A recent government announcement now requires those returning to the UK from overseas to pay £1,750 for a mandatory hotel quarantine. The new guidance will require British nationals to quarantine in a hotel for a minimum of 10 days in a government-approved facility if they have returned from one of the UK’s 33 ‘red-list’ countries – those which are deemed to pose the most risk due to new COVID-19 variants. There remains a complete ban on non-UK nationals and residents entering the UK from the ‘red-list’ countries, whether vaccinated or not.
Despite the PM’s announcement that international travel could potentially resume in May, thousands of students currently on their study abroad placements will be forced into self-funding their hotel quarantine. The 10-day minimum quarantine will also be extended by a further 10 days upon a positive test result, alongside which comes an extra £152 per night. Therefore, a positive test result on day eight will add £1,216 to the hotel quarantine charge. Although the government has put in place arrangements for those who cannot afford the £1,750, this only consists of a deferred payment plan. Also, in order to qualify, you must already be receiving income-related benefits; meaning that many students will be forced to pay the £1,750 with no deferral upon return to the UK.
Students have been facing increased financial hardship during the pandemic. With a lack of reduced rent for houses that students were not allowed to travel to, and tuition fees remaining at a record high despite a decrease in contact hours and teaching quality as a result, the hotel quarantine charge yet again ignores students in the pandemic. Following a difficult year, students cannot afford the hotel quarantine charge and in order to encourage travel abroad for education purposes, this fee must be reduced or even waivered for students.
It could bankrupt students for whom travel abroad is an essential part of their degree
Often, year abroad placements are a compulsory part of a degree; or at least are recommended to improve employability and global awareness. Travel abroad is not cheap in the first instance. However, when adding on excessive quarantine charges, it could bankrupt students for whom travel abroad is an essential part of their degree. Aside from the complications of obtaining a negative test result and booking accommodation prior to departure to the UK, the hotel quarantine charge makes travel abroad more complicated, stressful, and expensive than ever before.
In February, the Government reaffirmed its commitment to the International Education Strategy, which aims to increase international student numbers to 600,000 a year and increase the economic impact of the industry to £35bn annually by 2030. This commitment promises to support the recovery and growth of student travel, in order to bring both social and economic benefits of student travel to the UK. However, the hotel quarantine charge goes against this strategy and acts as a costly barrier to achieving this.
The mental health of students, along with their finances and education, has been ignored in the pandemic.
Additionally, this mandatory quarantine charge is reminiscent of the isolation periods in student accommodations across the UK. Students will once again be left to isolate alone (unless they travelled with someone else); inevitably having a negative effect on their mental health. Quarantining in hotel rooms will be just as, if not more, lonely than the quarantine in student accommodations that many students across the country experienced with people they had only known for a matter of weeks. The mental health of students, along with their finances and education, has been ignored in the pandemic. COVID-19 has inevitably changed education and travel across the world however, £1,750 for 10 days of isolation is excessive and, actively creates a barrier to students seeking to improve their education through international travel.
Since the announcement of the charge, StudentUniverse, a leading student and youth travel site, has experienced a drop in international flight searches. If the quarantine charge acts as a deterrent to travel to or from the UK for international study, students will be prevented from having valuable experiences abroad. Therefore, this is not just an issue relevant at the moment, but also for the future. With the uncertainty of when this charge will be lifted, fewer students will be likely to choose to travel abroad. According to StudentUniverse, the international student and youth travel market is worth £25bn each year. Therefore, this hotel quarantine charge will not only have significant negative social impacts but also economic impacts; including when it comes to aiding the recovery of the UK’s economy from Covid-19.
StudentUniverse has written to Rt. Hon Gavin Williamson calling for students to be exempt from the hotel quarantine charge in order for the UK to not miss out on the benefits of international student travel. BETA (British Education Travel Association) and NUS Scotland have also called for students to be exempt from the charge in order to prevent them from missing out on their studies overseas.
Even though a phased approach to lifting lockdown and stronger measures to prevent the spread of new variants is essential in combatting the virus, a £1,750 charge is excessive and extremely prohibitive to student travellers, as well as the International Education Strategy. Students have already been negatively impacted by the pandemic through study-abroad placements being ended early, universities closing and the uncertainty of what the rest of their degrees hold. Quarantine is necessary but, the Government also promises to increase student travel, which the hotel quarantine charge acts against.
Featured image courtesy of Mikey Harris via Unsplash. Image license found here. In-article images courtesy of Charlotte Smith. No changes were made to the images.
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