Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
On the 11th of November, the Government announced that students would be allocated departure dates to leave university and go home for the Christmas break. This ‘student travel window’ is supposed to fall between the 3rd and 9th of December, just as the national lockdown lifts and the tier system returns. Here’s my take on why this policy is going to negatively impact a lot of students, myself included.
As exit strategies go, I don’t know what I was expecting from a government that is still working out how to deliver Brexit after four years. Throughout this semester I’ve had a growing sense of dread about the prospect of students going back for the holidays, for the same reason that I was apprehensive about coming back to uni in the first place: the movement of millions of people across the country is not something that should be encouraged in the middle of a pandemic. It’s a bad idea. The outbreaks of Covid on campuses are something which was as inevitable as it is frustrating. Seeing it happen again in reverse as multiple households gather for Christmas (another inspired ‘concession’ from the government) is not something I’m looking forward to.
Then what happens in January? We know that cases will soar over Christmas. It’s inevitable. We shouldn’t have household mixing over Christmas but the Prime Minister refuses to be labelled as the man who cancelled Christmas because it will cause irreparable damage to his image, despite the fact that it will needlessly kill thousands more people. Will it then be another lockdown? If so, how do students come back again in January?
But I digress. As problematic as Christmas will be, we couldn’t have kept students locked in their unis for Christmas. It would be unenforceable for a start. But that doesn’t make their travel window a good strategy for handling it either.
The dates that have been chosen are awkward for a number of reasons.
This is a 7-day window from a Thursday to a Wednesday. As most people will want to go on the weekend, especially if they are being collected by parents, this is hardly a staggered movement of students, as they claim. Indeed, seven days to move about two million people around the country is not staggered at all, not including their parents who may collect them on top of other seasonal movement and commuters. The least they could to was include two weekends.
Also, for us at Southampton and many other places, these dates fall within term time. This presents an obvious problem as people are supposed to go home while they still have lectures. Not only does this disrupt studies if students need to leave mid-week, but students are expected to attend on campus lectures and leave after their last one. This would be fine, but lectures are still being held on campus until the 9th, the last day of the travel window. This is difficult especially for STEM students who rely on attending labs etc., as missing out on those could seriously affect them.
This will also seriously disadvantage people like me. I cannot go home before term ends because I do not have a study space at home. My room is tiny and does not have a desk. We have a small, open-plan bungalow and my parents work from home. We have a dog, and my older brothers still live at home too. This is not a quiet work environment which will let me sit nicely in a seminar if I need to, or even let me crack on with an essay. We also do not really have internet access because I’m from Cornwall and that’s just the way things are down there. So I can’t go home in the travel window, and I know a lot of people in a similar position. Therefore, I’m looking at spending my Christmas break in Southampton, and I’ve not been home since last Christmas because of Covid.
So could I go after the travel window? Who knows. There has been so little information about it and the policy has barely been discussed since it was announced. A lot of students haven’t even heard that it was happening. We won’t be in lockdown anymore so there’s nothing to say that I can’t go home after the window, and the government have said nothing about what will happen if students leave afterwards, but in that case what was the point of instating it in the first place? What was the point of any of it?
Finally, they may have come up with a (bad) strategy for getting students home, but what about getting them back to uni after Christmas? The government have been suspiciously silent on that front. With Christmas likely to cause another devastating outbreak, will students just be told that they have to stay with their parents? The prospect of me being stuck in with my parents is much worse than being stuck at uni, especially in my final year and with big essays due in January. So for me it’s just not really worth it, especially as I don’t feel safe getting on a train to get home right now anyway.
This all seems like a lot of negatives when Christmas is something that we should be looking forward to. But we knew that Christmas this year was going to be different, and it needs to be. The movement of students around the country isn’t helpful for that, but I’m not going to advocate that we be locked in either. Ideally, they never should have made us come back in the first place if it was going to be so dangerous.
Stay safe and Merry Christmas everyone.