Cambridge's testing policy differs from universities across the countryPixabay

After the University's asymptomatic screening programme began on Monday 5th October, Varsity investigated how students - in Cambridge and beyond - felt about it.

Alice Gilderdale, Cambridge SU Welfare Officer, told Varsity: “The SU has been pushing for mass testing of staff and students before the proposal was formulated, and therefore welcomes this testing programme which goes some way to eliminate transmission by asymptomatic students.” .

“By no means does this programme go far enough to tackle the challenges facing us this term [...] the SU has pushed for all students, staff and members of the local community to be offered tests, yet at present only students within halls of residence are offered tests”.

Under the screening programme all undergraduates and postgraduates in College accommodation are eligible to participate - meaning those living out of college are unable to take part.

Testing capacity is at approximately 2,000 tests every week (subject to national testing needs), allowing about 16,000 students to be screened weekly due to the pooling system.  Despite being in its second week, the programme is still operating at a reduced scale.

Ellie Dunstone, a student not covered by the screening programme, said that she doesn't "live in college anymore so I’m not actually able to get tested unless I have symptoms.” She nonetheless saw an advantage to test data “be[ing] used to investigate the use of asymptomatic testing programmes [...] benefit[ting] other students in the future.”

The screening programme is a new pilot “to see whether pooled samples can help maximise the number of tests available”, according to a university spokesperson. While national testing facilities are used, the University’s limited number of tests are used for research purposes,  with NHS Test and Trace samples taking priority.

On student welfare, Gilderdale "hope[s] the testing programme will provide reassurance to students that the University is currently monitoring the situation and responding adequately.” 

“However, the SU is worried that an increased number of cases may lead to safe social spaces being closed and forcing students to socialise in less safe environments".

 Instead of testing weekly, many other universities only test students when they show symptoms.

One student at University College London (UCL) revealed that testing there is only provided for symptomatic students and staff.

They continued: “this is nowhere near enough, especially considering the amount of irresponsible parties that have gone on without being cracked down on [...] I do not feel comfortable moving into accommodation in London".

Shruthi Natarajan, a 2nd year at Manchester, thinks Cambridge’s testing “is a fantastic move [...] to not only ensure consistent testing, but also to motivate students to remain vigilant”, meanwhile a 2nd year student at Durham told Varsity that while Cambridge should be commended, it is “a reminder of [their] financial privilege [...] other universities just don’t have the [same] funds”

A Bristol student believed Cambridge’s testing initially “showed a clear gulf in funding and organisation [with] most other universities who do not have the capacity to offer such services [...] the use of national testing facilities should be permitted as it was not the students’ choice to return to university.”


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However, such universities as Bristol do have structures in place, like mobile testing sites. The student added:“there are plenty of tests and Cambridge just attempted to be proactive [...] because of the separate nature of colleges in comparison to the halls [and] private rental structure of Bristol.”

Elsewhere, reserved student testing in Cambridge has been shown to be at odds with the local community. Esther Hunt of Future Care Solutions, a local domiciliary care provider, said they “are finding it hard to get tests locally and in a timely manner and are not on the priority list for testing, [which] could potentially have a huge impact on our staffing levels and the ability for us to care for our clients in their own homes.”