doing this to spoil anybody’s fun, we are doing this because we want everybody to be safe. Government & universities need to institute regular universal testing. In the absence of that it is irresponsible to encourage mass migration into university towns.
— Jo Grady (@DrJoGrady) August 30, 2020
The spokesperson added: “We will be ensuring that all new and returning students understand the Scottish Government guidance in the context of Covid-19.
“We are asking new residents not to have visitors in their student accommodation and are also asking that students ensure they understand their personal responsibilities to comply with Scottish Government guidance.
“Student accommodation, shared study and social spaces will be open from September 19, with physical distancing and enhanced hygiene measures in place. Staggered move in dates and times along with check-in points around the site will help ensure minimum contact when checking in.”
A spokesperson for Robert Gordon University (RGU) added: “The safety and wellbeing of our community is of paramount importance. It has remained our top priority as we have been preparing to welcome students for the start of semester which will offer a safe, enjoyable and high-quality learning experience.
“We have made adjustments to our operations and have prepared our campus with a full range of public health measures to ensure the safety of our students, staff and the wider community.”