To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps his Department has taken to respond to covid-19 outbreaks in group university accommodation.
12 October 2020
The safety and wellbeing of staff and students in higher education (HE) is always our priority. The government is doing all it can to minimise the risks to those working and studying in our HE institutions in this unprecedented situation, whilst mitigating the impact on education.
Capacity for COVID-19 testing is the highest it has ever been and we are seeing significant demand. The department continues to work closely with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), and with sector representatives, to ensure that any students who display COVID-19 symptoms can have quick and easy access to testing.
The government has set a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October. Local testing sites will be most accessible to students and have the quickest test result turnaround. DHSC plan to increase the total number of sites to 150 by the end of October, and to 400 sites by the end of January 2021. Many of these new testing sites will be located near universities. In addition, there are 258 mobile testing units. Where there is a mobile testing unit in the vicinity of the university, students and staff will also be able book a test at one of these units. We are working closely with DHSC and NHS Test and Trace towards a position in which all universities have access to testing within 1.5 miles of their campus, where possible.
We have drawn on the expertise of the HE taskforce that we set up, and we have been providing robust public health advice and regular updates to the HE sector to help providers plan carefully to keep students and staff as safe as possible. We have updated our guidance for providers on reopening campuses, which provides advice on teaching, accommodation and student services. Our guidance takes account of the latest advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which has been considering the risks of reopening higher education providers. The guidance is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses. As with all of our education settings, we continue to monitor the situation closely and follow the latest scientific advice, adapting policies as the situation changes.
We have worked with universities to ensure that they all have outbreak response plans. These have been or are being agreed with local Directors of Public Health. The plans cover a range of scenarios and will ensure providers are prepared to respond quickly to a COVID-19 outbreak in their educational setting or wider community. The situation is constantly changing, but we are working with Public Health England to monitor those universities that have COVID-19 outbreaks and to make sure universities and Directors of Public Health are working together to respond appropriately to any outbreaks.