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Universities: Coronavirus

Question for Department for Education

UIN 138877, tabled on 18 January 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what assessment he has made of the safety of university libraries for staff and students from the transmission of covid-19; and whether he has plans to review the covid-19 guidance on the opening of university libraries during the covid-19 outbreak.

Answered on

26 January 2021

The safety and wellbeing of staff and students in higher education (HE) is always our priority and the government is doing all it can to minimise the risks to those working and studying in our HE providers in this unprecedented situation, while mitigating the impact on education. As stated in the spring term 2021 student return guidance published on 7 January 2021, all HE providers should offer asymptomatic mass testing to all students on their return, which will help to mitigate the transmission of COVID-19 and control outbreaks. The guidance can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses.

Due to the national lockdown measures now in place, we must take further steps to reduce transmission, including by significantly reducing the number of students returning to university from their winter break accommodation, and limiting the number of people travelling to and from university facilities, including libraries. The majority of courses should be delivered online until at least mid-February. Providers are permitted to open facilities to support the teaching and learning of those students who can return for face-to-face teaching, and a limited number of other students who have an exceptional reason to return to university facilities, but these should be maintained for essential use only wherever possible. Our aim is to minimise the number of students who return to university to access university facilities.

Universities have worked extremely hard to put in place a wide range of measures to deliver a COVID-secure environment. Measures include enhanced cleaning and improved ventilation and changes to university lay-out to comply with social distancing guidelines. In addition, all universities have plans for managing and controlling outbreaks. These have been agreed with local directors of public health and continue to be reviewed and updated based on emerging lessons and local situations. Providers have carried out risk assessments for each setting including libraries, putting in place measures to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19.