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Universities: Physical Teaching

Volume 700: debated on Monday 6 September 2021

2. What recent assessment his Department has made of the potential effect of (a) covid-19 quarantine requirements for international students and (b) outbreaks of covid-19 in universities on the safe return to physical teaching in the 2021-22 academic year. (903316)

We have worked closely with the sector to ensure that international students will be supported and welcomed. Universities UK International has published bespoke self-isolation guidance for universities. The Government’s approach to the lifting of restrictions has been guided by data analysis and advice from public health and the scientific community.

The University of Stirling has offered international students who arrive from red-list countries free on-campus isolation accommodation that includes meals, polymerase chain reaction tests and airport transfers, saving the students more than £2,000. Given the huge economic benefits that international students bring to this country, will the Government consider financially supporting universities to replicate the good practice at Stirling?

We work with the university sector throughout the United Kingdom to attract the highest-quality talent from around the globe to study at our universities. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to point out the important economic benefits that international students bring to the whole United Kingdom. We will continue to work closely with the sector to attract students, and with the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care to make sure that their access to the UK is easy and properly supported.

I draw the House’s attention to my role as a governor of the Valley Leadership Academy. That school, among others in Rossendale and Darwen, sends lots of pupils to university to take vocational courses and to study for vocational qualifications. With that in mind, I thank the Secretary of State for the funding to rebuild two schools in Rossendale—Whitworth Community High School and All Saints’ Roman Catholic High School; will he also fund a new building at the Valley Leadership Academy for all the pupils who want to go on to vocational courses?

I thought that if I gave my right hon. Friend two schools, it might shut him up, but he continues to ask for a third. I would love to make such a large promise for him at the Dispatch Box. I would be more than happy to sit down with him to discuss it and see what can be done. He is absolutely right about the value of technical education and how it delivers so much not only for youngsters themselves but for the economy.

Here we are in September and there is a certain sense of groundhog day, with campus chaos caused by the actions, or inaction, of the Government set to return. In November last year, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies published a report that showed that covid outbreaks on campus could be reduced through the provision of air-ventilation filters. The Welsh Labour Government have committed funding for such machines but the UK Government have not. According to a poll by Manor Interiors, the greatest concern among students returning to their accommodation is air ventilation, so why have the UK Government not provided funding to make campuses safe?

The hon. Gentleman seems to have missed quite a significant difference between this year and last year: we have rolled out one of the most successful vaccine programmes anywhere in Europe. We were one of the first countries to offer people not just one vaccine but two and to make sure that the adult population had that available. That is the big difference between this year and last year.

I hope that all our standards of dress meet your expectations, Mr Speaker.

It is good to be back, but in the previous academic year many of us were shocked to see the scenes of international students having to queue at a food bank in London because economic opportunities for them had dried up due to lockdown. What provision has the Secretary of State put in place to support international students should there be similar lockdowns during this academic year?

May I say that you are brilliantly attired today, Mr Speaker, as you always are?

The hon. Lady asks an important question about international students. Such students have always had access to hardship funding, which is available to them as it is to domestic students.