International students have raised a number of concerns surrounding returning to Cambridge in MichaelmasDiliff

Over 600 international students have signed an open letter condemning the University’s “lack of communication, flexibility and accountability” throughout the Covid-19 crisis and outlining a list of demands related to the University’s plans for the upcoming academic year.

The open letter, written in collaboration with College international representatives, cultural society leaders, the International Students’ Campaign (ISC) and Cambridge Students’ Union, listed demands calling for “clear and certain reassurances” from the University.

Particular areas of concern outlined by the open letter include arrangements for intermission, deferral, quarantine, health plans, hardship costs, and travelling.

The open letter follows what has been described as “blanket references to the University’s statements” in response to concerns raised by international students and “alarming inconsistencies across colleges” surrounding specific policies.

A lack of clarity regarding return dates for international students has been a particular problem.“International students face very limited flights and increasingly high prices as time passes,” Megan Hsu, the ISC freshers officer told Varsity.

She continued: “Late notices from colleges on when they expect us to return is worsened by the fact that internationals who need to quarantine will have to return much earlier than usual, giving them even less time to find plane tickets to buy.”

“This is even worse for freshers, who also have visa applications to worry about. A-level results only came out on August 13, giving them little over a month to apply for visas and book flights to the UK,” she highlighted.

Hsu emphasised the issues that inconsistencies in return policy across colleges have caused amongst students: “Whilst other colleges’ return dates are later, international students at some colleges are required to arrive by September 7th – far less than a month away, and hardly enough time to apply for a visa. This has caused drastically different levels of stress amongst students at different colleges.”

The letter also highlights that international students “are being required to risk our health and wellbeing and face numerous uncertainties by travelling to Cambridge for the coming academic year.”

“We have not yet received adequate guarantees from the University and the Colleges that it is safe to travel to the UK and study in residence, particularly as many international students are residing in environments where COVID-19 management is better and social distancing is more strictly imposed”, the letter continues. This was followed up in the letter with a call for the university to provide a health plan with “full, transparent, consistent and detailed information about how the University will create and maintain a safe environment for students”

Regarding international students' concerns over the health risks of travelling to Cambridge, a University spokesperson detailed that “a public health campaign developed by the University and Colleges - and created in consultation with students - will shortly be launched” which will explain how public health guidance “applies to life in Cambridge” as well as communicating “infection control measures in place and planning for future scenarios.”

Another one of the central demands of the letter is to allow international students with concerns about Covid-19 to study remotely, even if they do not have an underlying medical condition.

The letter stresses that the University must clarify its intermission policy as currently the deadline to apply to intermit is the 3rd of September, with students only hearing back at the end of September. A decision at the end of September makes it virtually impossible for a student to be able to apply for a visa and to book flights to the UK in time for Michaelmas, particularly when factoring in a 14-day quarantine period.

In response to international students’ concerns about the upcoming year, a University spokesperson told Varsity that “we have been working to reassure them [international students] and keep them up to date on preparations for teaching, and the measures we are taking to ensure Cambridge is as safe as possible.”

The spokesperson continued: “An enormous amount of complex planning has been required as part of the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout this time we have sent students guidance via email, and dedicated pages on the University website continue to be updated with advice and information.”

However, Hsu emphasised that all that international students’ have received from the University and their colleges are “fragmented, indifferent, and cursory responses that have only increased internationals’ frustration with and distrust of the university’s ability to safely conduct an in-person term during a raging pandemic.”

“While it is understandable that there is a lot for them to figure out, they have had since March to come up with a sufficient plan to bring students back in a safe and satisfactory manner,” Hsu told Varsity.

Another concern raised in the letter surrounds the University’s planning for a potential second wave. The letter details that the University must “provide an evacuation plan in the event of any subsequent wave of COVID-19 and guarantee that no student will be pressured into leaving accommodation having made the decision to return at the start of the academic year.”

This follows criticism of colleges forcing international students to leave at very short notice in Lent, in the midst of rapidly changing travel restrictions and a shortage of plane tickets, which the letter describes as a “distressing situation” which led to “significant mental stress” for “students and their families.”

The letter also asks that the University clarify whether in the event of a second wave they will “provide financial or other assistance for international travelling and support students in their attempts to travel home”.

This was accompanied with additional demands for financial assistance in the form of waiving rents during the compulsory 14-day quarantine, concessions for missed contact hours, hardship funds for specific concerns, as well as “further compensation to students who suffered due to the extended period required for decisions on coming to or leaving Cambridge.”


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Jasmine Loo, ISC Chair, furthers that it is yet unclear how international students during their quarantine period “will be given food and care”.

She highlighted that while some colleges have informed students food will be delivered to them, some are expecting students to organise food deliveries and that these inconsistencies lead to “unease” among international students.

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