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Coronavirus: Students told to delay return to universities after Christmas

Coronavirus: Students told to delay return to universities after Christmas

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has encouraged all students 'to play their part in bringing coronavirus under control' when travelling to and from university during the Christmas and new-year period.

The universities Christmas travel window opens today, with students advised to travel home (should they wish to do so) before 9 December. New guidance has also been released encouraging a staggered return to universities in the new year, with many students being advised not to return to university until February.

Under guidance published by the Department of Education, higher education providers are being asked to manage student returns over a five-week period. The following return dates have been set out in the guidance;

  • From 4-18 January, medical students, those on placements or practical courses should return to universities.
  • From 25 January, all other students should start to return gradually over a two-week period. All teaching should be online for these students at the start of term. All students are expected to return by 7 February.

When returning to university, students should be offered two Coronavirus lateral flow tests, three days apart. The measures are designed to protect students, staff and local communities during the mass movement of students.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said;

"I know students have had to make sacrifices this year and have faced a number of challenges, but this staggered return will help to protect students, staff and communities.

"It is so important students have the support they need to continue their education, which is why we are providing up to £20 million funding for those facing hardship in these exceptional times."

Universities UK has welcomed the plans for more testing for students when they return in the new year.

However, the plans are being criticised by many students. The National Union of Students has said that students will still have to pay rent on student accommodation which they are being told to avoid living in.

For universities with 10-week terms, the plans also likely mean that students will only be in the university areas for a matter of weeks before being asked to return home again, negatively impacting student experience.

Some students have also already made travel plans for returning after Christmas. Universities are being advised to 'tailor plans to best suit the needs of their own student population' and to also consider prioritise the return of students to campus earlier for reasons such as lack of access to appropriate accommodation or study space.  

In Wales, guidance for the return of students is yet to be confirmed. A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “We are working with our universities and key partners to ensure students can return safely in the new year.”

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