UK students return home early to avoid Christmas chaos

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On the 1st of November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that England would be entering into a second lockdown, leaving students faced with a difficult decision – to stay in their university accommodation as advised, or go home to their families and avoid being ‘trapped’ at university over the festive season. Whilst Johnson has stated that the lockdown will last from the 5th of November until the 2nd of December, he is yet to comment on whether or not it could be extended into the Christmas holidays.

Scottish education secretary Joe Swinney announced in October that it is a “realistic possibility” that students studying at Scottish universities will not return home for Christmas. Fearing that this could become a reality across the UK, many students have made the decision to return home from university prematurely.  

Prior to the beginning of the second lockdown, on the 2nd of November, Education Minster Michelle Donelan sent out a letter to students demanding the following: “You should not leave your term-time address to return to your parents or carers’ home until at least 2 December and should continue to learn at university for the remainder of this term.” As a result, students who made the decision to remain in their university accommodation are left feeling ‘trapped’, whilst those who made the decision to return home have become villainised by both the UK government and a large portion of the mainstream press.   

Across UK universities, student wellbeing this year has been, and continues to be, extremely neglected. Since the start of term, eight UK students have tragically committed suicide. The father of a University of Manchester student, who passed away in halls this year, tweeted: “If you lockdown young people because of Covid-19 with little support, then you should expect that they suffer severe anxiety.” Vice President for Liberation and Equality for the NUS (National Union of Students), Sarah Khan, has also attacked how the government is treating students during the second lockdown, “students deserve better than this”, she states. The NUS have already “warned” the government that the pandemic will naturally have a devastating impact on student mental health. Yet, Donelan’s request for students to remain in their university accommodation until told they can leave shows that preventing the risk of a mental health crisis amongst students is not a government priority at this present time.  

One student, who returned home early for Christmas, said they feel “lucky”, having escaped the difficulties that could arise regarding student travel in December. Another, in their first year at London Southbank University, told the Gryphon that staying in her halls seemed “pointless”. “All of my flat have returned home and all my teaching is online. If I hadn’t have travelled home for the second lockdown, I would be completely isolated”.  

Since Johnson’s announcement of a second lockdown, Number 10 has provided students with some hope of returning to their loved ones in time for Christmas. Johnson recently declared that students will be able to return home during a ‘travel widow’ ranging between the 3rd and 9th of December. However, having announced this belatedly (five days into the second lockdown), many panicked students had already returned home from their ‘term-time addresses’, contrary to Donelan’s request. 

Furthermore, both the government and universities are yet to share specific details of how the ‘travel window’ will work. There has been some talk about students being allocated a set date and time between the 3rd and the 9th for when they should return to their homes, however, the inflexibility of this will undoubtedly cause problems for parents and students. 

Featured image by Youssef El Gamal.