Covid-19 cases at Brighton University have more than quadrupled in less than three weeks.
The latest figures show 197 students have tested positive with the virus, along with five staff and two others from campus-based “partner organisations”.
It has led to calls for extra safety measures – including making face masks compulsory in lectures – while some staff are openly calling for all lectures to be moved online.
As early as October 12, Brighton University’s Unison branch warned it was time to prepare for “a significant outbreak by facilitating testing of all students” – when only 47 cases had been reported.
It says many staff are worried about being on site and have concerns about the location of the infections, which are not being revealed “to protect the confidentiality” of those involved.
A Unison statement said: “Whilst face-coverings are essential in common areas, we think now would be an appropriate time to insist that they should be mandatory (exclusions permitting) in all settings on university sites.
“Students will accept being asked to wear face coverings in classes if asked to do so and with the exception of some classes, this is a reasonable measure to prevent infection of staff members and students.”
Despite strict new measures, including reduced class sizes, virtual lectures, and Freshers’ Week events being moved online, the virus has continued to spread since the start of term last month.
But the university, which has 20,000 students and 2,500 staff across its campuses in Brighton and Eastbourne, says there has not been a spike in cases.
A spokesman said: “Since the start of the academic year we have seen on average around six cases per day. This trend has been pretty flat.
“The upturn in numbers on specific days is largely down to delayed test results being notified to us via the NHS.”
He said the university’s safety measures were constantly being reviewed.
“The university spent many months preparing for the start of term and has put in place a wide range of measures across its campuses to help keep everyone safe,” he told Overtime.
“We are working very closely with the local councils in Brighton and Eastbourne, Public Health England and other local partners across the city to co-ordinate our collective efforts to manage the risks.”
The spokesman said there were no plans to move all lectures online and the university would continue to deliver blended learning in line with government guidance.
He added: “Any students in halls who fail to follow official guidance are being spoken to and reminded of their responsibilities.
“The vast majority of students are behaving responsibly.”
The university earlier said students living in halls of residence who tested positive for coronavirus were being supported by “residential life advisers”, while those in private accommodation had access to help from Student Support and Guidance Tutors embedded within each academic school.
One student, living in halls at Eastbourne, said of night-times: “There’s been a lot of noise, there’s been a lot of people partying.
“We’ve been quite respective of the rules, wearing masks as we go out of our flat, but in terms of other students in the halls we’ve all been a little bit worried about how they might have been mixing in big groups.
“From what I’ve heard there was another flat that had to go into lockdown because one of the students got coronavirus.
“So they’ve had to lockdown for two weeks and do their classes online.”
Despite the jump in cases at Brighton University, it still has one of the lowest coronavirus rates in the south east, especially when compared to competitors such as Oxford (496), Sussex (470), and Bournemouth (256).
Minister of State for Universities Michelle Donelan recently confirmed at least 9,000 university students have caught the virus across the UK.
It comes as the University and College Union launched a legal challenge against the government for allegedly ignoring advice issued by its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on September 21 to shift all learning online.
It wants a review of the decision and to be consulted before any future changes. The government has until 6 November to respond.
Meanwhile, the University and College Union is balloting members for potential strike action about compulsory job losses.
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For details of all the measures Brighton University is taking in response to Covid-19 click here