The letter comes after university staff and students were left “disappointed” by the lack of information about universities in the Prime Minister’s roadmap announcement on Easter Monday.
Writing to MP’s whose constituencies include University of Essex campuses, Professor Forster said: “The list of sectors which are allowed to operate in-person activities in England from 12 April is extensive…but students remain unable to access in-person teaching and learning.
“It therefore seems illogical and unfair that students who have been studying online up until now are being told they still cannot access facilities or socially-distanced teaching in their Covid-safe university campus – nor when this might be possible – despite the significant benefits it would bring to their mental health and development.”
Professor Forster urges MPs to write to the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson or table a written parliamentary question to him seeking clarity, and to raise the issue in forthcoming Westminster debates.
Although some students studying key-workers courses and subjects that require practical learning were allowed to return to campuses in January, the majority of students in England have been studying remotely since mid-November.
Professor Forster highlights a range of Covid safety measures in place at the University’s three campuses in Colchester, Southend and Loughton, which have helped keep the number of Covid-19 cases consistently low and which would enable more staff and students to return safely.
He adds: “ Universities across the country have played a vital role in the immediate and longer-term response to the pandemic including through research and vaccine development, volunteering and providing facilities, as well as supporting their students by moving teaching, assessment and mental health services online. Students now deserve to know the government’s rationale behind allowing other sectors of the economy to open up while they continue to be advised against returning to campus.”
Professor Forster’s letter coincides with a letter to the Prime Minister by Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, President of Universities UK, which says “this is another blow for those students who have been studying online since early December, and you will be aware of many studies highlighting the impact on students’ mental health, wellbeing and development.”