Sanwar Ali comment:
The situation is continuing to evolve. Recently schools throughout the UK have closed. This is yet to happen to Universities. However, increasingly face to face teaching will be replaced by online teaching methods. Nobody knows for sure how long the Coronavirus Pandemic will last. Things may not be back to normal for a long time.
UK visas and Immigration at the Home Office has confirmed that international students will not have their Tier 4 study visas revoked should they self-isolate amid the coronavirus outbreak. The Tier 4 visa programme includes strict attendance rules and many international students in the UK fear having their study visas revoked by failing to attend classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, a group of 100 international students sent the Home Office a petition, expressing concern over having their Tier 4 visas cancelled while self-isolating because of the strict rules attached to the conditions of the UK study visa.
However, in an official statement on the UK government website, the Home Office moved to reassure international students that measures had been put in place in February regarding visas and attendance.
The statement said: “Decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies are for sponsors to make. The Home Office will not take any compliance action against students who are unable to attend their studies due to the coronavirus outbreak.”
UK Council for International Student Affairs
Prior to the Home Office statement, the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) received 37 calls from international students concerned about the coronavirus and their UK visa status should they decide to self-isolate.
The petition sent to the Home Office by international students urged the government to allow educational institutions to video record classes and consider a student’s online attendance as equal to physical attendance.
It’s understood that the London School of Economics (LSE) plans to move all teaching for its undergraduate and postgraduate students online later this month, becoming the first UK university to do so.
Possibility of a complete shutdown of UK Universities
A number of UK higher education leaders fear a complete shutdown of educational institutions, should the COVID-19 outbreak worsen.
A vice chancellor of a Russell Group university, who did not give their name, said that a total shutdown of their institution would be impossible because it would leave students with nowhere to go.
The anonymous vice chancellor said: “We couldn’t fully close. What do you do with thousands of international students who can’t go home?”
They went on to say that the university would provide free accommodation for stranded international students, even if the government force them to shutdown.
International Tier 4 visa students worried about abuse
Amid the coronavirus outbreak, many international students – especially those from Asian nations such as China – worry about wearing surgical masks in public over fears that they will be targeted for abuse.
The wearing of surgical masks in Asian countries to protect against the spread of respiratory illnesses, is commonplace.
An undergraduate student from Malaysia, studying accounting and financing in Manchester, told Manchester’s International Society: “I have heard a few cases of Asian students being attacked. One of the cases involved someone I knew from the University of Manchester.
“It is worrying that these attackers target Asians… and it also shows the lack of public education of the situation now in the UK about the cause of the spread of the virus.”
University lectures should continue
University student unions across the UK have indicated that they are keen for university lectures to continue as normal, where possible, unless government advice specifies otherwise.
Exchange student Hina, from Japan, is studying at the University of Manchester and only has a couple of months remaining in the UK. She wants to complete her studies as soon as possible and hopes lectures and tutorials will continue as normal.
However, she acknowledged that some of her university friends are not so keen to attend lectures where lots of people are gathered.
In the UK, 1,543 cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed, with 55 fatalities.
UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is holding daily televised updates to keep the UK public informed of the COVID-19 situation.
In his most recent televised update, the UK Prime Minister urged the British public to ‘avoid all unnecessary travel and social contact.’
‘All employees should work from home, while people aged 70 and over, along with pregnant women, should avoid social contact,’ Johnson said.
However, Johnson’s instructions have left many people baffled as to why universities and schools remain open.
Teachers have demanded an explanation from Johnson, who has stated that the closure of schools, colleges and universities would do ‘more harm than good.’
A letter to Mr Johnson from the National Education Union (NEU), said: “We all want to limit and delay the spread of the coronavirus and we do think medical advice and expert scientific advice is important in this regard. But it is clear that such advice can have uncertainties, and that it could be crafted to target a variety of measures.”
The letter continued: “We now see that you may take legal powers to force schools to remain open even when heads and teachers think there is good reason to close.
“In those circumstances we, as the leaders of the largest education union, believe that it is right for us to ask you for fuller disclosure of the models you have looked at, and to understand which measures you are targeting.”
Meanwhile, government ministers have warned that the closure of educational institutions would wipe 3% from UK GDP, as pressure builds on Johnson to follow suit with other countries and close schools.
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