In light of the upcoming six-day “travel window” enabling university students to return home for Christmas, the Westminster government has advised all English university teaching to be moved online by December 9th.
At present, on-campus students are prohibited from returning home during the four week Covid-19 national lockdown, but ministers have assured that there would be an opportunity to leave once this ends on December 2nd.
This opportunity will present itself during staggered departure dates set by universities where students will be allowed to travel home between the 3rd and 9th December.
The date of 9 December has been chosen as the cut-off point for face to face learning. This will ensure that the last date students are required on campus still grants them with enough time to compete a self-isolation course before Christmas, if they test positive for Covid-19.
English Universities and other forms of Higher Education have also been told to coordinate with surrounding local providers to ensure that not all students are attempting to return home on the same date- a measure in place to reduce pressure on public transport systems.
In attempt to reduce transmission rates across this period, mass testing procedures are due to be put in place, Michelle Donelan said. Lateral flow devices (LFDs)- swab antigen tests that can provide results in under an hour- will be provided for this.
The University of Leeds have announced that free testing will begin on campus between 30th Nov- Dec 9th for students who are not showing symptoms, results of which will be recieved within a matter of hours by SMS or email.
University of Leeds students who are showing symptoms have been advised to book a test through the usual track and trace system.
The number of students who are tested per university will depend on several factors such as local Covid-19 rates, with a greater level of care focused on high risk areas.
It is said that for students studying in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, students should follow guidance from their universities before returning home. Once they return back to England, they should begin to follow English government guidance for their local area.
However, concerned queries have risen, the Union and College Union (UCU) stated that England’s plans for students to return home for Christmas “raise as many questions as they answer” and are “riddled with holes”.
Jo Grady, the union’s secretary, acknowledged: “Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error.”
Further concerns surrounding the “travel window’s” attempt to send students home earlier than the usual end of term date, have been expressed by students:
It is not yet clear when students will be able to return to university for the start of Semester 2 in January. The government has announced however, that “top priority for January will be the welfare of students, staff and the communities around higher education providers.”
Photo credit: Times Higher Education