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Higher education and the individualization of COVID-19

What’s going to happen in UK universities in September? This piece from Jim Dickinson seems plausible about the possible intersection between ‘learning to live with the virus’ (in other words the individualization of the problem once the vaccine programme is mostly or entirely complete) and the ‘migration event’ which takes place at the start of each academic year:

That suggests that either they think some kind of immunity level will be reached that starts to cause the virus to melt away or barely transmit, OR (/AND) they at that point consider the risk so low to under 50s that they just say “be sensible and watch out” to them.

In any case, if we get to the week of your university’s Freshers and 18-year-olds aren’t all double jabbed, we may be in a position where the government is saying “the risks are too low for us to legally intervene” but “people that run certain things should take care”.

That would then place pressure on universities to delay the “migration event” voluntarily, because of the (minor but heightened) risks posed by halls of residence specifically, and new student household formation in September/October generally.

The point is that the mood music is that there won’t be formal restrictions on universities opening anything by Freshers. But if a university then goes beyond the legal minimums, and restricts or socially distances lecture theatres but fills halls, what would be the rationale for the contradiction of caution in the former, but “go for it” in the latter?

He points out how international students who’ve either not had a vaccine or have had a vaccine not recognised in the UK would complicate this further, particularly in terms of the number who would require quarantine facilities. There’s a double bind here: a marketised sector relies on residential income and fixed costs don’t decline with online teaching but the same process of marketisation leaves universities vulnerable to students-as-consumers who are (understandably) pissed off to be paying the same fees for what they regard as an inadequate service.

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