Is it fair to blame university students for the spread of coronavirus?

By ITV Central Producer, Charlie Horner

A third year student at Nottingham University says most students have been responsible and being blamed for the spread of coronavirus is becoming increasingly "hard to swallow".

Blame culture and catching the virus

Speaking to ITV News Central via video diary Aiden McNamee says that the blame culture surrounding universities only adds to the stress and anxiety of a second national lockdown.

He says that most students he knows are following government guidelines as best as they can.

He adds: "we went back to work, we went back to university, we ate out to help out and it's all been for nothing."

Since the start of the term university students have been widely criticised for spreading coronavirus by not obeying social distancing rules.

Despite the pandemic, 'Freshers Weeks' across the region witnessed large crowds of students and Halloween also saw numerous parties disregarding the rule of six.

  • Footage from Ashley Kirk shows students enjoying Nottingham nightlife

Aiden acknowledges that there have been some who haven't been adhering to the restrictions but he says from his experience most students have been responsible.

He adds that it's a "really difficult and anxious time" for young people and he hopes for "more clarity going forward."

Speaking about catching coronavirus Aiden says that students have had to deal with the brunt of the infection.

He tells us that most people he knows at university have contracted the virus or have had to self isolate because someone they know has had it.

He says this isn't because they are breaking the rules and being "party animals", which people are quick to suggest, but instead because of their living situations.

Aiden describes how students normally live in "crowded university halls" or in shared houses with between 6 and 12 other people.

Speaking about the spread of coronavirus he adds: "It's because 65,000 students across both Universities have come from all over the country and converged on one city. It's difficult to swallow when people say it's on us."

What has university teaching being like?

Aiden describes the student experience in Nottingham during coronavirus as "nothing short of shambolic."

He says he was disappointed to have completed the first two months of the academic year without setting foot on campus after in-person teaching took a long time to materialise.

Now some face to face teaching has resumed Aiden says it's a "double standard" that he's allowed to attend a seminar or a lecture in a room with "a bunch of other students" but as soon as they leave that room mixing is against the law.

He also says that he believes face to face teaching has only resumed because without any on campus teaching universities would not be able to justify a full tuition fee.

What will the second lockdown be like for students?

Nottingham has been under strict restrictions for some time and Aiden says he's used to "not being able to go about normal daily life", so the second lockdown won't feel too drastic.

Universities UK is encouraging students to stay in their university accommodation and continue a mix of in person teaching and online classes throughout the lockdown.

However, Aiden points out that the last lockdown in March saw a mass exodus of students travel from their universities back to their homes and the same could happen again.

He says: "It spread people around the country - even around the globe - and I wouldn't be surprised to hear a similar thing again. There's a lot of anxiety surrounding it."

Aiden says his main concern is the lockdown being extended which could result in him being stuck at university and separated from his family for months.

The National Union of Students says if students want to return home for the lockdown - where they have extra support from family- then they should have the choice to safely do so.

What other things are causing stress for students?

Financial worries

And if the stress of studying, catching coronavirus and being separated from family during the national lockdown wasn't enough, Adam points out that financial worries are also increasing among the student population.

He says that lots of students often find part time work on zero-hour contracts or on minimum wage, such as in the hospitality sector.

He says the second lockdown means hundreds of students will be struggling to pay their rent and utility bills.

He says this is made worse by the fact that some students will have decided to leave their student accommodation for the lockdown, meaning they're paying for somewhere they're not actually staying.

Missed opportunities

Aiden points out that many students have had years abroad and work placements cancelled.

He says this is frustrating as they can't be postponed and it feels like missed opportunities.

It's led to anxiety for the future as many student's post university job prospects rely on placements and experience.

There's a lot of discussion surrounding whether students should be allowed to go home for Christmas this year Credit: PA

Will students be able to return home at Christmas?

The government in England says students will be able to return home for Christmas in December.

It's unclear how the mass movement of students around this time will be managed as it will mean numerous people moving between places with different levels of infection rates.

The government's scientific advisers say they are concerned about the potential spread of the virus as students move around during the Christmas break.

What does the university say?

A University of Nottingham spokesperson said: "Feedback from our student community has been very positive on how the University is supporting their education, mental health and wellbeing during this global pandemic. We have provided additional financial, social and mental health support where it is needed, and will continue to adapt our approach to meet any new challenges.

"While we await further details on the national lockdown, the Higher Education Minister has already confirmed that in-person teaching will continue and that students should only return home at the end of term. The University is planning to use our in-house COVID testing service to test students so that they can travel home safely for the Christmas break and back again in January.

"Active cases of COVID-19 at the University have reduced by more than 90% since October, to leave a total of 117 active cases from a population of 45,000 staff and students."

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