Students face 2-week December isolation but universities fear lockdown Christmas parties

Students face 2-week December isolation but universities fear lockdown Christmas parties

 

University students in England could be put into a two-week lockdown in December to allow them to go home for Christmas, it has been claimed.

Ministers are said to be toying with the idea of forcing more than a million students to remain on campus with all teaching done online from December 8 to 22, reports The Guardian.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, first raised the prospect in the House of Commons last month.

Universities minister for England, Michelle Donelan, is said to be in support of the plan and will today meet with higher education chiefs to persuade them to get on board.

But vice-chancellors told the newspaper they feared such a plan would simply encourage more socialising on campus with students having nothing else to do.

It comes after universities in Nottingham, Manchester, Northumbria, Sheffield and Newcastle all reported more than 1,000 coronavirus cases.

Others, like the University of Birmingham, have seen a major surge with more than 600 students and staff testing positive over the last fortnight.

If the proposed plan is green lit those with the virus or associated symptoms – or those who have come into contact with someone who has – would still have to complete a quarantine period in their accommodation before returning home.

University leaders are said to be unsure about a plan to open the floodgates for scores of students to use the country’s transport network on the same day – as well as the impact it would have on teaching timetables.

Meanwhile, Oxbridge terms end before December 8, meaning their students may need to be exempt.

General secretary of the University and College Union, Jo Grady, said Downing Street’s plan was “unworkable” and disagreed with ministers’ “perverse obsession with Christmas” when they should be getting students home now.

“This is a government completely out of touch with the public and seemingly unaware of what happens at universities,” she added.

In September, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), had warned something needed to be done to curb any potential nationwide spread of the virus during the festive period due to returning students.

PM Boris Johnson and education secretary Gavin Williamson in recent weeks have both assured students they will be able to spend Christmas with their families, with the latter telling ministers this may be only possible after a self-isolation period for “some students”.

Sage this week recommended all higher education teaching should be online, except when there is no other option.

It comes as universities watchdog The Office of the Independent Adjudicator is currently dealing with mass complaints from unhappy students due to their current situation.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education told the Guardian: “All students will be able to go home at Christmas if they so choose.

“However, if students are travelling home, we must ensure they do so in a way which minimises the risks of spreading the virus, and the date when universities must stop in-person teaching will be an important part of this. We will set out details on this shortly.”

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