While most universities’ teaching remains online until 8th March, together with schools across England, the process of getting back to the UK seems to be getting more complicated each and every day.
New government policy, set to launch 15th February, requires all arriving passengers to the UK to take two coronavirus tests while quarantining in an attempt to prevent variants entering the country. Arrivals will be required to get a test on days two and eight of their 10-day quarantine period, in addition to current rules which require travellers arriving in the UK to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test to be allowed entry that must be taken in the 72 hours before travelling. Anyone failing to show proof of test faces a fine of up to £500.
In addition to new regulations requiring two tests upon arrival, passengers arriving from ‘red list’ countries will be denied entry, unless they are British nationals or residents in the UK. UK nationals and residents arriving from one of 33 countries on the list will have to quarantine in hotels for 10 nights, with security guards accompanying if they go outside. Passengers will also be expected to pay for the cost of the accommodation which was previously estimated at £80 per night.
The Telegraph reports the government will pay an estimated £55m bill for the rooms upfront, then attempt to recoup the cost from arrivals. Hotels will be asked to provide three meals a day for quarantined travellers, as well as tea, coffee, fruit and water, and to launder up to seven items.
While countries listed on the red list include most of South America, southern Africa and UAE, one European country also found its place on the list – Portugal.
The question remains – if teaching starts returning gradually to campuses and face-to-face, how many students arriving from ‘red list’ countries will be able to afford that return?
With the cost of PCR test in the UK being around £150, and students arriving in the UK having to present one upon arrival, together with £800 hotel cost and airline ticket – students face nearly £2000 cost of going back to the UK to finish their term 2 studies. Latest information says people who need hotel quarantine will need to pay £1,750 per individual for the hotel, transport and testing. People who arrive and fail to take a test will be subject to a £1,000 fine, and a £2,000 fine if they fail to take a second test, while people who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel could be fined £10,000.
The hotel booking system will go live on Thursday when the government will also publish the full detailed guidance.
“With most exams being delivered remotely, that means many of England’s 1.3 million undergraduates will not have any reason to return in person.
Some institutions, such as the London School of Economics, have already said students will be taught remotely for the rest of the academic year, but Donelan said the government ‘will be giving them the option to alter those plans’”. – The Guardian
While Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The priority right now must be to keep as much teaching as possible online for the rest of the academic year, and putting staff and student safety first.” – it is expected that most universities will get to decide which courses and teaching remain online and which go in person from March.
In addition to uncertainty when and if students will be required to return to the UK to continue their in-person courses, many students are expected to spend a specific amount of time in the UK due to their visa/settlement requirements.
In practice, EU students with pre-settled status are expected to spend at least 6 months in the UK in any 365-day period in order to be able to apply for settled status once eligible. Equally, Tier4 visa students are obliged to enter the UK within one month after receiving their visa, with some grace-period granted now due to Coronavirus.
With these tremendous costs of going back to the UK, are all students arriving from one of those 33 ‘red list’ countries able to afford that? What happens if they are not?
Ministers and universities seem intent on reopening campuses due to financial pressures, such as rent strike which is still active in some universities, but top priority at this point is to protect both students and staff, especially if their courses don’t specifically require in-person teaching, which is the case with laboratory-based courses, nursing, teaching and social work.