In a late-night statement, the Government has announced that they will be asking Universities to pause the return of most students until January 25th.

Following the rise in cases of COVID-19 across England, the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has written to Universities, saying that they will be taking “further steps to reduce transmission in education settings”.

As a result of the new developments, students returning to in-person University teaching from January 4th will be restricted to those studying:

  • Medicine & dentistry
  • Subjects allied to medicine/health
  • Veterinary science
  • Education (initial teacher training)
  • Social work
  • Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled

However, the government are encouraging universities to ensure that those students who have remained over the Christmas break or who need to return “are given appropriate support and access to study space”.

Until at least the week beginning January 25th, the Government has announced that “all remaining courses should continue to be offered online”, at which time Universities should plan for “the staggered return of further students, prioritising those who will most benefit from in-person provision.”

Loughborough students were already not returning for Semester 2 until February 8th, with all exams already being delivered online.

The government has included a number of exemptions in the new guidance, which covers:

  • International students, including those who have remained in the UK and those who have arrived and do not have alternative accommodation
  • Students without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities in their vacation accommodation
  • Students who have remained in their university accommodation over the winter break
  • Those requiring additional support, including those with mental health issues
  • Students on placements where the placement provider has COVID- secure measures in place, is permitted to open based on the relevant local restrictions and is content for placements to continue
  • Researchers and research students should be treated on the same basis as employees

Loughborough University Chief Operating Officer Richard Taylor said that Loughborough University will be providing a full statement next week, but gave a brief update to students on the situation, and outlined the new rules.

He emphasised that “students should continue to prepare as planned for any assessments and submit any coursework by the existing deadlines”, and will also soon “provide an update on any changes as a consequence of the move of Leicestershire into Tier 4.”

“If you have plans to travel to the University – for example because you have international travel arranged, because you do not have adequate space / facilities at home to study or undertake examinations, or are part of an elite sport performance pathway – our residential accommodation will be open and available. Study facilities, such as the library, will also be open.”

He added that students should wait and “look out for our updates before changing your plans at this stage.”

“Not taken lightly”

The Universities minister admitted that the change was a “necessary step given the rates of transmission across England”, not a decision she had taken lightly, and that it was considered “proportionate to the other restrictions we have placed on all sectors to curb the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.”

To help the eventual return, asymptomatic testing arrangements should be in place for all students and staff on arrival, including students who have stayed on campus over the winter break – much like what was implemented at the end of term.

The new guidance states that “All students should be encouraged to remain in their vacation accommodation until the resumption of their face-to-face teaching, wherever possible, to minimise travel over the next few crucial weeks.”

“International students are also encouraged to remain in the UK where possible.”

But due all the last-minute changes, there is likely to be increased scrutiny on the government. Universities UK this evening stated that the “announcement will understandably raise further issues and uncertainty – for students, universities and staff – which will need to be addressed by government over the coming weeks, including the need for financial support, regulatory flexibility and assessment changes.”

The news comes on the same day that a staggered return for Secondary schools and colleges in some Tier 4 areas has been delayed, allowing schools to fully-roll out testing before opening. In tier 4, these schools will now not reopen fully till 18th of January, with exam age students returning on the 11th of January.

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Updated on December 31st at 2:30pm to add reference to the University’s communication to students


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