University students in England can go home for Christmas - here are the rules

The government has unveiled guidance for university students in England regarding how they can safely return home for Christmas amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The guidance states, “In order to travel home safely, students in England will be required to follow the current national restrictions in place until 2 December, completing this four week period in their term time accommodation.”

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The period of time between 3 and 9 December will be known as the “student travel window,” as this will be when students are permitted to travel home on “staggered departure dates set by universities,” who will work with other institutions in the area to manage pressure on the transport infrastructure.

“The student travel window will mean students can travel having just completed the four week period of national restrictions, reducing the risk of transmission to family and friends at home,” the government explains.

Universities will be told to move learning online by 9 December, so that students can continue with their education while also having the option to return home to continue their studies from there.

Mass testing

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced earlier this week that the government will also be working closely with universities in order to establish mass testing capacity.

Tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they travel home for Christmas, with universities situated in high risk areas prioritised.

“This will provide further reassurance that where students test negative, they can return home safely and minimise the risk of passing coronavirus on to their loved one,” the government said.

If a student tests positive prior to their departure, they will be required to remain in self isolation for the mandatory period of ten days.

Follow travel guidelines

When travelling home, students should follow the government’s travel advice, which includes wearing face coverings (unless exempt), avoiding busy routes and times, and limiting car sharing to only their household or bubble, where possible.

“We are working with the other governments across the UK 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,” the government explained.

English students studying at universities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland should follow the relevant guidance in that area before returning home.

Upon returning to England, they should then also follow the relevant guidance in that area.

Additional help for students

Universities have been asked to provide additional help and practical support to students - particularly those who remain on campus over Christmas, which can include international students, and those estranged from their families.

Universities should ensure that these students are properly cared for, and can access affordable food, medical and cleaning supplies where required.

The government has issued over £9 million to leading mental health charities, “to help them expand and reach those most in need.”

Additionally, the government is working with the Office for Students, to provide up to £3 million to fund new mental health support platform, Student Space.

‘Incredibly difficult year’

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said, “We know this Christmas will feel different, and after this incredibly difficult year, we are absolutely committed to getting students back to their loved ones in time for the Christmas break.

“But I know residents in Luton and around Bedfordshire might wonder how students leaving campus, or those coming back to the area, might affect them. I want to reassure everyone that we have worked really hard to find a way to do this for this group, while limiting the risk of transmission.

“With the national lockdown measures, staggered leave times, safer travel guidance and any additional assurances from testing, we are confident transmission can be controlled, and we can enable these students to have the Christmas break they deserve.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries added, “The mass movement of students across the country at the end of term presents a really significant challenge within the Covid-19 response.

“The measures announced today will help minimise that risk and help students get home to their families as safely as possible for Christmas. It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to.”