The University's announcement comes after Michelle Donelan, Minister of State for Universities, wrote a letter addressed to students around the country Louis Ashworth

In an email sent to students today (03/11), Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope confirmed that “all students are required to remain in residence for the remainder of the term.”

He clarified that students “will only be given permission to pursue your studies remotely on health grounds. If you think this applies to you then you should contact your College.”

The email comes after Minister of State for Universities, Michelle Donelan, sent a letter to students across the country asking them to “stay in your current home” in an attempt to  “prevent any further spread of Covid 19”, explaining that “any movement around the country will risk the lives of our loved ones.”

Donelan continued:  “I know and appreciate that a number of you may want to be back with your family during this difficult time, but I urge you to stay where you are in order to save lives. I can assure you that I will work with universities to ensure well-being, communications and mental health support are prioritised.”

Donelan then discussed the likelihood of more teaching moving online, saying that “if more teaching is moved online, standards must be maintained. This means ensuring that courses provide a high-quality academic experience, students are supported and achieve good outcomes, and standards are protected. We have been very clear about this and have worked with the Office for Students to regularly review the online tuition being provided.”   

The request to stay at University is particularly difficult for many international students who face the prospect of not being able to return home for Christmas if the lockdown is extended.

The International Students’ Campaign (iSC) have been in contact with the University over the last few days and have today issued an open letter raising concerns over what lockdown means for international students.

In the open letter the iSC demanded that “All students must be given the option to study remotely for Michaelmas and Lent term without further justification.” 

Other demands concern “accommodation security, self-isolation care, transparency of case number and providing Covid tests/fit-to-fly certification for students who need these travel documents.” 

The open letter follows a survey of 576 international students. The survey indicates that “in the event of a second wave of COVID, 22.2% of students strongly wish to return to their home countries and 39.6% of students would prefer going home if possible. However, there is also 27.8% of international students who would prefer to remain in College and 10.4% of students who are likely to be unable to go home.” 

This was used to put forward “an option for remote study due to concerns regarding the virus (without need for proof of health reasons, which is almost impossible to obtain before the lockdown begins on Thursday, 5 November 2020)."

This, it was felt, "would best accommodate the needs of international students. We also urge Colleges to provide stronger guarantees for the 19.1% of students who wish to stay and who are concerned about the security of their accommodation in Cambridge.”

The open letter follows one written in the summer in which 28.3% of respondents indicated that they wanted to learn remotely if they had the option alongside the 20.8% of respondents who are already studying remotely. 

A spokesperson for iSC said “We understand that the University’s decision is subjected to the law and the situation is beyond the University’s control, but now there’s a possibility that the lockdown and travel restrictions are going to be extended, and students might struggle to get a commercial flight when term finishes even if we are allowed to leave by the time.”

They continued: “Remote learning is still only authorised on health grounds according to the University, even though the majority of teaching is already online, the University’s residential requirement has left us with very limited choice.”

They urged the University to be “more flexible with granting international students the option of remote learning, since for many students their teaching is already mostly online if not entirely.


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They also highlighted that many students are concerned that their college may withdraw their accommodation. On this issue they said  “No college should pressure students into choosing to leave college accommodation (like some did in March), and they shouldn’t make the category of students allowed to stay in college narrow, and students shouldn’t be asked to provide lots of evidence and justifications for their choice.”

Stephen Toope’s email also comes just as the results from the fourth week of testing were published

The number of asymptomatic cases remained at 38, the same as last week, even as around 800 more students were tested. This resulted in a positivity rate of 0.8%.

However, data from the symptomatic testing programme revealed only 40 cases, compared to 105 the week before. In total that means there are 78 positive cases, just half the number of cases picked up last week.