A group of over 100 international students sent a petition to the UK Home Office last week voicing fears over having their visas terminated due to self-isolating – because of attendance rules attached to visa conditions.

However, the Home Office has confirmed to The PIE News it had put measures in place regarding visas and attendance since February.

“Decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies are for sponsors to make”

It states on the website that “decisions on whether to withdraw a student from their studies are for sponsors to make” and that they won’t take “any compliance action against students who are unable to attend their studies due to the coronavirus outbreak”.

Advisory body UKCISA noted that it had received 37 calls since 22 January concerning coronavirus “but many of these preceded the updated UKVI guidance on visa conditions”. 

The student petition also pushed for the “video recording [of] all classes” and to “consider students’ online attendance equal to physical attendance”.

At the time of publishing, no UK universities have switched exclusively to online learning, while some have spoken out about the impact that a complete shut down would have should the coronavirus outbreak worsen.

Speaking with The Guardian, an unnamed vice-chancellor of a Russell Group university said that a complete shutdown of their institution would be impossible as students would be left with nowhere to go.

“We couldn’t fully close. What do you do with thousands of international students who can’t go home?” they said, adding that their university would provide free accommodation for international students who were stranded, even if the UK government told them to shut.

“We couldn’t fully close. What do you do with thousands of international students who can’t go home?”

According to several reports, international students – particularly those from Asian countries – also continue to be worried that wearing surgical masks in public will put them at risk of abuse and harassment.

Wearing masks to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses is common in many Asian countries as a prevention method that limits the spread of respiratory diseases.

“I have heard a few cases of Asian students being attacked. One of the cases involved someone I knew from the University of Manchester,” said an undergraduate from Malaysia studying accounting and finance, who was introduced to The PIE through the city’s International Society.

“It is worrying that these attackers target Asians… and it also shows the lack of public education of the situation now in the UK about the cause of the spread of the virus.”

Marlon Zeyuan Meng, the head of Coventry University’s Chinese Students and Scholars Association chapter, told The PIEthat its members also had worries about wearing masks in public but that his university was attempting to promote greater public understanding of the motivations of mask wearers.

“We are very happy to see that Coventry University has responded positively to this issue. It was the first to release information explaining the cultural differences with regards to masks,” he said, adding that the university plans to release a short video on the matter.

He also highlighted several other concerns international students had.

“It is really important that there is as little disruption as possible to students’ learning and so we need to have measures in place so that students feel comfortable staying in the UK,” he added.

“A key part of that is to relax attendance monitoring and also for UK universities to quickly move to more online delivery.”

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s not just the Chinese students or the SE Asian community that feeling worried about the Coronavirus,” Jackie Yip, president of the student union at Cardiff University, told The PIE.

“Students have every right to feel worried. This is a scary thing, especially when the media heightens everything up. We want to assure students that it’s still safe to go to lectures, it’s still safe to gather and we are following the guidance from Public Housing Wales.”

“It is really important that there is as little disruption as possible to students’ learning”

Student unions reported that they were keen for lessons to continue as normally as possible unless government advice changed.

Hina, an exchange student from Japan also at the University of Manchester, noted that with only a couple of months left in the country, she wanted to be able to take lectures and tutorials as usual.

“But I also know some of my friends don’t want to go to lecture halls that lots of people gather in,” she added.

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