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“P*ssed off”: International students’ anger at UoM travel guidance

The University of Manchester has 13,700 international students, most of whom will be travelling home for the Christmas break. However, one third year student from France told The Mancunion “we are given f*ck all support by the uni whether it’s financial support or even just the decency of transparent communication.”

The UK’s travel regulations have shifted rapidly after the Omicron variant, every person has to take a rapid antigen test 72 hours before their flight. After arriving in the UK, there are different rules for different countries due to the UK’s tiered “traffic light” travel system. Those coming from amber list countries will have to pay for a day two PCR test, which currently cost around £60 and must isolate until they receive a negative result. Last Christmas, these tests rose in price due to demand, costing up to £300 for a PCR test. Students travelling from red list countries will also have to quarantine, which can cost more than £2000. Hence, many students may be opting to stay in Manchester over the winter break, and not go back home at all.

Over the summer, the University reimbursed the cost of hotel quarantine for international students coming from red-listed countries or allowed them to use University halls to quarantine in. Last winter, the University also promised to reimburse students taking a PCR test and set up stalls providing free lateral flow tests on campus. 

When asked if this policy would be continuing this Christmas, the University responded saying: “…we will reimburse students arriving at the University from red list countries who are quarantining, provided they are not returning from holiday. We are in the process of renegotiating a preferential rate for PCR tests as we did in the summer, with a dedicated booking portal which we’ll be able to communicate details to students soon.”

The definition of a ‘holiday’ was not originally expanded on by the University. As of the 6th of December, after many international students had already booked their tickets home, they said the only students eligible for a reimbursement would be those “coming to the UK for the first time.” Hence, any international student going home, who may find themselves on the red-list, will not be reimbursed for their institutional quarantine.

The new University guidance also states “students domiciled in a country not on the red list, but who travel to Manchester via a red list country will not be eligible for support.” This means that students who have opted to save money by taking a flight with a layover may not end up receiving the same financial support as those who were able to afford a direct trip, thus presenting another issue for the University as it creates an economic divide between students.

Whilst the University has stated that they may offer the PCR test again, they haven’t given a timeline or definitive plan. Many international students may have panicked and booked an earlier flight to go back home, meaning that they may be unable to access the support they need from the University due to it not being in place fast enough.

A second year Bio-Tech international student from India, told The Mancunion: “It is quite ridiculous that there are a lot of fine print rules and regulations when it comes to international students and travel especially with the extreme uncertainty of the current situation. It is terrible that most of us didn’t and probably wouldn’t be aware of these guidelines for applying to be reimbursed at all.”

Whilst the University are offering even less support this year, international students said that in reality their provisions fell short last year too. A third year Politics and IR student said they are “p*ssed off” at the University, as they promised to pay for their day two test upon returning to the UK last year. However, when this student filled out the forms for the University to pay for the test, the University said that they couldn’t since they had run out of funds. This test ended up costing the student around £210.

Some students are unable to go home this Christmas, so the University is offering a buddy scheme for those who need to self-isolate and said “… the University plans to provide comprehensive support to any of our students staying with us in Manchester over the Christmas break who may need to self-isolate. This will include the provision of food, essential supplies, wellbeing support and other services.”

However, this doesn’t instill confidence for some students. A second year international student told The Mancunion: “… they did provide food supplies last year for those isolating but it was only [for those in] University accommodation. The food we got was very late, the quality wasn’t great … [and it] expired in two days. It barely would have lasted an average student 2-3 days at max.” This student did not feel like the University were providing the isolating students with enough support, especially with food. They lack even more confidence on the wellbeing and other services that the University would be providing, stating: “I don’t think this is of any help to students to be very honest.”

Most recently the University has also told the students that they should return by the time of their exams if they are offline. They have again not given any provisions for those who may be stuck in red listed countries. To a few students this again goes back to the “one dimensional” approach that the University is taking, without looking at the other countries and their policies.

We contacted Joana Korley, the Student Union’s International Executive Officer, however she has not yet responded to our request for comment.

When contacted for comment, a University of Manchester spokesperson pointed us to an updated posted on the student intranet on December 10th by April McMahon. It follows:

“In light of the recent UK government updated guidance on COVID-19, I want to reassure you of the steps we are taking to ensure your safety and wellbeing, whilst minimising any disruption to you and your experience.

The UK government is clear on the critical importance of not disrupting your education. Guidance for higher education is that campuses will remain open and in-person teaching, research and student support will continue.

January exams and assessments will also continue, as will our plans for Semester 2. You will not have to show an NHS COVID pass to attend lectures or other teaching, learning or research activity on campus.

We are confident that our campus is as safe as possible and we will continue to act in line with any UK government guidance and regulations, as we have always done. We ask students, as we do staff, to report any confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the University.

We have continued with our safety measures throughout Semester 1, including enhanced cleaning and ventilation. Face coverings are already mandatory across campus in indoor settings and are freely available at building entrances. The safety of our students and staff will always come first.

We encourage you to get vaccinated. The majority of you already are, and returners in the new year can also get vaccinated for free. We also encourage everyone on campus to get regular COVID tests, by collecting free testing kits from campus or ordering them to their home address. Find out more about vaccination and testing on campus.

Following expert clinical advice and the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine programme, people previously considered to be particularly vulnerable or clinically high-risk are not being advised to shield again. If you were previously considered as clinically high-risk, you should continue to follow all COVID-19 safety guidance, along with any other precautions your specialist or clinician may have advised.

We will update our student coronavirus FAQs in due course, as more information becomes available.

While there is little change for us here on campus arising from the Plan B guidance, we understand that the current situation may make some students feel anxious. We are always here to support you, and encourage you to reach out to our support and wellbeing services if needed.”

Tags: International students, International trade, Omicron, travel ban, University of Manchester

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