Is Covid apathy setting in amongst students?

This week we’ve been hearing wildly varied accounts of what is going on across the country when it comes to student travel plans this Christmas.

We wanted to get a steer on what the picture looks like nationally as well as what plans look like in January for returning to university so we commissioned a Pulse Check survey of 1,000 students across the country.

Key findings:

  • 31% of students that will be travelling back imminently don’t plan on having a test before travelling.
  • 25% of students are already at home and have left before the government window.
  • 7 out of 10 students are not worried about returning home for Christmas.
  • 12% are not planning on heading home for Christmas.
  • 56% of students still plan to return to university in the first half of January.

Students reported back to us a variety of stories:

Josh Akapo, a final year at King’s College London felt his university could do better:

“I wasn’t aware free COVID-19 testing was being offered to all students until I saw an intra-department email reminding us to book a test. Initially I thought they were for international students going home for Christmas, then realised they wouldn’t be valid for fit-to-fly certifications in airlines. I’d be interested in taking a test, however they don’t have many locations and it still seems to alienate those who don’t want to travel to campus at all. Home kits aren’t being sent out…”

There are a variety of concerns going on – Helen Ross, at Glasgow University reported “I’m going home to a fragile community in the North Highlands where the nearest hospital is a 120 mile round trip, thus far its been well insulated from Covid so I obviously feel a sense I should be careful.”

And for international students it could be a lonely Christmas, Suki Cheung a brand ambassador at Uni of Sheffield won’t be travelling to her home in Hong Kong this Christmas as “the risks and restrictions are too much of a strain” – she is now the only one left in her student accommodation so faces a lonely few weeks.”

My take is that to think that students are going to follow guidelines as one homogenous group is naive. We’ve been tracking student behaviour all term and are seeing a very significant proportion that are following all guidelines very carefully. At the same time, there is a significant proportion, 31% who don’t plan on getting tested before headed home for Christmas. A lot of these students will point the blame at institutions for not making testing easy enough, but our sense is that there is also a segment of students who have grown weary of coronavirus.

Like all demographics, there is a big split within the student community in attitudes to covid-19 and it seems to be growing.

For businesses nervous of stifled footfall with reduced student numbers in the new year, the picture seems to be mixed too. Over half of students expect to be back in the first two weeks of January – which is obviously a decline on usual years but shows it won’t be the ghost town some had feared. Only 2.5% think they’ll be staying away from their term time accommodation until February.

This year we’ve been constantly trying to second guess student behaviour, we tentatively think that this is the start of it getting back to a more regular rhythm.

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