The organisation’s director Vivienne Stern told The PIE News that there was previously concern that there would not be enough hotels to meet demand when students arrive.
“Fortunately we are now in a much more optimistic position than we were a couple of weeks ago”
However it is expected that India’s recent move onto the UK’s amber list of countries will mean there will be significantly less pressure put on the quarantine system.
Clear communications with students to help them understand what is required of them under UK quarantine rules is now vital going forward.
“Quarantine hotel capacity was top of our worry list for weeks and weeks and weeks because we were really worried that frankly, the government didn’t have enough capacity in the hotel quarantine system to deal with the influx of students this autumn,” Stern told The PIE.
“That has been just a daily discussion between ourselves and the Department of Health and Social Care and the Department for Education for weeks now.
“Fortunately we are now in a much more optimistic position than we were a couple of weeks ago. First of all, India having come off the red list, means that the spike of incoming students this autumn will be much less of a problem for the DHSC to deal with.”
Stern added that the DHSC has done some “really good work” following discussions with UUKi and others to make sure that the capacity can be expanded.
“My understanding is that it can be expanded further, if it looks like demand is pushing up against the kind of limits of capacity.
“They’ve made a few adjustments to their requirements of hotels, including things like distance. That’s going to make a big difference. So we’re still talking about four star and five star hotels, they’re still going to be high quality hotels, but there are more hotels that could be brought into the system because of changes that the government’s made to their requirements. So that’s really good news,” she added.
The PIE approached the DHSC to ask exactly how many hotels that have been contracted, but they did not provide an exact figure or the names of hotels.
“We closely monitor the managed quarantine service to ensure we have enough capacity for those arriving from a red list country – and obtain more rooms as needed,” a DHSC spokesperson told The PIE.
“We continue to communicate with local authorities and health services as we plan for changing demand – for example the arrival of international students from red list countries ahead of the new academic year.”
UUKi is confident that if students need to book a hotel quarantine package they will be able to do so, Stern explained.
UUKi is continuing to monitor the situation closely while staying in close contact with DHSC in case institutions start reporting that their students are having trouble booking quarantine packages.
“It’s really important that we demonstrate that we are open for business”
Deputy vice chancellor international at Coventry University, David Pilsbury, highlighted the importance that of the UK showing it is open for international students.
“I think we did understand why the government was anxious about universities being able to provide these services and absolutely, the last thing we need is people doing it badly,” he said.
“When you’ve got hopefully more capacity coming on stream, that capacity is spread out a bit because some people are coming later because of online. We can end up with a pretty good outcome. I think it’s really important that we demonstrate that we are open for business, particularly when Australia is shut,” he said.
The DHSC has also provided HE sector stakeholders with more information about how the quarantining system will work.
“DHSC just took part in a webinar with us yesterday giving much more detailed information to institutions about how it will work,” Stern said.
“So precisely what students will need to do, how they’ll be transported from A to B and how the government’s going to make sure they’re well looked after while they’re in hotel quarantine and that staff are well trained, that they’ve got a really good system in place around safeguarding students, that they’ve got health care on premises in each of the quarantine hotels and that they’ve got a system for making sure that people are quarantining can get registered with a GP if they need to do that.”
Telephone counselling will be provided if students start to feel anxious or claustrophobic, she added.
“So it seems to us that the details are now becoming clearer to universities and they can now start to think, OK, how can we then provide support to those students who are in these quarantined hotel situations to complement what the government is doing? That’s now what universities will be thinking about,” she added.
“Students need to be aware of is they still need to quarantine, so they are going to be put in this potentially isolated position for 10 days”
However others cautioned that students whose countries are coming off the UK’s red list will still need to quarantine when they arrive in the country, and that proper communication between universities and students is crucial.
“I think what students need to be aware of is they still need to quarantine, so they are going to be put in this potentially isolated position for 10 days,” said Anne Marie Graham, chief executive of UKCISA.
“They need to be organised. They need to talk to their institution and find out what support is available. They need to get advice on getting from their point of entry to a safe point of quarantine, wearing a mask and complying with travel regulations.
“They need to be organised thinking about how they are going to get food, how they’re going to support themselves, and they’re going to have to prepare themselves to be isolated for 10 days,” she added.