British universities reopen with students locked down and forced to care for infected classmates

Messages in the window of student accommodations at Manchester Metropolitan University in England today.Credit...Paul Ellis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

With reduced financial support from the British government, colleges and universities are pushing to stay open to retain tuition and room fees and placing students into severe lockdowns even as coronavirus infections rise in their dorms.

Students at Manchester Metropolitan University have taken to calling one of their residences H.M.P., for Her Majesty’s Prison, because of strict protocols that have left trash piled up in shared kitchens and students washing their clothes in bathroom sinks. Security guards stalked the gates, keeping anyone from leaving or entering.

Parties at the beginning of the school year led to the virus tearing though student suites, and the university largely left students on their own: It imposed such a draconian lockdown that students had to nurse roommates back to health, parents drove hours to deliver food and lawyers offered pro bono help.

The outbreaks have shone a harsh light on Britain’s decade-long campaign to turn higher education into a ruthless market. Cuts in state grants left schools dependent on tuition fees and room rents, leading them to jam more students onto campuses.

For Britain, where the Covid-19 death toll stands at 58,000, the highest in Europe, the pandemic has forced a reckoning with the government’s treatment of higher education, even as the country’s universities make crucial advances in the race for a vaccine.

“Students are money in the bank, and as long as we’re on campus they’ll worry about the consequences later,” said Aslan Warburton, a freshman at Manchester Metropolitan. “The financial side has taken priority over student well-being and the greater good.”



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