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Universities: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 102738, tabled on 13 October 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what steps he is taking to support universities that are implementing their own covid-19 testing measures.

Answered on

16 October 2020

COVID-19 has had a significant impact on universities, and we welcome the resilience, innovation and dedication from the sector over these months, as well as its wider contribution to support the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak through offering research and resources. 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-a-day for UK testing capacity by the end of October. Local testing sites will be most accessible to students and will 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 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 have drawn on the expertise of the Higher Education Taskforce that we set up, and we have been providing robust public health advice and regular updates to the higher education sector to help providers work through challenges of setting up their own testing measures. Our universities are home to world-leading science and innovation, but for universities producing their own tests, they should work in conjunction with their local Health Protection Teams and directors of public health and NHS Test and Trace so we can utilise it for public safety.

Under the Health Protection (Notification) Regulations (2010), it is a legal requirement to report positive cases of COVID-19 to Public Health England. It is a voluntary decision for providers to run testing programmes for their staff and students and we do not expect this to be a service offered by all higher education providers. Higher education providers should ensure they are fully aware of the implications, both clinical and organisational, of introducing testing programmes and of the potential limitations of any tests or test services that they use. In the event that higher education providers in the Bolton South East constituency want to conduct their own testing, departmental officials can be contacted about this at

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