Dorm snitches and party bans: how universities around the world are tackling Covid

From overcrowded lecture halls in France to a ban on sleepovers in Ireland, special coronavirus apps in the UK, snitching on dorm parties in the US and shuttered campus gates in India, students face a range of experiences when – or if – universities reopen.

Authorities around the world have introduced different measures to try to balance the needs of third-level education with those of public health amid an autumnal surge in Covid-19 infections. Students will encounter new rules, tensions and scrutiny in response to fears that universities and colleges will open the pandemic’s floodgates.

At one extreme lies France where the government wants people back in lecture halls and tutorial rooms to bridge education inequities worsened by the crisis. Mask wearing is mandatory at all times and social distancing is encouraged but some institutions – not all – are overcrowded, with students cramming every seat and nook of lecture halls.

“It’s quite hard at the moment because we haven’t got any extra means,” said Franziska Heimburger, the assistant director of the University of Sorbonne’s English department. “We don’t have any more teachers, we don’t have any more space, so we basically have to teach as best we can.”

Some students across France have denounced overcrowding and inadequate hygiene on social media using the hashtag #balancetafac (squeal on your uni).

Across Europe, where universities open this and next month, there are rules on social distancing and hand washing as well as expanded online teaching. Italy is prioritising in-class teaching for first-year students.

Some British colleges have set up their own testing sites and apps to identify, track – and hopefully help contain – outbreaks. University College London will use only a quarter of its buildings at one time, a policy recommended by one of the UK’s leading public health experts.

Many countries have banned student parties. In Scotland students have been told not to go to pubs this weekend.

Ireland has banned students from hosting visitors or overnight guests in college accommodation. Universities planned to reduce in-person learning and on Friday agreed to a government request to further scale that back.

Staff at one Dublin university said preparations were “Pythonesque”, with authorities at one point wanting to limit hand-sanitising stations lest they drew crowds.

In Greece students are demanding emergency funding for extra teaching staff and cleaners to ensure not all lessons are conducted remotely. Students in Thessaloniki are lobbying to be allowed to use expansive facilities that normally house the city’s international trade fair.

Israeli universities barely had time to work out their coronavirus policies for the autumn semester before record infection rates triggered a second national lockdown last week, shuttering nurseries, schools and universities.

In India, where daily coronavirus cases exceed 80,000, only one state has given approval for universities to reopen for the new term, which typically begins in November. Restrictions overseas have prompted many Indians – 61%, according to one survey – to postpone plans for international study.

The pandemic has thrown US universities into disarray. Despite distancing rules in classrooms and canteens, dozens of campuses have become virus hotspots, with suspicion falling on cramped dorms and parties. Some universities have sent students home and cancelled in-person instruction, alarming health officials who worry students will spread the virus at home.

Some colleges, such as Yale, have set up hotlines to report risky activity. Others are asking students to report illicit parties and name peers who break rules, prompting a debate on the ethics of snitching in the era of Covid-19.

Rory Carroll in Dublin, Helena Smith in Athens, Hannah Ellis-Petersen in Delhi, Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem and Associated Press.


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