As the 2021/22 academic season looms, the ‘clear capacity problem’ of 100,000 red list international students requiring entry into the UK between the summer and mid-October is concerning with limited possible solutions. Here, Trish D’Souza and Stephanie Pugh explore the options available to better accommodate red list students.
The current guidelines, launched in February 2021, require 10 full days of isolation in a managed quarantine hotel after entering the UK from a red-list country in the 10 days previous. However, with a maximum of only 28,000 rooms available in London in February, and likely many fewer available as UK lockdown restrictions ease, the capacity crisis is clear. In addition, the student must also bear the cost of the scheme, at roughly £1,750 for the 10 days, and with only 17 of the 130 UK universities offering financial assistance.
Whilst Mr Bloomfied, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Students and Labour MP, agrees the movement of international students into the UK’s education system is hugely positive, there is still the possibility that an influx may ‘overwhelm the quarantine system.’
It has been suggested that university halls of residence should be added to the UK government’s list of managed quarantine accommodation. Two unnamed Scottish Universities are said to be piloting a scheme of this kind. A Universities Scotland spokesperson indicated for the pilot to be considered a success, the university will need to prove they can (1) meet the same public health protection arrangements as managed hotels on the government safe list and (2) offer robust and appropriate wellbeing support measures to students undertaking the 10-day quarantine, something commercial hotels aren’t likely to provide.
Although this solution may ease the capacity pressure of returning/arriving red-list international students, there are significant logistical hurdles for universities to overcome.
Current guidance states you can only quarantine with the group you travelled with, and as international students often travel alone, this could mean the capacity is a lot less. One quarantining student is likely to require exclusive access to the accommodations’ communal facilities (ie. shared bathrooms) in order to protect all students.
For universities to have the capacity to house all home and international students, international students would have to arrive significantly before the beginning of the academic year, likely early September, to complete their quarantine, freeing accommodation spaces. Depending on the dates of travel, this deadline could be exceeded which means there is a delay in students accessing their designated accommodation from the start of term.
Other logistical issues that universities may face include establishing who has the responsibility for the health and safety of the students during isolation on campus, who is responsible for ensuring the students comply with the coronavirus and quarantine guidance.
If such a system did prove to be logistically possible, there is still the worry from universities and students that using the accommodation as red-list quarantine destinations could lead to a spike in on-campus infections, especially ‘foreign’ variants of COVID-19. This comes at a time where many HEIs were hoping to increase the amount of ‘traditional’ in-person contact time for certain students during the next academic year.
There is also the concern as to whether the provision of quarantine accommodation falls within or outside the terms of the contractual relationship with students such that any failure to provide adequate accommodation could be justifiably challenged.
The quarantine destination for students must be safe and secure. This requires transport from the airport to the quarantine destination and suitably qualified health professionals to monitor during travel and university staff to monitor students in isolation. However, for this to be viable, the government will need to consider changing the current guidelines on travel distance and potential cost of an isolation destination. Together with the already short supply of healthcare professionals across the health service, will clearly have an impact.
If you require further advice on the legal issues arising from offering isolation accommodation, or you’re an education provider wanting to discuss your options, please contact Trish D’Souza.