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Universities: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 129098, tabled on 14 December 2020

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what support his Department will provide to universities who have been instructed to stagger the return of students following the Christmas 2020 break.

Answered on

21 December 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.

The government is committed to prioritising education and wants to enable all students who have travelled home for the winter break to return to their universities and resume their studies. On 2 December 2020, we published guidance on students returning to higher education for the spring term, which sets out our plans for staggering the return of students over a 5-week period. This guidance is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/students-returning-to-higher-education-from-spring-term.

Practical and placement students should return first, in line with their planned start dates, from 4 January to the week commencing 18 January 2021. HE providers will need to make an assessment of the courses and students that should be allowed to return first, based on the requirements of the curriculum and the need for practical face-to-face learning and equipment. Students on all remaining courses should be offered online learning from the beginning of term so they can continue their studies at home, and should be asked to return to their university over a 2-week period from 25 January.

Testing students on return to campus is a key part of the plan for January and all students should be tested in order to protect themselves, others on campus and the wider community. The Department for Education is actively working with the Department for Health and Social Care to ensure that all HE providers can deliver government supported asymptomatic test sites utilising lateral flow devices, which will help to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission during the staggered return.

Personal protective equipment and kits will be provided to HE providers at no cost, along with access to digital solutions, training and clinical guidance to support testing. A cost recovery model is also in place for providers to recover costs for workforce, site set up and site furnishings.

We recognise that this year has been incredibly difficult for students and that, in these exceptional circumstances, some may face financial hardship. I have announced that we are making available up to £20 million on a one-off basis to support those that need it most, particularly disadvantaged students.