What has been dubbed as Freedom Day is fast approaching. July 19th will see the easing of almost all social distancing restrictions ever be eased for students returning to higher education. There has been debate on whether it is still too soon to proceed with step 4 of the government’s roadmap.
As of right now, officials are setting out what they’re hoping for following the 19th as guidelines say that advice is “expected and recommended” rather than to be seen as set in stone. Ministers highlight a level of social responsibility to be held by the public to continue protecting themselves and others.
Ministers are wary the NHS may come under pressure as fall and the wintertime approach but this is not, for the time being, seen as a cause for concern.
The extent of the current wave is not expected to reach its peak till Mid-August, where hospital admissions could reach anywhere between 1000 – 2000 patients daily.
In fact, according to Becky Morton of the BBC, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons cases could reach “100, 000 a day later in the summer” but he did not believe this would put “unsustainable pressure on the NHS”.
So, with July 19th set to go ahead as planned – here’s what this means for higher education students.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has said there will be no restrictions on in-person teaching at universities in England from the next term. This would suggest that students should prepare to attend all teaching time on-premises.
Similarly, The Guardian notes that chief medical Professor officer Chris says of ‘Freedom Day’ that “a further delay would mean opening up when schools return in Autumn, or in winter, where the virus has an advantage and hospitals are under more pressure”.
Again, this would indicate that the return to on-site higher education is now. Though higher education organisations have been given slightly more reign on how they have taught as some restrictions have eased, it is now up to individual organisations to proceed in a way that is most beneficial to students and also fulfils ‘social responsibility’ returning to higher education.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan has clearly stated the end goal for higher education providers should be to “maintain the quality and quantity of tuition and ensure it is accessible”. But, after July 19th, organisations implementing virtual and digital teaching methods as a long-term part of their syllabus will do so due to choice and not restrictions.
As we have seen all throughout the pandemic, it is best to take current propositions as likely to change as cases change but as of right now, students can expect to return to ‘normal’ (subject to each institutions’ own rules) on-site teaching at least for part of their study hours.
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