Ben Hayward December 8th

All students should be offered Covid-19 tests when they return to university in January, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.  

Along with widespread testing in order to help identify and isolate those who are asymptomatic but could spread the virus, universities are also being asked to stagger returns post Christmas under new guidance published by the DfE.

The guidance outlines that from January 4th-18th, medical students and those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching should return, with the remaining courses should be offered online from the beginning of term so students can continue their studies from home.

From January 25th, all other students should start to return gradually over a two-week period, with all students expected to have returned by February 7th.

However, students who have spent their winter break in Tier 3 areas where mass community testing is on offer have been advised to take a test before travelling back to university if possible. 

It’s hoped the measures will protect students, staff and local communities while also minimising the disruption to education.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:  “The health and wellbeing of students, staff and local communities is always our primary concern and this plan will enable a safer return for all students. But we must do this in a way which minimises the risk of transmission.

“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.”

The DfE has also advised universities to tailor their plans in order to suit the needs of their own student population, taking into account those who may need to return earlier due to a lack of access to accommodation or study space.    

The Government is expecting universities to maintain the quality, quantity and accessibility of their tuition - factors that the Office for Students will be monitoring throughout - and to provide additional support to students who are self-isolating to ensure they can access food, medical supplies and mental health support if required.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We must use every tool at our disposal to stop the spread of the virus and help reduce the risks around students travelling back home this Christmas. 

“Using new technology and the additional capacity we have built, we are now able to extend our testing offer to help manage this risk, by identifying those showing no symptoms who can infect people unknowingly and stop them from passing the virus on to others as they move around the country.

“I encourage all students to play their part in bringing this virus under control by getting tested twice, and by following the restrictions in place when travelling to and from university this term.”

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