23 April 2021
What is Talking Point?
Cambridge News asks a representative of each local political party to answer a question on a local issue in just 300 words. The answers are then published in the physical copy of the Cambridge News every week. Here, we share our responses.
Today's Question: Do you think the decision to wait another month, perhaps even longer, to fully reopen universities, including Anglia Ruskin University and University of Cambridge, is "hugely disappointing"?
It is not only disappointing, it does not make any sense.
Those of us who work or study in our universities already know only too well the enormous pressure that isolation has put on everyone in the university community. Those with pastoral responsibilities - tutors, counsellors, clergy - see the costs in terms of mental health and the effects that a lack of personal contact with one’s peers and teachers has over time. Spirits are ground down and normally bubbly energetic people become flat and unresponsive.
This is a tragedy for students for whom their time at university would normally offer horizon broadening experiences and contact with stimulating and challenging people they wouldn’t otherwise meet. It is difficult for teachers also. Attending a lecture online is frustrating, but trying to give one can be dispiriting. Without the personal element of connecting with other people in the room it becomes an exercise in talking to yourself. Administrative and support staff have borne a huge burden as well. It is no fun getting on top of your normal workload from a laptop on your kitchen table, without the normal support and interaction from colleagues.
Despite the government’s lack of action large numbers of students are already returning. You only have to walk around the centre of Cambridge to see that. What is lacking is any form of face to face teaching. In a time when pubs, tattoo artists and hairdressers are open this makes no sense. Compared with them, universities are relatively safe environments. Back in October we learned a lot about how to stop the spread of the virus by dividing students into bubbles and limiting risky interaction.
It seems that the government’s attention is elsewhere. Apparently they couldn’t care less about the higher education sector. Are we surprised?
Our response was written Jeremy Caddick. Jeremy is the County Council Candidate for Abbey in the 2021 Election. He has lived in Cambridge for more than 25 years and is the Dean and Chaplain at one of the Colleges in Cambridge University. He was one of the leaders of the campaign for the University to cut its links with fossil fuel companies.