The Guardian view on universities: test, trace and teach | Editorial

Terms have barely begun and already students are locked down. They, and their lecturers, deserve better

That a second wave of coronavirus infections would cause further illness and death, and disrupt social and economic life, was predictable and predicted. In the UK, and other European countries including France and Spain, that second wave arrived sooner than expected. But while the timing was uncertain, it was widely known that the start of the new academic year at thousands of UK schools, and more than 130 universities and degree-awarding colleges, would bring new risks. Large numbers of children and young adults, along with teachers and other staff, have begun to mix with each other after many months spent (mostly) at home and in small family units.

So it is hugely disappointing that robust and tailored testing and tracing arrangements for schools and universities are still not in place, except where a handful of institutions (including two of the wealthiest in the country: Eton and Cambridge) have done this themselves. Having rightly decided that reopening schools in September should be their top priority, and also reached the more questionable conclusion that students should take up higher-education places as planned, it was incumbent upon ministers to make these settings as safe as possible. It is difficult to understand how they and their officials, in Scotland as well as Westminster, failed to plan more effectively for the chaotic situation that is now unfolding, with students bombarded with mixed messages after outbreaks at universities including Manchester Metropolitan and Glasgow.

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