Residents of university cities are afraid the return of students soon will lead to coronavirus spikes in their area, a UK survey shows.
In Sheffield, South Yorkshire, Carolyn Hodson of a neighbourhood residents group said, “There is a certain amount of fear. We have seen a lot of irresponsible groups of young people gathering in large numbers, having parties in the park and leaving a mess for others to clear up.”
She added, “We have a very large Chinese student population who always tend to wear masks and work hard, keeping themselves to themselves. But the same can’t be said of our homegrown students who are more of a partying mentality and find it difficult to stick to the rules.”
In the UK, students usually prefer to attend universities far from home, in a bid for freedom from parents for the first time in their lives.
First-year students tend to live in university halls of residence rooms which are strictly monitored.
Older students usually have to move out into rented accommodation spread around the town, and it is these suddenly unrestricted youngsters, and the high jinks they might get up to, who worry locals.
Linda Lovell, of a residents’ association in Durham in the north of England, said, “The anxiety in Durham is that the university is very big for such a small city, so it’s a lot of excited young people suddenly landing in quite a small city centre.”
She added, “I don’t think there’s any particular anti-student feeling. Most locals feel rather sorry for them because it’s not going to be great for them this year.”
Polling organisation Survation surveyed the opinions of 1,000 people living in 25 towns and cities with large student populations. These included Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Leicester, all cities where increased lockdown restrictions have been put in place.
Half of those polled said it might be better if students stayed in their hometowns and attended online lectures until the country is out of the woods.
However, it is unlikely that universities will opt for that approach.
So residents of university towns up and down the country will be holding their breath as thousands of students arrive ready to party.