What NYU’s disastrous quarantine means for international students in the UK

As US universities have begun opening up for their Autumn semesters, they’ve faced particular attention surrounding their Covid-19 restrictions.

Certain institutions, such as New York University in the heart of New York City, have faced additional scrutiny due to being based in what was once the epicentre of the virus in the United States. NYU students who resided outside of the tri-state area were expected to self-isolate in their dorms for two weeks, only leaving their ensuite bedrooms to receive regular testing. Their experiences were documented on the popular social media platform, TikTok.

One major concern for students was their access to food. When moving into their new accommodation, residents were limited on what they could bring to one moving cart, thus making it difficult to bring enough non-perishables for the quarantine period. As a solution, NYU provided two complimentary boxed meals a day, which would follow dietary requirements for each of the residents. They were also permitted to order from food delivery couriers such as Grub Hub, Postmates, or Uber Eats between certain hours in the day. While these plans were certainly admirable, in practice they left students unfed and upset.

As the quarantine continued, students shared their catastrophic experiences online. Residents with dairy allergies received products containing milk or lactose, and vegan students would be given boxes containing meat products. Beyond these clear issues, the delivery process was completely disorganised. Students would wait for breakfast until the afternoon, and sometimes lack any food for the best part of 24 hours, according to one TikTok creator.

Yes, students were permitted to order from delivery couriers, but this leaves the most vulnerable students without meals. What must be considered is tuition and fees cost over $53,000 per year, and students can expect to spend more on housing and additional fees. Under NYU’s mandatory quarantine, only the most privileged students could afford to sustain themselves when their institution failed them, leaving vulnerable students in a difficult position.

Eventually, calls from frustrated parents and an internet uproar prompted the university to address the situation. While the meal delivery system became more organised and of better quality, NYU students are now out of quarantine as British international students enter their own. This has incited questions surrounding the responsibility of universities throughout the quarantine process.

At UEA, international students have begun arriving on campus to complete their government-mandated quarantine. The university has eliminated housing fees for the duration of the quarantine process, but still requires students to provide their own food through supermarket delivery services. While it’s too early to tell how this system will work in Norwich, the comparison between quarantines across the pond certainly raises questions.

At NYU and similar US institutions, students typically pay for a meal plan rather than self-catering. As UEA is self-catered with the exception of INTO, there is a grey area as to who is responsible to feed students throughout the quarantine process. In my opinion, international students should be guided through the British supermarket delivery process and receive a small parcel of food to support them through their initial jet-lag period. Additionally, I would advocate for students receiving vouchers to certain delivery couriers.

While there are certainly differences in catering here, two weeks of additional food costs could be difficult to cover for some international students. Only time will tell whether international students in the UK will be under similar or better conditions than their NYU equivalent.


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Morgan Burdick

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October 2021
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