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Covid-19: Students Returning Home

Volume 683: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2020

As a Government we have made a commitment to ensure students living at university will be able to go home at the end of term, if they choose to do so. Today, I am announcing the measures that we are putting in place to enable students to return home as safely as possible.

The national restrictions are set in law to finish on 2 December and the Government are committed to this date. In order to ensure that students can return home at the end of the autumn term but also reduce any transmission risk, the Government are asking that students return home once the national restrictions have been lifted, in a “student travel window” lasting from 3 to 9 December. This excludes students who have tested positive or been notified by the NHS Test and Trace system.

Universities should stagger departure dates across faculties and with other institutions in the region to manage pressure on transport infrastructure. In order to ensure that students can travel home during this window, higher education providers should cease in-person teaching no later than 9 December. Moving to online learning by 9 December will allow students to start to return home, and any students who have tested positive to complete their period of self-isolation and return home before Christmas.

As the Prime Minister announced this week, we are also working closely with universities to roll out mass testing for students. We have made huge strides in our testing capability in recent weeks, and we will offer this to as many students as possible before they travel home, targeting this in areas of high prevalence. This will help to provide further confidence that students can leave safely if they test negative. If a student tests positive or they are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace before their departure, they will need to remain in self-isolation, following the relevant guidance. Moving all learning online by 9 December allows enough time for students to complete this isolation period, where required, before returning home for Christmas.

Under the current national restrictions students will have completed a four-week period of national restriction by 2 December, limiting the risk of them contracting and transmitting coronavirus (covid-19). As this is a key measure to reduce the risk of transmission to their families and friends at home, it is very important that students comply with the measures for the duration of the period of national restrictions and manage social interactions safely between 3 December and the point of travel. I ask students to work with us to keep themselves and their families safe, while allowing them to return home at the end of term if they choose to do so.

We are working with the devolved Administrations to ensure that all students, no matter where they live or study, are treated fairly and can travel home as safely as possible to keep all our communities safe.

English students at universities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland should follow the guidance relevant to where they are living before returning home. When they return to England, they should follow their local guidance for their home area. Students returning to their home in England who have not completed the four weeks of national restrictions should undertake at least 14 days of restricted contact either before or after return home to minimise their risk of transmission.

We know that not all students will be able to go home, or may choose not to do so. It is vital that support continues for those who choose to stay at university over Christmas, including our international students, care leavers and those who may be estranged from their families. We have asked universities to ensure they have plans for those students who remain on campus and this includes ensuring that support continues over winter break.

Finally, I want to assure parents, students and staff that their welfare is our priority. The hard work of university staff has meant we are able to keep students and staff as safe as possible during term, and I am very grateful for their efforts to deliver an appropriate balance of online and in-person teaching, as agreed with public health teams. We are pleased we can now announce how students can travel home at the end of term, while keeping themselves, their families, and their communities, as safe as possible.