people around the table

As Christmas holidays are getting nearer, many students across the UK are packing up to go home during the official travel window starting on 3 December. 

However, some of them may have to remain there until February as part of new government plans to stagger students’ return to university due to the Covid pandemic. 

Given that “the mass movement of students across the country poses a greater risk for the transmission of infection between areas,” the the Department of Education announced their intention to stagger their journeys back to campus over a five-week period starting from 4 January. 

Earlier, the government asked students to travel home in a special travel window from 3 to 9 December and universities to switch to online learning by the end of that period. 

In England, about 1.2 million students will be travelling from a university to a home address in another part of the country, according to the BBC

Announcing the new spring term measures on 2 December, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “The health and wellbeing of students, staff and local communities is always our primary concern and this plan will enable a safer return for all students.

“But we must do this in a way which minimises the risk of transmission. I know students have had to make sacrifices this year and have faced a number of challenges, but this staggered return will help to protect students, staff and communities.” 

Students taking courses requiring face-to-face teaching, such as medicine and performing arts, will be expected to return between the 4 to 18 January, according to this latest plan.

In contrast, students studying subjects that do not require face-to-face teaching will be taught online at the beginning of their spring term and asked to travel to campus between 25 January and 7 February. 

The news sparked mixed reaction on Twitter, with some welcoming the move while some university teachers voicing scepticism.

Students will also be offered Covid tests when they return to university to identify possible asymptomatic cases – in the same way that is being done now by many universities. 

The Government also announced a one-off fund of up to £20 million to help students most in need of support in these exceptional circumstances.

Following the announcement, the National Union of Students pointed out that students would still have to pay rent on “properties they are being told not to live in”. 

student protest

The most recent student rally in London was held on 2 December. (Image credit: Nichole Tan)

Groups of students continue to hold protests both online and offline demanding fees and rent refunds as universities moved most of their teaching online. 

Some universities, like the University of Bristol and the University of Manchester, offered students rent rebates following rent strikes.