Students were promised face-to-face teaching, but as soon as their fees and rents were secured, institutions turned their backs on them
The outbreaks of coronavirus as students return to universities were not just predictable: they were predicted. In August, the Independent Sage group of scientists called on universities to make online teaching the “default option”. The main lecturers’ union, UCU, echoed this call. Even not-so-independent Sage (the official body that advises the government) warned in early September that “significant outbreaks” associated with universities were “highly likely”, hinting at the prospect of local lockdowns to prevent students from returning home for Christmas.
To blame the outbreaks on illicit or ill-advised partying by students is to miss the point. Any policy that relies on perfect compliance by imperfect human beings is flawed. But even an outbreak of monkish self-restraint among the nation’s undergraduates would not make a return to face-to-face teaching safe. The problem is not human fallibility, but the nature of the virus itself.