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Students support caution as universities plan return for new academic year

5 August 2020

Research* released today by UCU shows strong student support for a cautious return as universities plan for the new academic year.

Well over two thirds (71%) of student applicants said that social distancing was important to them, including social distancing on campus.

The study comes at a time when the Scottish government has confirmed that universities must adhere to the two metre social distancing rule on campuses for the time being. The union said that the confirmation of the two metre rule chimes with the 'safety first' approach that students and staff want.

In June the union published five tests it said were necessary before staff and students could safely return to working on university campuses.

The five tests proposed by UCU Scotland are:

  • test 1: sustained reduction in numbers of Covid-19 cases and infection rates
  • test 2: coherent planning for social distancing
  • test 3: comprehensive testing and contact tracing
  • test 4: university-wide strategies for safe returns and continuing health, safety and wellbeing
  • test 5: protection for the vulnerable.

The union polled student applicants and asked how important they judged each of UCU's five tests and asked them to rate them. The results show huge support for each of the tests, including social distancing, and showed that students want to know that their return to campus will be safe.

Over three quarters of students (76%) said it was important to them that universities had campus wide strategies for safe returns to university life including the provision of protective personal equipment such as face masks. The same number (76%) of student applicants argued that it was either quite or very important that new cases are low and falling.

Three quarters of applicants (75%) thought that universities needed to have measures in place to protect both students and staff who are either themselves vulnerable to Covid19 or live with those who are.

All five of UCU's five tests were well supported with support ranging from 76% at the highest to 69% support for test and tracing at the lower end.

Mary Senior, Scotland official, UCU, said: 'Staff and students will welcome the Minister's confirmation that the two metre rule for social distancing will apply in university campuses, given the priority on health and safety. We all want students to be back on campus, mixing and enjoying the full university experience, but it important that this only happens when it safe to do so. With some areas of England being forced back into lockdown, the last thing that we want is for the new academic term to lead to outbreaks in Scotland and for the health of staff and students to be put at risk.

'Thankfully our research shows that students themselves support a cautious approach. The Scottish government is right to keep all measures under review but weakening the rules on social distancing is not a step they should be considering right now.'

*462 university applicants either living in Scotland and/or applying to Scottish universities were questioned between 8 and 15 June 2020 by research company Progressive. The question and breakdown of responses is available here.

Last updated: 5 August 2020