Years abroad get long awaited go-ahead

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Durham students wanting to undertake a work or study placement abroad can now apply to travel, regardless of the destination. The decision comes after an open letter to the University, signed by over 300 students, as well as new government and insurance guidance and advice.

Year abroad travel was previously categorised by the University as non-essential, and so not permitted to countries categorised as ‘high risk’ by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

In a statement, Professor Claire O’Malley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global), said: “I’m pleased to say it has been agreed by the University Executive that students who wish to undertake a work or study placement outside the UK,
including in countries that are not on the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office’s exempt list, may now apply for permission to travel via the University’s placement and travel cover approval processes.”

She added: “Our commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of our students is our first priority.” While students conducting a year abroad in any country may apply, travel will only be endorsed by the University following a rigorous risk assessment.

“This decision has been taken based on a number of factors including, guidance from our cover providers and from other partners; the changing situation regarding Covid-19-related risk, including the ability to assess the
risk of travel to individual countries; feedback from our student body; new Government guidance on the year abroad; and Government advice on the likely duration of the pandemic.

“Students should be reassured that this policy enables them to travel abroad subject to approval, but does not require them to do so.”

“For those students who do not wish to travel abroad or are unable to do so, we will be offering a significantly more extensive Year Abroad Alternative Programme, and ensuring that degree outcomes are not detrimentally affected while maintaining the high standards that characterise a Durham degree”.

In an open letter to the School of Modern Languages & Cultures
(MLAC) department, students had expressed doubt that they could achieve the same level of linguistic and cultural knowledge without spending a year abroad. In addition, they criticised the alternative offered by the University at the time: “only offering films, podcasts or as an alternative programme with two contact hours and office hours in place of a usually full-time work placement or actual teaching at a foreign university is unacceptable.”

They have left us in a complete state of limbo

Professor O’Malley said that the University administration does “understand the frustration our students have experienced caused by disruption to their year abroad plans due to the effects of Covid-19.”

Harriet Gray, one of the organisers of the letter, told Palatinate: “We collected over 300 signatures and the university listened, completely changing their stance on international travel. As students we have the power to make change, as long as we can band together.”

However, many non-MLAC students are understood to have already cancelled plans for a year abroad, for whom the decision has come too late. It also remained unclear whether it would be possible for those studying Chinese and Japanese to go abroad in Epiphany, with concerns over exchange rules forbidding the start of an educational year in January.

Iona, a student at St Aidan’s College who was meant to go to Japan this year, said the recent change in policy “should have been a given from the start”, but expressed concern about the treatment of students of Japanese and Chinese: “The second semester of my exchange at Tokyo University has now been cancelled after the first semester was back in April […] They have left us in a complete state of limbo with no actual support or clarity.”

Image: Bonnett via Creative Commons

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