This week has seen UK universities ramp up their approach to tackling COVID-19, as two institutions become the first to trial rapid testing trials on campus.
Elsewhere, students in the US have had to go to great lengths to ensure their vote gets counted in Tuesday’s 2020 presidential election, as universities there begin to shift all teaching online for the end of the semester.
Here’s the week in global higher education news.
Two UK universities have begun to trial rapid coronavirus testing programmes, which could play a key role in allowing students to travel home this Christmas.
De Montfort University and Durham University are running pilot testing schemes, attempting to reach those who might be infectious but have no symptoms, as well as those displaying clear signs of the virus.
The government has yet to announce a formal plan for helping students get home for the holidays, but current proposals include forcing students to isolate in halls for the last two weeks of term and moving all teaching online, so they cannot be infectious when they travel.
In other UK COVID-19 news, academics from the UK’s largest lecturers Union, the University and College Union (UCU), is seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision to tell students to return to university, which ignored advice from Sage to move all teaching online.
The UCU are arguing that the decision to reopen universities for the new academic year was “unlawful”, and hopes that its legal action will encourage the government to follow Sage’s recommendations about safety on campus next term.
And finally, the Office for Students (OfS) is looking into regulatory requirements around international students considering the large role they play in the UK higher education sector.
The OfS is the independent regulator of Higher Education in England, and works to ensure that every student has a “fulfilling experience of higher education”. Its chief executive Nicola Dandridge has recognised challenges that international students in particular have faced recently, including being asked to isolate for two weeks upon arrival in the UK, and said that the organisation was looking at their circumstances “closely”.
Three colleges in the US this week have announced that they will be finishing the semester fully online. The institutions all cited a rise in COVID-19 cases on campus as their reason for ending face-to-face teaching until the new year, with the President of Bethune-Cookman, one of the affected colleges, encouraging students to "expedite their planned departure from campus beginning this week," with those remaining on campus placed under a shelter-in-place order and a curfew.
And as election day approaches, students are struggling to find clarity in whether they can still vote, even if they are in isolation or studying remotely.
Students in states such as Tennessee, where first time voters are mandated to vote in person, have always faced struggles getting to their nearest polling station, which is sometimes as far as three or four hours away. But this year, students are facing a whole new host of pandemic-related challenges on their quest to vote.
Groups such as the Voter Protection Corps are working to ensure that college students know their rights around voting, and importantly, know how they can vote in Tuesday’s election, no matter their situation.
According to Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, five million 18- to 29-year-olds have already voted this year, and in 13 battleground states, the number of those who have already voted about a week before the election is already greater than the number who voted early in the 2016 election.
Universities in New Zealand have begun to reach out to international PhD students to gauge their interest in returning to the country within the coming weeks.
The government has made plans to allow 250 PhD and postgraduate students back into the country, but are finding some resistance from those who are concerned about the costs of returning.
Students are nervous about the potential of picking up COVID-19 during their journey, as well as the return flights, which are considerably more expensive than usual, and isolation fee upon arrival.
All this suggests that New Zealand’s slow reopening of its higher education sector to international students might be a little more complex than simply letting them back in - students themselves have to want to return. And whilst some will certainly welcome the opportunity to return to the place of their studies, others have indicated that they are perfectly happy to work remotely for the foreseeable future.