The UK Government has announced a “travel window” during which students in England can return home for Christmas.
The travel window will run from 3-9 December, and should be in line with specific arrangements put in place by students’ Higher Education provider.
A mass testing carried out on campus would be used before students are allowed to leave.
How will the travel window work and who does it affect?
Until the end of England’s current lockdown everyone should follow the national lockdown restrictions in place from 5 November until 2 December 2020.
Students must stay in their current accommodation and not leave their term time address, except for specific purposes, including leaving home for education, during this period.
Universities and HE establishments have been instructed to finish all face to face learning by 9 December (or earlier if they so wish) in order to “support all students being able to travel home in the window”. Lectures and other learning can then resume online if the provider wishes.
Students who don’t return home on or by 9 December will be advised to undertake a further period of “restricted contact” – with similar restrictions to the current lockdown in England – either before or after returning home to minimise the risk of transmission.
Can all students return home during the travel window?
Not if they have tested positive for coronavirus or been instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace.
Will students be tested before returning home?
Mass testing for students will be used to help stop transmission. The number of students who are tested per university will depend on several factors, including local Covid rates and the percentage of high-risk students at each institution. All testing will be completed by 9 December, allowing students who test positive to self-isolate at university for 10 days before returning home for Christmas.
Students who test negative will be encouraged to return home as soon as possible after receiving their result. If they test negative but are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, they can return home but must self-isolate at home for 14 days.
Can students opt out or return home later than 9 December?
Returning home is not mandatory but anyone who remains at university after 9 December will run the risk of having to undertake a period of isolation of up to 14 days at university, if they contracted coronavirus (Covid-19) or were identified as a contact of someone who had, and would therefore be at risk of not being able to travel home for the end of term break.
How will students keep studying at home?
In many cases, learning will move online. Students who are unable to access online learning or continue their studies at home “should be supported to do so by the university,” reads the guidance.
When can students return to university?
It’s not yet clear. The government says its “top priority for January will be the welfare of students, staff and the communities around higher education providers.”
It is looking to utilise mass testing to make the return to higher education “as safe as possible”, and will “provide further guidance in due course”.
What about students who can’t return home over Christmas?
Universities have an obligation to take special care when it comes to students who are staying on campus over Christmas.
Where students remain in their university accommodation over the winter break, HE providers have been told to continue to make sure they are well looked after, and to pay particular attention to the specific needs of certain groups, including care leavers, estranged students and international students, who will require access to welfare and mental health support and essential services during the holiday period.