Students departure from universities will be staggered between the 3rd and 9th of DecemberLucas Maddalena

Students in England will be given a “travel window” to return home for the winter holiday next month, with testing carried out across universities before students are permitted to leave.

The week of mass testing across universities will commence as early as 30 November under plans detailed in a letter from Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, to vice-chancellors at the end of last week.

Plans announced by the Department for Education last night (10/11) detailed that students’ departure times will be staggered between the 3rd and 9th of December, following the end of the nationwide lockdown on December 2nd. Those who do not return home by December 9th “will be advised to undertake a further period of restricted contact either before or after returning home to minimise risk of transmission.”

Meanwhile students who test positive will have to remain in self-isolation in university residence for 10 days.

For students remaining in their university accommodation over the winter break, the government stresses that universities must “continue to make sure they are well looked after. This includes paying particular regard to the specific needs of certain groups during this period, including care leavers, estranged students, and international students who will require access to welfare and mental health support and essential services during the holiday periods.”

The government clarified that they selected the 9th December as the cut-off date “to ensure that the last date students are required on campus allows enough time for students to complete self-isolation before Christmas, should they develop symptoms that day or be identified as a contact (of someone who has tested positive) by the tracing system.”

For universities who’s term time continues beyond the 9th, the government has instructed these institutions to make plans for online learning, so that students who return home can continue their studies. However, this provision of online learning will not be necessary for Cambridge as Michaelmas term officially ends on December 4th.

In an email to students following the government’s announcement Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope said that the need to test every student before they could return home would be “underpinned by the deployment of increased testing for students, to ensure that undergraduates and taught postgraduates students who test negative can return home safely and minimise the risk of transmitting coronavirus. The University is considering the available options to enhance its current testing capacity.”

Toope outlined that the dates which students will be able to return home will be “agreed with students by the University and Colleges in collaboration with local public health bodies and transport companies.”


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In regard to plans for students to return to universities in January, the government guidance reaffirmed that their “top priority for January will be the welfare of students, staff and the communities around higher education providers. We are looking to utilise mass testing to make the return to higher education as safe as possible, and will provide further guidance in due course, considering future developments and the relevant scientific advice.”

Toope reassured students that “The University and the Colleges, working closely with public health officials, will do everything they can to bring students back to Cambridge safely after the winter break. We are planning for Lent term on the same basis that we planned for Michaelmas term. We expect to continue with a blend of in-person and on-line learning as appropriate, with as much University and College activity as can be safely offered.”