With the holiday season drawing closer, plans for safe student travel are beginning to get underway around the world.
In England, universities are set to start a rapid mass testing scheme as early as next week. Students will be allowed to return home during a six-day window if they test negative for COVID twice.
And as Thanksgiving weekend approaches in the US, a few universities have taken a similar approach to the UK government and rolled out a mass testing scheme.
But the main issue facing colleges is that tests are expensive. With the Trump administration taking a backseat role in tackling the pandemic, the Thanksgiving weekend could see high transmission of the virus resulting in a surge in cases a couple of weeks down the line - just before Christmas.
Here’s your weekly global higher education news roundup.
UK unis prepare for mass testing
Plans are ramping up for students across England to receive rapid COVID tests before returning home for the Christmas holidays.
Over 100 institutions have signed up to the government scheme, which will see students take two COVID tests, then travel within 24 hours after receiving a negative result.
However, testing will not be mandatory, and will not be offered at every university.
A government paper says that the universities that have signed up to the plan cover “the majority of students expected to travel home for Christmas.
“This will provide further reassurance that where students test negative, and self-isolate if they test positive, they can return home safely and minimise the risk of passing Covid-19 on to their loved ones.”
But some vice-chancellors have warned that universities will struggle to implement testing on the scale required. With some institutions starting testing as early as next week, it’s possible that the plan’s biggest problems have yet to come.
Students at the University of Manchester have won a 30% rent reduction for semester one after a fierce battle with University leaders.
Students had been occupying the currently vacant Owens Park tower for weeks in protest of their treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision by the University, who have come under tremendous pressure over the last few weeks, sets an interesting precedent for other rent strike groups at institutions across the country. There are also questions as to whether rent will be reduced for students in semester two.
Owens Park Tower is officially de-occupied after today’s victory 💥@OfficialUoM this ain’t over yet though. January Rentstrike is still going ahead, today proved the strength of solidarity can overcome greed and we’ll be fighting even harder for a victory in semester 2. pic.twitter.com/mZ1PUE7h12— UoM Rent strike (@rentstrikeUoM) November 25, 2020
After leaving the tower, UoM Rent Strike tweeted: “This ain’t over yet though. January rent strike is still going ahead, today proved the strength of solidarity can overcome greed and we’ll be fighting even harder for a victory in semester 2”.
And finally, 14 UK institutions have featured on the Global University Employability Ranking 2020, with Oxford and Cambridge taking the top two spots.
London-based universities Imperial College, King’s College, and the LSE took the third, fourth, and fifth places respectively, with the University of Manchester coming in sixth.
US brace for student travel on Thanksgiving weekend
Thousands of students are expected to move across the country this weekend as the US celebrates Thanksgiving, with potentially deadly consequences for the nation.
College campuses have been a hotspot for coronavirus around the world, and the US is no exception. Some colleges have launched mass testing schemes similar to the one promoted by the UK government. However, they are in the minority, largely because tests are expensive and the US government will not fund large testing drives.
However, for many students the trip home could be their last until the new year, with a large number of campuses moving fully online for the remainder of the semester.
Elsewhere, President-elect Joe Biden has given the first hint that one of his campaign promises - student loan debt forgiveness - will feature on his agenda once he takes office.
Speaking to reporters, he said the proposal of giving $10,000 debt relief to people adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic “does figure in my plan”.
However, the aid bill has been struggling to gain the support of Congress, and whether Biden will be able to keep his campaign pledges around student debt relief remains unclear, especially with Republicans retaining control of the Senate.
New Zealand PhD students face challenges despite COVID successes
Universities in New Zealand are facing fears that COVID-19 could be discouraging PhD students from staying and studying in the country.
Despite the country’s success in tackling the pandemic, there are still widespread lab closures and students are dealing with poor institutional support policies that could make academia “intolerable” for postgraduates, according to a paper from the New Zealand Centre of Research Excellence for Complex Systems.
Earlier this year, New Zealand announced that PhD candidates would be the first foriegn students allowed back into the country, which has maintained strict border controls in an attempt to stay on top of the pandemic.
However, this new paper suggests that even those who are allowed to return could see their hardships continue. Many PhD students are reliant on teaching assistant roles for income - roles that have dried up as teaching has shifted online.
With the prospect of vaccines waiting just around the corner, it is too early to tell whether students will abandon their PhDs. It does show, however, that even the countries who have dealt with the pandemic most effectively are still suffering from its effects.