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What Happens to Students if a University Burns Down?

Published by at January 30th, 2023 , Revised On June 19, 2023

Did you know that there are almost 1400-1800 school fires each year in the UK? The educational sector is forced to spend almost 115 million to recover from the damage caused by fires in schools. Those fires can be caused due to natural causes, an accident within school premises, or an arson attack, even.

No matter their cause, fires are one of the most disastrous things that can happen in any place, at any time. Lives can end within a split second; houses can be scorched right off the surface of the earth; entire traces of civilisations? be it human or otherwise? can vanish out of existence by the glorious disasters, fires.

Where fires happen, how they happen, casualties involved, all these factors are studied deeply by fire departments, health and environment personnel, etc to get to the root of the trouble. However, their insights are valuable to prevent the same fire-related disasters from happening again.

But what happens when an institution burns down? What if the students were attempting their final term exams? What happens to younger students if elders are running around in a panicked state too? Who takes care of the injured who need immediate help when, for instance, the medical staff is also injured? Worse of all, what happens when there’s no way out?

Does the outside world come crawling for help? Are there institutional policies to compensate students whose studies were affected during or after a fire?

Let’s have a look at all of these things, and more!

What Happens to Students? It Depends on ‘how much’ was Burned

In the likely event that an entire university building burns right down to the ground like an ember, a couple of problems might arise (other than loss of life, of course) such as:

1.The students lose hard copies of all their documents etc.

2.Graduating students, students scheduled to appear for dissertation defence, etc. might suffer an unexpected delay.

3.Students enrolling in the university for the first time might lose all their academic records, etc.

4.Students who had applied to any post, internship, or some other such line of work within the university might lose the chance to start a new career they’d been looking forward to, one within their university campus.

5.Students’ schedules to appear for end-of-term or worse, end-of-degree exams might suffer a delay, too.

…and many other problems. Problems that might affect students’ course of education even in the long run.

Interesting read: Find out what happened to the 40 schools that burned down in just a month in the UK!

What can Students do?

Pass by Catastrophe

Most of us, if not everyone, have probably come across this notorious term, either in films, television series, or within social gossip with other people. The term represents a condition whereby a natural disaster (including a fire) occurs and consequently, all students appearing for their exams are passed into the next grade/semester automatically.

However, it’s imperative to remind ourselves that we live in a day and age where technology has created a backup for literally everything, especially student records. Furthermore, due to the abundant need for highly skilful, trained and professional employees, companies won’t just hire a graduate whom they later discover jumped a grade because of a fire at their university.

Sure, they might show a sympathetic ear, but they will prefer to hire someone who has completed the minimum required degree courses, to say the least.

So, as realistic as they pass by catastrophe legend sounds, it isn’t. At least, not anymore.

Transfer Credits

These days, it’s a common practice for students to transfer from department to department within the same field, in between fields in the same university and between universities, too. All it takes is a shift of degree credit hours, already completed by the student in the first institution, to the second one, where the transfer is taking place.

That way, when the students enroll in the new institution, they don’t have to repeat the same courses they have already completed from the first institution.

In the highly unfortunate event that a university burns down completely, physically, students might have no other option but to transfer. Luckily, thanks to technology’s biggest benefit to store all the things human memory cannot, a digital record is more than enough for the host institution to make the transfer possible.

Different Mode of Education

Let’s not forget that the misfortune that is COVID-19 is still among us, looming over everyday activities like a thick, gray cloud. So, in these remote-work and remote-education times, even if a university burns down, students can always opt for online classes.

If it so happens that the damage done during the fire was immense, an institution would need time too, to recuperate. Until then, online counselling and therapy might be put into place to help those who were directly or indirectly affected by the fire.

Interesting read: Fires change everything, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the worst. Read about the 7 major fires that changed history.

Arson Attacks

Even though 14 out of 1,000 are likely to commit an arson crime in the UK, fire attacks are not unheard of. Sometimes, they are accidental, but not always. Seven years ago, young male students, aged between 11 to 15, were arrested for suspicion of arson after a Leyland school was burned before the autumn semester began.

Other instances can also be found where schools were burned down in the name of arson.

What do other students do in such a situation? They are, of course, not held responsible. However, in such cases, law officials might be involved, depending on whether an arson attack has indeed been committed.

Those not suspected of arson crime are thoroughly investigated and interviewed, but on school premises only. Measures are taken to apprehend the guilty, but all other school activities have to go on (if the school still stands, of course).

Also read: The British Red Cross‘ mission to help those who have suffered a burn.

Educational and Social Impacts of Fires in the UK – A must-read Study

In November 2007, a comprehensive, eye-opening study was published by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). It not only sheds light on the social, educational and economical effects of school fires but also brought to focus other important issues about school fires that were otherwise being ignored.

For instance, the study mentions some perceptions about educational personnel about school sprinklers. The study claimed these groups of professionals found sprinklers ‘too expensive, that they are prone to cause more ‘damage to school property’ than they will help prevent a fire.

This claim has also been corroborated by BBC publishing a headline titled ‘Burned down Long Eaton school ‘did not have sprinklers’ only last year.

Similarly, the study highlights that only 1 in 14,000,000 sprinklers discharge and even that, due to defects.

Are institutions more concerned about their ‘school property’ than of ensuring a safe, secure environment for their students and teachers, etc? What is really at stake here? Do school fires happen more so all across the UK because universities prefer convenience over cost?

The study, compiled by five different researchers in the UK, includes much more interesting trivia, statistical facts and figures, not to mention highly relevant case studies. They present cases from the past of universities where school fires happened, how they dealt with it; contexts in which such fires harmed students the most and a whole lot more.

It’s definitely worth giving a read!

Conclusion – The Short Answer

What happens to students if a university burns down depends on the institutional policies in place for such a situation. It also depends on the amount of damage done and the availability of resources to recover from such a misfortune.

Some institutions might be able to quickly provide other modes of education to its students, such as e-learning. Contrarily, a student might find themselves having to repeat a course because all records of their degree completion were lost or damaged. After all, even computers can fail sometimes.

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Frequently Asked Questions

It depends on that institution’s policies, but there have been cases where a case of suicide or sudden death sees all other students, deeply traumatised by the incident, passing onto the next class, semester or grade. However, this should not be taken as a rule-of-thumb. Even within the same region, universities might have different policies about what to do when such a thing happens.

Like other similar myths, this, too, is one. And a popular one at that, too. However, it’s not the case, and shouldn’t be held as a rule-of-thumb either. Please refer to your institution to see what kind of financial aid it provides. Furthermore, many US and UK universities state their terms on their official platforms for what benefits a student might receive in case of sudden injury.

The first and foremost call of action is the sudden evacuation of the premises. However, if that isn’t possible, outside help is called for. What happens after that to students, their education, etc, is dependent on the school’s policies, the extent of damage done, availability of resources to recuperate, and so on.

It’s highly unlikely, but just to be sure, please refer to your school’s website and/or administration to verify the actions that will be undertaken in case such misfortune befalls you.

In some exceptional cases, such as when a student has already completed a degree, had been graded on all previous course work and was waiting on the final issuance of the transcript/diploma, etc, yes, he/she will receive the 4.0-grade point average. However, if documents are lost during the fire, graduation is delayed.

Consequently, digital student copies of all the records will have to be referred to again to evaluate student performance before a 4.0 is assigned. If that is not possible either, a transfer to a new university/degree would be the last option.

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