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Health

UK universities grapple with spiralling COVID-19 outbreaks

FILE PHOTO: Cyclists are seen in front of Cambridge University, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Cambridge, Britain, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Couldridge

LONDON (Reuters) - The University of Glasgow has offered a rent rebate to residents and support with securing food and medical supplies for self-isolating students in a sign of the huge challenge colleges are facing when COVID-19 outbreaks hit campus.

Students travelled across the country to start university this month, paying thousands of pounds to live in halls of residence and attend lectures in institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Edinburgh.

But coronavirus outbreaks have forced some colleges to ask students to self-isolate in their rooms and follow lectures online, threatening to leave pupils isolated when they have made few friends and raising questions over their tuition fees.

Robert Halfon, the head of parliament’s education committee, said 3,000 students were in lockdown and the health minister said this week he could not rule out asking students to stay on campus over Christmas to prevent the virus from spreading.

“We understand how difficult and stressful this situation is,” the University of Glasgow said on Twitter. “We are here to support you through it.”

The university offered students in residences, whether they were isolating or not, a four-week rent rebate in recognition of the difficult circumstances, plus money towards food, and clothes washing services for students who cannot leave their room.

In Manchester, students at residential halls at Manchester Metropolitan University have to self-isolate for 14 days after 127 tested positive for COVID-19.

Jo Grady, head of the University and College Union, said the outbreaks were wholly predictable and said all teaching should go online. “There is no point encouraging students to come to university to self-isolate for a fortnight,” she said.

Britain’s top universities routinely feature on the list of the best colleges in the world and international pupils travel from across the world to attend.

Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Jason Neely

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