University demands freshers remove signs from their windows

University demands freshers remove ‘send drink’ and ‘f*** Boris’ signs from their windows – as lawyers question whether keeping students locked in their flats is legal and culture secretary Oliver Dowden says they SHOULD be allowed home for Christmas

  • Thousands of freshers are currently locked down in their rooms as cases rise
  • After many took to posting comical messages in windows, one university has sent students an email stating these notes must be removed as soon as possible
  • Lawyers are openly questioning legality of the enforced university lockdowns
  • Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden says students should be allowed home by Christmas as long as the country adheres to the coronavirus restrictions in place

A university is facing backlash after asking students who have been locked down in halls of residence to remove comical signs and messages displayed in their windows.

Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) is one of at least 32 universities in the UK to have confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Thousands of students are on lockdown, some enforced by security and the threat of fines, in a bid to curb the rise in the number of cases on campus.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said students should be allowed home by Christmas, if they follow the guidelines and adhere to social distancing restrictions. 

In a letter sent out by Manchester City Council, it is reported that at least 99 students at MMU have tested positive for Covid-19, prompting the university to lock down Birley Hall and Cambridge Hall student accommodation. 

Some 1,700 Manchester Metropolitan University students have been confined to their rooms for two weeks, even if they have no symptoms.

Police and security guards were outside Birley and Cambridge Halls on Friday while the university warned disciplinary action will be taken against any breaches.  

And while the lockdown has proved controversial, with calls for tuition fee refunds and questions raised about how enforceable it is, the university is facing fresh backlash for asking students to remove messages they’ve put up in their windows. 

 

Students display signs in windows at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Cambridge Halls

Students at Manchester Metropolitan University have been told to isolate within their Halls of Residence for 14 days after several Coronavirus outbreaks were identified across the campus

The note sent to students of Manchester Metropolitan University with messages in the window

Follow rules and students will be home for Christmas, Government urges

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said it would only be possible for young people to visit their family at the end of term if the country follows existing guidance.

He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday: ‘I very much want students to be able to go home at Christmas, and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we will be able to get to a point where that should be possible.’

Mr Dowden also insisted there was ‘definitely science’ behind the 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants – despite a scientist advising the Government saying he had ‘never heard’ the measure discussed at Sage meetings.

Videos posted on social media on Saturday evening suggested the early closing times were leading to street parties in city centres.

But the Culture Secretary said: ‘There is definitely science behind it, that’s why we’re requiring people to be seated in pubs and restaurants, so that stops the flow of them to and from the bar.

‘We are reducing the closing times to stop people staying later and drinking. And the point about all of this is that everyone has their part to play. If we all play by the rules, we can ensure that there are not further, more draconian restrictions.’

Infectious disease modelling expert Professor Graham Medley said on Saturday he did not recall the curfew being discussed by Sage.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden

The note sent to students states: ‘We are contacting you all today to ask for the signs which are on display on the windows in your flat need to be removed.

‘Please ensure these are removed asap.’ 

Members of the public have criticised the message with many saying it was inappropriate.

Media Law expert David Banks said: ‘Manchester Metropolitan University might have had no choice but to tell 1,700 students in halls to self-isolate.

‘But what right do they have to tell them to remove signs in their windows? Someone on their comms team needs to get a grip and stop this spinning into a PR disaster…’

Labour MP Caroline Flint said: ‘How stupid to tell students confined to their block to take down posters.

‘I’m minded to put one up in solidarity. Protest posters vary in quality & wit but are part of being a student – still got this one from 1983.

‘Leaving home for the first time isn’t easy in the best of times. Sharing kitchens & other space with strangers.

‘Everybody wants to get to know people on their course & through clubs/societies.

‘That means socialising you don’t need to be brain of Britain to know this.’

Meanwhile, legal experts have questioned how enforceable the measures in place at the halls of residence are.

Gateshead-based lawyer Kevin Robertson said: ‘Anybody tell me the legal basis on which students are being prevented from leaving their blocks?

‘Do the CV19 regs permit this forcible detention and if so could that mean anybody could be prevented from leaving their home/street/postcode? Genuine question.’

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner tweeted: ‘If they are being prevented from leaving for exercise or food by the university then they are getting into interesting legal territory – are they being detained? Are there security staff enforcing?’ 

Commenting on the university’s Covid update on its website, he added: ‘This message would not comply with the statutory requirements as it does not state the legal basis of the lockdown.

‘If this was the only message received by students I don’t see how they have been lawfully locked down (even if they could be).’

Activist lawyer Paul Brennan pointed to recent legislation which gave local councils the power to shut down premises, but noted: ‘These Regs only enable the [local authority] to give directions in order to close premises, restrict entry or restrict the location of people while inside them.

‘The Courts won’t interpret them as giving [them] the right to incarcerate people. Besides, the notice requirements have not been met.’ 

It comes as students and parents have started to demand tuition fee refunds as universities abandon face-to-face teaching because of Covid outbreaks.

As in Manchester, thousands of freshers are currently locked down in their rooms across the UK, as rising cases of the virus devastates the start of term.

The intake has already endured the summer grading fiasco and some are now stuck inside while being charged up to £9,250-a-year in tuition fees, plus rent.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students, told the Mail on Sunday: ‘In what is looking set to be an increasingly unclear and volatile year for universities, we must seriously look at reimbursements for students whose quality of learning has been significantly impacted.

‘It is also essential that housing providers allow students who may decide to either leave university or return to family homes to end their rental contracts and not be penalised for making decisions based on their own safety and those of local communities.’

A university security guard takes the details of students leaving the halls at Manchester Metropolitan University this morning during a lockdown of their accommodation due to Covid

Students at university of Manchester are pictured at their window during lockdown. The intake has already endured the summer grading fiasco and some are now stuck inside while being charged up to £9,250-a-year in tuition fees, plus rent

One flat displayed the message ‘mental health comes first. Let us out’ on their window 

Some 1,700 MMU students are among those who have been instructed to self-isolate for 14 days following a spike in Covid-19 cases. Pictured: Students in Manchester

At least 32 universities in the UK now have confirmed coronavirus cases with about 3,000 students from Dundee to Exeter in isolation.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green has written to her opposite number Gavin Williamson, urging him to ‘promise’ students that such restrictions will not be imposed.

She said it would be ‘deeply unfair to see students forced to remain in their student accommodation’ and asked Mr Williamson to ‘work with universities to ensure every student has access to testing to allow a safe journey home’ for Christmas.

Ms Green also asked the Education Secretary to consider a delay to the start of term or a ‘pause in migration’ for universities where term has not yet begun to allow improvements in testing capacity and remote learning provisions.

In a statement, she said: ‘Leaving home to go to university should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families.

‘Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return, but the Government has again let young people down.

‘It is unthinkable that students will be locked in their rooms and unable to return home to spend Christmas with their families.

‘The Government must promise that this will not happen, and work with universities to enable every student to access tests so that they can travel home safely.’

The University and College Union has called on MMU to move the majority its teaching online immediately as currently this is just offered for foundation and first year students.

In a statement, UCU regional official Martyn Moss said: ‘We warned that that not enough was being done to make campuses safe and that the mass return of students would inevitably see institutions become Covid incubators.

‘Instead of heeding our warnings, universities pushed the idea that students could return to open ‘Covid-secure’ campuses.

‘Universities should have spent the summer following the science and preparing properly for this inevitable crisis, instead of trying to sell the idea of a normal university experience to students.

‘Ministers and universities must not try to use students as scapegoats for a wholly predictable crisis of their own making.’

The union said responsibility for the current crisis also lay with the government and criticised a funding model it said forced universities to put financial concerns ahead of the safety of students, staff and the wider community. 

Liverpool Hope University and Liverpool John Moores have also moved the majority of teaching online as cases rise nationally.

Reports of positive tests and students isolating at Leeds University surfaced as more students arrive for the start of term. A walk-through testing centre has been set up in a sports centre on campus.

Security at MMU’s Birley Hall campus prevent a man from entering the locked down building

Students display signs questioning their fees in the windows at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Cambridge Halls

Supplies are delivered to students at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Cambridge Halls

Jess Cook, a parent from Kent, whose son has just started at the institution, said: ‘What a waste of £9,000. It is miserable for them.

‘There should definitely be some kind of fee discount, but universities need support from the Government.

‘Universities were under huge pressure to take the kids in and have done what they were supposed to do to try to keep them safe.’

Simon Thomas, the ex Blue Peter and Sky Sports presenter, described the situation as a ‘shambles’.

He said: ‘If my son was locked inside a hall of residence at university and was struggling mentally like so many are – I’d get in my car and go and get him immediately.

‘And if anyone stopped me I’d tell them I’m invoking the Cummings amendment. What an utter shambles.’ 

In Scotland, thousands of students are isolating after 172 cases were confirmed at the University of Glasgow and 120 at Edinburgh Napier University.

Student packs up and heads home from Strathclyde University despite being on lockdown 

A student stands outside Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus accomodation

One student, 18, who has now been isolating for nearly a monthsays that catching coronavirus after returning to university was ‘inevitable’. The teenager is staying in an eight-person flat in Glasgow University’s Murano Street Student Village, which houses 1,175 students

A student walks past a sign at Murano Street Student Village in Glasgow, where university students are being tested at a pop up test centre

Across the country, they have been told not to go to pubs, restaurants or parties and Universities Scotland has warned that students who socialise outside of their households risk losing their place.

At Edinburgh University, police were called to break up parties on Friday night at Pollock Halls, a main students’ residence housing about 1,900 undergraduates.

Glasgow University announced yesterday it would refund all students in halls of residence one month’s rent, along with a £50 payment for food. ‘We are offering everyone in our residences, regardless of whether they are isolating or not, a one-month rent refund to compensate for the disruption they are facing, and any financial hardship they may have encountered,’ the principal, Professor Sir Anton Muscatell said.

At least a dozen other universities in England and Wales have brought in their own testing facilities to monitor for potential outbreaks 

Calls are now growing for similar moves elsewhere. Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons Education Committee, said: ‘Definitely they should be getting a discount on the cost of their tuition loan if they aren’t getting a significant amount of face-to-face teaching.’

He also warned that stopping students from returning home over the Christmas break would cause ‘huge anguish’.

Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, questioned the decision by some vice-chancellors to halt face-to-face teaching, saying: ‘If teaching is moved online, it almost encourages students to go back home.’

He added that while calls for refunds grow, the difficulty for universities is that high-quality virtual teaching is no cheaper to deliver than in-person teaching and some universities are already under threat of going bust. 

Nicola Sturgeon backs disciplinary action as a ‘last resort’ against students

Nicola Sturgeon has backed disciplinary action being taken as a ‘last resort’ against students who breach new rules aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 on university campuses.

Speaking as the daily increase in cases reached a record high, with 558 Scots testing positive in the past 24 hours, the First Minister said that for those who are ‘flagrantly breaching rules, then of course discipline and enforcement has to be part of the answer’.

University principals – backed by the Scottish Government – have made it ‘absolutely clear’ to students that they must not take part in house parties.

As part of efforts to prevent outbreaks in university campuses from spreading into the wider population, all students are being asked to avoid pubs this weekend.

Nicola Sturgeon (pictured) has backed disciplinary action being taken as a ‘last resort’ against students who breach new rules aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19 on university campuses

In addition, universities will adopt a ‘yellow card/red card’ approach to breaches of discipline, with students warned the consequences could include ‘potential discontinuation of study’.

Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, has raised concerns about the human rights implications of such measures, saying he is seeking an ‘urgent conversation’ with ministers and universities ‘to establish the nature and legal basis for these restrictions’.

Asked if she supports such a tough stance, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘Yes I do support universities taking disciplinary action as a last resort, and as a back stop.

‘I would not expect universities – and I spoke to principals this morning and I know this is not their intention – to use discipline as a first resort.

‘But as with the police, if you have people who are just flagrantly breaching rules then of course discipline and enforcement has to be part of the answer.’

The National Union of Students has claimed students are being ‘unfairly’ blamed for spreading the disease, and it condemned the ‘unjustified step of applying different rules to students over and above the rest of the adult population’.

Ms Sturgeon also expressed sympathy for students, many of whom will be living away from home for the first time and could being having to self-isolate in halls of residence. Pictured: Glasgow University’s cloisters

But hundreds of students are currently self-isolating after outbreaks of the virus at Glasgow, Edinburgh Napier and other universities.

The latest daily coronavirus figures also show a rise in positivity rates – with almost one in 10 (9.5%) of those tested confirmed as having Covid-19.

At her coronavirus briefing on Friday, Ms Sturgeon also expressed sympathy for students, many of whom will be living away from home for the first time and could being having to self-isolate in halls of residence.

She insisted the decision to allow students to return to campus was not linked to the drop in income universities would have suffered had they been told to stay away.

Describing herself as the ‘devoted auntie’ of someone who has just left home to go to university, she told students directly: ‘I am so sorry, so heart sorry, that this time of your lives is being made as tough as it is just now.

She said the Scottish Government is considering whether self-isolating students could be allowed to return to their family homes. Pictured: A bar in Bristo Square, Edinburgh, which is part of the University of Edinburgh’s Student Village

‘I really feel for you, but I feel especially for those of you starting university for the first time and, of course, living alone for the first time.’

She said the Scottish Government is considering whether self-isolating students could be allowed to return to their family homes, adding guidance on this may be issued over the weekend.

But she cautioned: ‘I’m going to be frank, that’s a difficult balancing act, because if you go home after you’ve been asked to self-isolate that may have implications for your family, who then also may be asked to self-isolate if you test positive.’

She said she did not want to ‘underplay the significance’ of asking students not to visit pubs this weekend, but said it is not the only difficult request she has made during the pandemic.

Ms Sturgeon said: ‘I have asked people for six months now not to visit their vulnerable relatives in care homes.

‘I’m having to ask people to do really difficult things all of the time.

‘So I am asking all students for a weekend to not go to pubs, and hopefully that will help us stem these outbreaks.’More voters are now worried about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the economy than over the health of the nation, a Mail on Sunday poll shows

More voters are now worried about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the economy than over the health of the nation, a Mail on Sunday poll shows 

 By Glen Owen for the Mail on Sunday

Voters are now more worried about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy than they are over the collective health of the nation, a Mail on Sunday poll has found.

The Deltapoll survey suggests that a majority of people – 51 per cent – think the impact on the economy is the greatest problem facing the UK over the next year, compared to 42 per cent who worry about the effects on health.

When asked about the impact over the next five years, the gap widens, with 66 per cent citing the economy and just 28 per cent mentioning health.

The Deltapoll survey suggests that a majority of people – 51 per cent – think the impact on the economy is the greatest problem facing the UK over the next year

And an overwhelming 89 per cent are concerned about the impact of Covid restrictions, such as the 10pm curfew on business, with just 8 per cent saying they are unconcerned.

The results suggest there is growing support for the position of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who has argued in Cabinet against ‘doves’ such as Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove who want more stringent restrictions. Mr Sunak’s ratings continue to soar, with an approval rating of plus 37. Boris Johnson, by contrast, receives a rating of minus 17. Tory strategists will also be alarmed by the scores for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is given a score of plus 19 when people are asked how well or badly he is performing.

In total, 48 per cent of people think the Government is doing the ‘wrong thing’ over Covid while 38 per cent think it is doing the ‘right thing’.

Worrying, nearly one in five people – 19 per cent – say they will not take a Covid vaccine if it becomes available.

The poll puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, four points ahead of Labour.

Deltapoll co-founder Joe Twyman said: ‘Six months after the coronavirus lockdown first began, public support for Boris Johnson and his Government’s approach has diminished.

‘It is clear from Deltapoll’s results the impact the Covid-19 restrictions will have on the British economy both nationally and locally are key concerns. The Prime Minister must hope that the Jobs Support Scheme and similar initiatives go some way to address people’s fears or the decline in support for the Government’s position is likely to continue.’

Deltapoll interviewed 1,583 British adults online on September 24 and 25. The data have been weighted to be representative of the British adult population as a whole.

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