Government issues major announcement on university students wanting to travel home this Christmas

University students will be able to travel home this Christmas under new official guidance.

Guidelines issued today, Wednesday, November 11 reveal that a student travel window will be opened next month in a scheme that aims for all university learning to move online by December 9.

Under the scheme, from December 3 to December 9, students will be allowed to travel home on staggered departure dates set by universities, who officials say will work with other institutions in the region to manage pressure on transport infrastructure.  

Before then, students in England will have to follow the current national restrictions in place until December 2, meaning they will have to complete the current four-week period in their term-time accommodation. 

The Government says that universities should move learning online by December 9 so that students can continue their education while also having the option to return home to study from there.

The Government says it will also work closely with universities to establish mass testing capacity.

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

Officials believe this will provide further reassurance that where students test negative, they can return home safely and minimise the risk of passing coronavirus on to others.    

If a student tests positive before their departure they will need to remain in self-isolation for the necessary period of ten days. 

Moving all learning online by December 9 aims to give enough time for students to complete the isolation period and return home for Christmas.    

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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 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.”

Officials say that universities will be expected to make plans to ensure students can travel home safely at the end of term by working with local public health officials and transport operators.  

A spokesman said: “Students should follow the Government’s travel guidance, which  includes wearing face coverings unless exempt, avoiding busy routes and times, and limiting car sharing with 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.

“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. 

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“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.”

Universities have also been asked to provide additional help and practical support to students, particularly for students who remain on campus over Christmas.

This could include care leavers, international students and students estranged from their families.

The Government says that universities should ensure they are properly cared for and can access affordable food, medical and cleaning supplies if needed.    

More than £9 million has been provided by the Government to leading mental health charities to help them expand and reach those most in need.

Officials say they have also worked closely with the Office for Students to provide up to £3 million to fund Student Space, a new mental health support platform.    

The Department for Education says it has also worked with the Office for Students to make clear that providers are able to use existing funds for hardship support, worth around £23 million per month for April to July this year and £256 million for the academic year 2020/21.