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Dozens of colleges ignore easing of Covid mask rules

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Michelle Donelan – /Geoff Pugh for Telegraph

Universities should not force students to wear masks as they have “sacrificed enough” a minister has said as eleven Russell Group institutions keep the rules in place.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, joined the student watchdog in reprimanding vice-chancellors who continue to impose restrictions despite England’s last remaining restrictions being lifted.

Guidance from the Department for Education says that “the use of face coverings for students, staff and visitors in teaching settings or common areas is no longer recommended”.

But an analysis found that eleven of the Russell Group’s 24 leading universities, and a total of 51 universities across the country, are going beyond the DfE guidance despite last month’s relaxation of the rule.

Only 21 of the 117 universities surveyed had mask policies in line with the DfE, drawing the fury of parents and students, while the others were unclear or out of date.

‘A show of respect, kindness and sensitivity’

The University of Bristol is still telling all staff and students that they “are required to wear a face covering inside campus buildings”, including teaching spaces, corridors, libraries, reading rooms and open spaces. of study, although the residences are exempt. He describes the masks as “a sign of mutual respect, kindness, and sensitivity.”

Meanwhile, guidance from the London School of Economics says masks remain compulsory in lifts and for “students in all teaching rooms”. UCL also “expects” masks in teaching areas, as does the University of Leeds when requested by staff.

The University of Oxford guidance says: “Departments, as well as individual members of teaching staff, may continue to require the use of face coverings in teaching and learning settings (unless individuals are exempt). It is strongly recommended the use of face coverings in libraries and must be worn when moving around university buildings.”

In response to the findings, Ms Donelan told The Telegraph: “I don’t think universities should go beyond our guidance in imposing additional and mandatory restrictions on students.

“Young people have already sacrificed enough during this pandemic and students should be able to enjoy the full college experience they deserve.”

‘It’s right for students to expect a much more normal college experience’

Lord Wharton, chairman of the Office for Students watchdog, added: “There are no legal restrictions on the wearing of masks in higher education, and most universities are steadily returning to normal.

“It is right that students now expect a much more normal college experience, with in-person teaching and socializing, as well as the opportunity for prospective students to go on campus to visit the colleges they are considering.”

Imperial College London still recommends wearing a face covering in teaching areas and while moving around in exams, but not when sitting.

Others, including King’s College London and the universities of Exeter, Durham, Manchester and York, are urging or strongly encouraging, but not requiring, masks on parts of campus.

Some colleges still only hold virtual open houses and ask students and visitors to take lateral flow tests, even though free tests are running out.

‘Stasi-like atmosphere’

Arabella Skinner, from the Us For Them UK parent group that conducted the survey, warned of a “Stasi-like environment” where students watch their peers without a mask and said sixth-grade parents were avoiding those universities or taking gap years. .

Jude D’Alesio, 21, a senior law student at Bristol, felt the university’s mask mandate “was coming at the expense of student participation in seminars; it’s not just much more difficult to listen to other students’ responses, but group work is much more difficult. more restrained and less fluid when you can’t gauge people’s reactions.

A University of Bristol spokesman said its mask rule was “reviewed fortnightly and any changes will be made after careful consideration of the situation with the expert advice of our scientists and partners”.

A Russell Group spokesperson said: “Universities make decisions about campus requirements at the local level, based on the interests of their staff and student communities.

“While face coverings are no longer required in the vast majority of settings, universities may continue to encourage their use in crowded indoor areas, such as elevators or small crowded places, for personal protection and out of respect for others, just as …as do public transportation providers and major retailers.”

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