Over the weekend 1,700 students were locked down in their university accommodation at Manchester Metropolitan University. Other universities are rapidly trying to restrict students’ movements to slow Covid outbreaks. I am working to represent my constituents in these desperate situations, which are a direct result of government incompetence.
As the MP for Bristol West, many of my constituents are students at either the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England (UWE) – and at other universities across the country too. If they are confined to their accommodation, this raises serious concerns for their safety and mental health. For years there has been a surge in anxiety, stress, and depression at UK universities and confining students to their accommodation only threatens to make this worse.
None of the students starting at University would have expected their university years to go like this. For years they have been promised the best years of their life, full of learning, social events, and a chance to throw themselves in to new experiences. They are now being asked to put all of those promises aside and make huge sacrifices.
What makes this so frustrating is that this was completely avoidable. Anyone who has heard of, or indeed experienced, “freshers’ flu” knows about the health implications of bringing people from all over the country into close contact with each other over a short space of time. The government has had months to prepare for the new university term. By failing to introduce a working test and trace system they have plunged universities and students into an extremely difficult situation.
My colleague, Kate Green, MP the Shadow Education Secretary has written to the Education Secretary, setting out Labour’s view and giving him questions to answer. I am in contact with the Student Unions at both Bristol universities, as well as the universities themselves. I am also writing to the Tory government’s Education Secretary to raise concerns from Bristol. Watch this space.
I am also in contact with organisations representing Bristol’s famously vibrant nightlife. I want to know what they think will keep us safe at a time when students traditionally fill the bars and clubs.
Finally, in this unique freshers’ week, I would like to thank students for staying safe and for considering the safety of others when socialising. Most of all, I want to welcome all the new arrivals to Bristol and hope that you enjoy our fantastic city.