Weekly news roundup: English unis remain open as the country enters its second lockdown, and the US holds its breath in knife-edge election

By Nicole Wootton-Cane• Last updated: Jan 30, 2024
Weekly news roundup: English unis remain open as the country enters its second lockdown, and the US holds its breath in knife-edge election
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The US presidential election has dominated the headlines this week, with Joe Biden’s path to the White House currently looking more viable than Donald Trump’s. That’ll come as a relief to international students and academics in the US, who overwhelmingly favour Biden over his Republican opponent - not least because of Trump’s anti-immigration policies.

Elsewhere, England has entered its second lockdown, with universities and schools staying open this time. However, tensions between students and universities have been mounting, and many students are showing frustrations at their treatment either by leaving university and heading home, or protesting on campus.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

England enters new lockdown as students show frustration

This week saw England re-enter a nationwide lockdown, but with one key difference for higher education - universities are allowed to stay open. Students have been told to stay put instead of risking bringing the virus home with them, but some are choosing to leave anyway, worried that they’ll see a repeat of the COVID outbreaks that spread across campus in September. 

But tensions are high, and student discontent with the way that universities have dealt with the crisis is beginning to bubble to the surface. At the University of Manchester, students tore down fences erected around their accommodation on Thursday night in protest.

The University’s vice-chancellor Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell issued an apology, saying that the fencing “was intended as a response to a number of concerns received over recent weeks from staff and students...about safety and security,” and that there was never any intention to prevent students from entering or leaving the site. 

But the protests reflect wider student discontent across the country, with various rent strikes and protest groups springing up in cities like Bristol, Newcastle, and Manchester. 

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady tweeted that she had “so much respect for students,” and that they had been “utterly failed by politicians”. 

Close presidential election has big consequences for US higher education

Americans and international students studying in America alike are holding their breath as the country’s presidential election remains on a knife-edge.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden is currently leading incumbent Donald Trump in key battleground states like Georgia and Arizona, although both candidates could still realistically pave a path to the White House. 

However, international students will likely be hoping that Biden can clinch the victory, as Donald Trump’s anti-immigration stance has posed challenges for them over the last four years.

In fact, a recent online poll by Erudera College News, shows that as many as 71.1% of international students in the US favour Biden over Trump. Trump’s previous policies restricting international students’ prospects in the country can help explain this, as well as Trump’s lack of interest in funding academic programmes and research.

Also in the US, there are fears that a lack of regular testing on college campuses will trigger a spread of coronavirus cases as students return home for their winter break.

College campuses became hotbeds for the spread of infection earlier this year when students returned for the autumn term, and there are fears that students could once again become ‘superspreaders’ if they bring the virus home with them at Christmas. 

Similarly to proposals put forward in the UK, campuses without testing capabilities have been told to consider only teaching online for the final two weeks of term, allowing students to isolate themselves before travelling home. 

Canadian universities face delays in welcoming back overseas students

Canadian universities are experiencing frustration over delays over being added to the government’s list of approved institutions for international students.

A number of universities who have completed ‘COVID readiness plans’ that outline the measures they have in place to protect against the spread of the virus are reporting that there are government delays in reviewing these plans.

This, in turn, is resulting in frustrating waiting times for international students, who are anxiously awaiting information about whether they will be able to return to their learning institution and resume or start their studies in Canada. 

Speaking to PIE news, CultureWorks founder Tina Bax said that a lot of work was going into solving the issue.

“Everybody wants schools to be open. We all know that this will end at some point, but I believe they are doing everything they can and then some.”

“It’s a massive job. Imagine going through a 40 page report and then you have to decide is it accurate? Is it thorough? Is it true? And then they have to send it to the health units.”

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