Sheffield's two universities say closing during the pandemic would have been worse

The vice chancellors of Sheffield's two universities say deferring this year's intake of students would have caused more serious knock-on effects.

Friday, 6th November 2020, 4:45 pm

Councillors asked Sheffield University vice chancellor Koen Lamberts and Sheffield Hallam University vice chancellor Sir Chris Husbands if the universities should have closed because of the pandemic.

Both said campuses were Covid secure and it was about balancing risks.

Sir Chris said: "I've been through this, both in my own mind and with my team, several times.

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Sheffield Hallam University Vice Chancellor Chris Husbands. Picture: Andrew Roe

"You make judgements about the overall risks and I have tried to work through purely hypothetically how as a nation we might have managed if we had asked this year's 18-year-olds to put their lives and futures on hold.

"I think that gets you to a really very difficult position. It creates problems for delivery of higher education next year and enormous mental health and youth unemployment challenges so I think there are some really difficult trade offs here.

"At the beginning of term there was some behaviour that accelerated transmissions but we have worked incredibly hard with students and put an awful lot of communication and effort in and that has paid off and we have seen behaviour respond to advice."

Mr Lamberts said any movement of individuals brought a risk of transmission.

Feature pictures of Koen Lamberts vice chancellor of Sheffield University. Picture Scott Merrylees

"There is an element of behavioural compliance which we have limited control over but on the whole compliance has been very good.

"It's about balancing the benefits of providing students with an education with the risk any movement of people inevitably brings."

Both vice chancellors said they hoped to see a return of foreign students.

Mr Lamberts said: "A significant number are waiting to see what will happen in the new year and have deferred their arrival. There are still challenges around visa provision and international travel.

"Our registrations are encouraging, we will see a reduction in international students but their intention to come is holding up reasonably well so we won't see that significant shortfall predicted early this year."

Sir Chris added: "You can do a significant amount of work using a range of technology but we don't want to cease bringing the world to Sheffield because it makes this city such an interesting place."

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