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UCU response to HEPI student views poll

3 December 2020

UCU has today raised deep concerns that as students start to return home during the government's Christmas 'travel window', a third of students don't understand the latest guidance and over half (54%) are concerned about returning in January.

UCU was responding to research released by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) which outlined student views on the impact of the current pandemic on their higher education experience. 

The union said it had been warning for months that the mass movement of students could lead to further avoidable spikes in infections. It said that the government needed to learn the lessons from this term and work urgently to ensure all students properly understand how its guidance applies to them.  

UCU said that despite the challenges of moving learning online, the findings show that students appreciate the hard work of staff and the quality of the teaching on offer. 

The survey also highlights a worrying downward trend in students' mental health. UCU said that it is crucial that the government steps up to the plate on this issue and work with universities to address the root causes of this. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is deeply concerning that so many students remain unclear about the latest government guidance on travelling home for Christmas and plans for a return in January. UCU has warned that mass movement of students will lead to spikes in infection, and this will only be exacerbated if measures to make travelling safer are poorly communicated. 

'The gap between students' expectations and the reality of life on campus during the pandemic is also worrying.  Students were promised an in-person teaching experience to convince them to return to campus this term, only to yo-yo in and out of isolation once they arrived. They now need honesty and clarity about what to expect next term to avoid further disappointment. With students reporting increasing levels of satisfaction with online learning, it's clear that the work of staff is not the issue here. 

'The decline in student mental health revealed by this survey should not come as a surprise and it urgently needs to be addressed. We need to see investment and planning by the government and university leaders that takes account of the extraordinary pressures and stresses of the current academic year. This includes extra funding for counselling services and support for students who wish to cancel accommodation contracts. This term's mistakes must not be repeated.' 

Last updated: 2 December 2020