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Students the super-spreaders?

(16 Posts)
hopsalong Sat 02-May-20 10:00:19

Are students going to be super-spreaders? What do people think the risks of teaching in high education, and the likelihood of being able to run a university AT ALL before a vaccine or some antiviral near cure is achieved?

Students tend to have a lot of social activity and bodily close contact compared to the rest of population, and their risk of being seriously ill with covid is smaller than any other part of the adult population. Many may be asymptomatic. They are also ill a lot anyway! If anyone with a fever and cold symptoms still needs to self/isolate for 7 or 14 days, most of my classes will be completely empty every day.

I am not worried personally about getting the virus, which I think I have already had. (In fact, I probably got it from one of my students whose parent subsequently tested positive!) But I were 60 and had other health conditions? I would be much more worried giving a lecture to a room of 100 feverish/ hungover (who knows) spluttering 18 year olds (waiting as the previous 100 file out) than teaching a class of primary school children.

On the other hand, if we do online-only teaching for too long don't we risk destroying the sector entirely as universities (like Durham, or even American universities) innovate by offering cheap online-only degrees to potentially very large numbers? Some students will always prefer to attend in person but others might rather have a cheap degree from a major university than a real-life one from a second tier institution. Without constraints on physical space, there would be no reason for universities to limit their provision to those who would have traditionally been admitted. The online courses will also be able to be fronted by a small number of famous/ star academics (Harvard already use star faculty for their extension school courses) and marked efficiently by an army of adjuncts.

Given the super-spreader problem, I also wonder if we will see residents of small university towns behaving a bit like residents of Cornwall re second home owners by autumn. A mass of students from all over the country descending to wander round shops, pubs, etc, will easily become mild/asymptomatic transmission of covid from the least vulnerable adults in the population upwards... Have you talked about this at your universities?

A vaccine would prevent all of these problems. But after looking at the latest financial info at my own university, I am not sure we'll still be in business by the time one comes along.

OP’s posts: |
Xenia Sat 02-May-20 20:12:59

We need more data. We have had a lot of CV deaths near me - I am in and next to the two worst London boroughs and if 80% of us have had it here but do not even know it or only 1% that would be useful to know.

Some students are sensible. My sons (Bristol - last term) have not been doing silly things, are not going to secret parties, not seeing people, socialising. It will he harder to stop toddlers in nurseries cuddling each other and wanting a cuddle if they fall over than dealing with students I suspect and I bet most universities (as the alternative might be mass redundancies and closing down) will aim to start in September in person but we shall see.

My son going on to do a post grad thing - that is face to face but they have had an on line course for years as an alternative so even if they cannot start in September face to face I expect it will seamlessly be on line as that place already has the infrastructure there.

hellsbells99 Sun 03-May-20 10:24:32

I think students were amongst the super-spreaders initially. There are a lot of international students that were obviously travelling between their homes and the UK in Dec to Feb. A lot probably only had mild symptoms and let’s be honest, most students often have cold, coughs etc. These students would then be sat in lecture theatres with 200 odd other students. Some of these 200 students would then be going out partying, clubbing, socialising, again passing germs around. UK students would then be visiting their families occasionally spreading germs again. I think both my DDs have been exposed to Covid-19 - one with symptoms, the other just her normal tired, achy self! It would be good if tests were being carried out to see whether immunity had been acquired.

JacobReesMogadishu Mon 04-May-20 22:35:06

I think so. Just think about all the different “groups”, how close together they are and the crossovers of the different groups.

So initially at the start of any terms thousands of people from vastly different geographic places, increasing the risk of someone bringing it in. Groups in halls, then from each hall group people split off into different academic course groups, society and sports club groups. Then coming back to halls. And repeat.

I’m scared of going back to face to face teaching.

GCAcademic Mon 04-May-20 22:53:24

They certainly give me freshers flu every. single. year. As I've got older, I've become progressively more twitchy about being in a lecture theatre or seminar room full of students coughing in my direction. Knowing that they could now give me something much nastier is making me feel quite fearful. One of my colleagues has lung damage from an industrial injury and has been shielding since March; I can well imagine that she is not looking forward to resuming f2f teaching.

HoldMyLobster Wed 06-May-20 15:05:44

I posted this on another thread but here is how some US universities are looking at reopening - regular testing, moving the biggest lectures online, spreading out accommodation, providing space for infected students to quarantine, contact tracing, requiring the flu shot.

www.themiamihurricane.com/2020/05/04/president-frenk-outlines-his-plan-for-a-return-this-fall-2/

Grendlsmother Wed 06-May-20 15:50:18

No point in students going to uni then... they will get better provision from The Open University, who are actually successful at providing online learning.
And they're cheaper.
They can't have it both ways... if it's dangerous let them stay at home and get their degrees without the higher charge from the experts

Xenia Wed 06-May-20 16:18:47

I thought it was rich doctors with large salaries who can afford skiing holidays in Italy who were the worst super spreaders in the UK. The version of the virus we have in the UK has come from Italy not from China by the way even though I accept we had one early case in I think it was leeds from China.

JacobReesMogadishu Wed 06-May-20 16:22:20

I didn’t realise it was only doctors who went skiing in Italy. What about the business people, the bankers, people in finance. What about the people with more ordinary jobs such as teachers, nurses, builders, etc?

JacobReesMogadishu Wed 06-May-20 16:24:19

And actually if the virus was brought back from Italy I’d say a high proportion of the spreaders could be secondary school kids. Every school ski trip I’ve ever known has been to Italy rather than France, Switzerland, Austria. I’m not saying all school trips are Italy but a high proportion are. I assume it’s cheaper than France while still being accessible enough by coach.

Peaseblossom22 Wed 06-May-20 19:27:17

Would it not be a good idea for universities to postpone first years at least starting until January. I know this would not be brilliant for academics with a reduction in research time etc however first years are the worst for mixing and live in university accommodation . If the universities could see their way , again I know it’s not ideal, to extend the summer term into July then not much reaching time would be lost and it would stagger the arrivals

Redcliff Wed 06-May-20 19:38:29

I just don't see how starting in Jan rather than September for 1st years is financially viable for most universities.

Peaseblossom22 Wed 06-May-20 19:54:22

You could be right except that the gov would fund 3 terms as usual , the terms would go on longer ; an earlier start in January , shorter Easter break and finish one month later .

By January the expected second wave will be in the wane , second and third years live spread out rather than all in the same place and tend to operate less as a group. They understand the way the university works and will adapt better to timetable changes and other changes to routines. They are less likely to be flummoxed in unfamiliar surroundings and will have already spent a year away from home .

Teaching first years online will be hugely difficult , many will have no idea how to access materials etc . Many will struggle to feel like they are at University especially as most will have had no academic teaching since March and some will have had no experience of online teaching .

University towns will also have a slower influx of students .

I am just trying to think outside the box a little , whatever we do will be hard and inconvenient and novel , just like the virus .

MickeyMouae199 Wed 06-May-20 20:13:08

FWIW I work for a French university who is currently preparing for the possibility of not reopening at all next year and only doing distance learning... It probably won’t happen but if it does, we need to be ready...

We are preparing for a massive drop in enrollment from foreign students too...

fromlittleacorns Wed 06-May-20 20:25:09

There s an Interesting thread on this in the academic staffroom board as well - i cant link but there are some interesting views.
There are a few things one could do to reduce the risk - ditch freshers week, allow higher risk staff to lecture online, Admin staff work from home, focus contact tracing capability on large universities for the first month. And if nightclubs are still locked down the students wont be able to go to them.
I think in some ways january may make less sense to start than early september, as bang in the middle of winter flu. Of course we cant know when (if) any second wave will be, so that may be wrong!

The reality is that many students go to university in part to leave home and have a social experience, so online only in the first year may lead to a fall in admissions. On the other hand Postponing the year start until january leaves universities without fee income for 4 months and 500k 18 yr olds not at univ at a time when the labour market may be very difficult for them.

MarchingFrogs Fri 08-May-20 07:35:13

Re funding and student numbers etc, there was an announcement on Monday:
www.gov.uk/government/news/government-support-package-for-universities-and-students
Gavin Williamson has announced thepackage of measures, drawing on proposals from the universities sector, to stabilise university admissions this autumn and to help the universities and students are safeguarded at a time of unprecedented uncertainty.
gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/882884/Government_support_package_for_higher_education_providers_and_students.pdf

Through the plans, English higher education providers will be able to recruit full-time undergraduate UK and EU students for 2020/21 up to a temporary set level, which is based on their forecasts for the next academic year, plus an additional 5%. The Government will control these numbers through the student finance system.

The Government will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services.

We will pull forward tuition fee payments, expected to be worth £2.6bn, for providers so that they receive more cash in the first term of academic year 20/21. This will have no impact on students but will allow providers to better manage financial risks over the autumn. This will be available to all providers across the UK. In reprofiling these payments, we are clear in our expectation that providers should use the cashflow benefits appropriately, taking significant steps to improve efficiencies and manage their finances in order to avoid cashflow problems further down the track. Reprofiling in this way is a one-off intervention for the autumn term only, to help providers take all necessary steps now to prepare for the future.

In the event that a provider does not abide by its student number controls, the Government will address the consequences for the stability and the sustainability of the HE sector by reducing the sums available to the provider through the student finance system in the subsequent academic year. We expect students who want to go to university, and meet their entry requirements, to be able to access HE.

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