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Coronavirus: Northern Ireland students in lockdown at Great Britain universities left angry and confused

Chaos for those who travelled over as decision made 'at last minute' to switch to online classes

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Covid-19 signage at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus (Peter Byrne/PA)

Covid-19 signage at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus (Peter Byrne/PA)

Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus where hundreds of students have been told to self-isolate (Peter Byrne/PA)

Signs on a window at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus where hundreds of students have been told to self-isolate (Peter Byrne/PA)

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Students at Queen’s University’s halls of residence on Monday

Students at Queen’s University’s halls of residence on Monday

Covid-19 signage at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Birley campus (Peter Byrne/PA)

Students from Northern Ireland who travelled to universities in Great Britain over the last week have expressed anger at the chaos and confusion caused by last minute lockdowns and 11th hour decisions to switch to online learning.

Mass lockdowns are in place at Glasgow and Manchester Metropolitan Universities, while outbreaks were reported elsewhere as tens of thousands of students from across the UK and beyond were encouraged to return to campus.

One student from Northern Ireland, who waited until as late as possible before deciding to return to a university in Wales, was stunned to be told at 11.30pm on Sunday that classes would be conducted entirely online from Tuesday.

Samantha Nic Dhaibhi, from Upper Ballinderry, said she had been safely living at home in a small social bubble, and would not have travelled back if she knew there would be no in-person classes.

The third year languages student at the University of Aberyswyth in west Wales, described how she arrived back on Friday morning to a flat she shares with four other people.

She said: "I was in contact from four months ago asking will it (classes) be in person, but got no information. A week or so ago I was told it was all in person so said, 'May as well make sure I get over'."

Then at 11.30pm on Sunday, she along with all other students was told that everything would be online.

"That was the first we heard. They said it was due to an increase in cases, then heard two cases linked to the university, then in the student body. It has caused confusion."

Samantha noted that the student population of more than 8,000 is about half the total in the entire town and "the economy could not function" without the students.

"I was living with my grandmother in a bubble, with a small social circle, completely safe, but now in a student house, lots of problems when you are mixing with other students," Samantha said.

She said few in the town are heeding social distancing rules and some students houses have 12 people living in them. She would not have travelled back to Wales if she knew it was going to be online.

Her grandmother back in Northern Ireland added: "I feel this is a total disaster, the Government has used the 'bring back students', the 'need to educate' etc to bolster fees to the universities and to private landlords.

"No consideration has been given to the well being of the students."

A university spokesman said it "has been a difficult call".

"We will be making further assessments of how to proceed with our plans to teach in-person as further information is available to us," he said.

"In the meantime, we will continue to monitor the situation and act accordingly in close collaboration with local, regional and national agencies."

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Plight: Tina McKenzie and daughter Molly

Plight: Tina McKenzie and daughter Molly

Plight: Tina McKenzie and daughter Molly

Prominent Belfast businesswoman Tina McKenzie also described her 19-year-old daughter's experience after she and others locked down in Edinburgh asked for food to be delivered.

"She's vegan and gave details of her dietary needs. They sent her Mars bars and croissants," said Ms McKenzie.

She vowed that there is no chance she will allow her daughter, Molly, to be locked down on campus for "weeks and weeks on end".

Molly had to isolate along with her flat mates after one of their number showed symptoms. He tested negative with the result coming back today.

"It was just chaotic... no-one was checking on the guy at all," said Ms McKenzie, who added that she understood that it is difficult for universities as they still have outgoings, including paying their lecturers.

"But they have to handle this in a better way, for the students' mental health, physical health. This is going to go on for many, many months."

The businesswoman and former politician added: "And all this negativity about students should be knocked on the head, let us support them."

Ben Anderson, a first year nursing student at Manchester Metropolitan University, is quarantined in a flat with 12 other people.

They are rationing food, he said.

"It is really rough at the moment. We are just really disheartened by the whole entire situation," Ben told BBC Radio Four.

"People are even wanting to drop out.

"We are not getting the university experience.

"And I am not talking about going out and partying. We are just not getting the education."

Other students at the university - where signs have been spotted including one proclaiming "HMP Manchester" - are complaining of anxiety, depression and claustrophobia.

Belfast Telegraph