Much hope is being placed on students from coronavirus hotspots such as India being able to start their courses in a country like the United Kingdom this autumn.

At the moment incoming travellers from so-called “red list” countries must quarantine after arrival in the UK at government-approved hotels, often near major airports, for ten days at a cost of £1,750.

But some universities and student housing providers think it would be better – and cheaper – to quarantine them on campus, where presumably students from “amber” list countries, which include China at the moment for the UK, will serve their quarantine.

With many foreign students hoping to enrol in key study abroad destinations, such as Australia and the UK, coming from “red list” countries and limited hotel capacity near airports, it would seem to make sense for students to “self-quarantine” on or near their universities where they can receive IT and other support.

That’s providing the accommodation is suitable and can be made secure enough to prevent “mingling” between those in quarantine and other students and staff.

Vaccinate students at the same time

And just a thought, but why not also vaccinate all incoming unvaccinated students against COVID-19 during quarantine, preferably with the one jab version, to help minimise a repeat of last year’s campus outbreaks of the coronavirus in bit city universities like those in Manchester and Newcastle?

Image:Times of India

If older teenagers are already being offered the jab in some areas, with the likelihood that the Pfizer vaccine being available for 12-15 year-olds before the start of the new school year, it would make sense to vaccinate entire student populations, especially as students often live, study and play together 24/7.

This year international students are much more aware of the risks involved in committing themselves and their families to paying out large amounts of money upfront for tuition fees, travel and accommodation in an uncertain world as regards Covid-related restrictions.

Helping with the cost of the quarantine

This has led some universities to offer to help with the extra expenses of quarantining for ten days. The PIE News recently reported various support packages being explored, with Salford University talking about making a contribution to quarantine costs of around £750, while others like Portsmouth’s deputy VC (global engagement Chris Ghang have argued that universities have experience of using their accommodation during previous lockdowns and pointing out that international students need to feel welcome and not stuck away “in some sort of hotel without any facilities”.

Vincenzo Raimo, chief relationship officer at Unilodgers, a specialist student housing search platform used by five million students from 177 countries every year, told me their website allows students to search for accommodation with either free cancellation or change of date if the student is unable to travel because of Covid restrictions and to find student accommodation offering free self-quarantine.

Vincenzo Raimo from Unilodgers

He was talking to me for a University World News story on students hedging their country bets about where to study abroad and that agents were advising them not to commit themselves on which country to study in until later this summer to see how Covid restrictions play out. 

Vincenzo points out that as students often enter into accommodation contacts for 41 weeks or more, the option to cancel or change dates might work out a better deal for globe-trotting students than having financial help with paying for quarantine. 

And let’s hope we have learned some lessons from last year’s Covid chaos that coincided with the start of the new academic year when many universities were unsure whether to open their campuses or continue teaching online.

At the time I complained about the mixed messaging coming from higher education institutions and governments.

surely universities and government organisations won’t repeat the shambles which saw students paying for accommodation they couldn’t use or when they could turn up on campus being “confined to barracks” and told to stay in their rooms and learn online.

I also remember taking part in one Zoom meeting of the independent SAGE group in the UK before the 2020-21 academic year started and being told by Professor Stephen Reicher from the University of St Andrews that it was important to throw “wrap-around” support among those forced to self-isolate.

The assumption was clear that the international students would do the self-isolating near the university and not in some far-way featureless airport hotel!

So, if the universities and purpose-build student accommodation (PBSA) providers can guarantee all the health and safety issues plus security issues, why not quarantine students close to the campus where IT-support and food and medical facilities can more easily be provided.

Be far better for the students to look out of the window and see their university campus rather than just watching the occasional plane lift-off or land.

There is also the important issue to consider that if international travel does start opening at the same time as students start arriving in their tens of thousands from India or any other country on the red list, will the government approved hotels have the capacity to cope with everyone needing to quarantine at the same time?

All this needs a bit more thought from a government that seems to delight in leaving decisions about handling the impact of COVID-19 to the last moment. But at least universities are thinking the implication!

Recommended further reading

Providers push for UK quarantine alternatives amid capacity concerns The PIE News, 4 June 2021

International students are ‘hedging’ their country options University World News, 3 June 2021

Vaccinations for students going abroad scuppered by shortages University World News report from India,  3 June 2021

Mixed messages about reopening campuses safely DelaCour Communications blog, 29 July 2020

Foreign students need ‘wrap around’ quarantine support University World News, 25 August 2020

UKCISA Coronavirus info for international students

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