Swine Flu: A very real threat to education

It can’t possibly have escaped anyone’s attention that there is a potential global pandemic on our doorstep in the form of Swine Flu, or to give it its proper name, influenza A(H1N1). But instead of just feeling sorry for those people who have already booked a summer holiday to Mexico, should we actually be considering the very real possibility of a knock-on effect for higher education?

At the moment the World Health Organisation advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. However this could all change. If Swine Flu was to develop in the way scientists and politicians fear it could lead to a ban on international travel. How would universities cope with the loss of income that international students represent, or with delays to students starting their course or sitting their exams?

It’s not just students that would need to be considered either, overseas academics travelling for start of the academic year could similarly become caught up in travel restrictions.

Consider too, what if a case of Swine Flu was diagnosed within a university community: how would it affect teaching, events in student unions, graduation ceremonies etc?

Institutions need to be ready to respond

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has issued guidelines for further and higher education institutions about the sensible precautions that can be taken to mitigate the possible effects of swine flu. These include:

  • Keeping staff and students informed and directing them towards general background information
  • Checking/updating your business continuity plans: considering how your institution would stay open, and how you might reduce operations should it be necessary
  • Making sure there are contact lists of names, phone numbers and addresses for all staff and students available
  • Considering your policies for staff absences
  • Ensuring your plans take account of the needs of international students
  • Keeping in close contact with your Student Union
  • Considering how you would manage any media interest

To read these guidelines in full please visit: http://www.dius.gov.uk/news_and_speeches/announcements/swine_flu

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