Following the news that all students will be offered Covid tests on their return to university next year, we have provided an update for all students regarding testing and guidelines around travelling home for the Christmas holidays.
So can all students go home whenever they want now?
No, the guidance for students remains the same. There will be a ‘student travel window’ from 3 December to 9 December. The 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.
Students should not travel home if they have developed symptoms of COVID-19 or are identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, they should remain in their current accommodation and arrange to get a test. If a student tests positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), they are required by law to self-isolate in their current accommodation for 10 days.
Do students need to have been tested before they go home?
It is not a legal requirement for students to be tested but will be an important tool to help students adhere to safety measures to protect themselves, their friends, family and the wider community. However, students who experience COVID-19 symptoms should follow the standard government guidance, including self-isolating immediately and booking a test through GOV.UK.
How are you testing so many students?
We have worked with 126 universities in England to offer the majority of students COVID-19 tests before they return home for the Christmas break, this covers 75% of the student population in England. Almost all universities who expressed an interest in mass testing successfully joined the programme and set up asymptomatic testing sites.
Students at participating universities are asked to take two tests, three days apart, with results turned around within an hour to help control the spread of the virus.
What if my university isn’t part of the 126?
If students are not showing any symptoms and wish to get a test, but their university is not running some form of mass testing, they should enquire with their local testing centre. If they are showing symptoms, they should order a home test, in line with national guidance.
What if a student is staying on campus over the Christmas period?
Universities have been asked to provide additional help and practical support to students, particularly for those who remain on campus over Christmas, which can include care leavers, international students and students estranged from their families. Universities should ensure these people are properly cared for and can access affordable food, medical and cleaning supplies if needed.
The same applies for students who are isolating. Universities should continue to provide additional support to these students to ensure they can access food and medical supplies if needed, along with mental health support.
What about international students, will they be offered testing to allow them to travel home over the Christmas period?
Many universities are offering tests for both domestic and international students before they leave campus or their student accommodation. In addition to support from their universities, NHS services are available to all students.
Where students are required by their home country to arrange a specific Covid-19 test for travel, these should be arranged and paid for privately by the student themselves, with assistance from their home embassy as required.
What about coming back to university, will there be another ‘travel window?’
Not exactly. Students’ return to university should be staggered from the start of term, with medical students and those on placements or practical courses returning first. All other students are expected to return over a two-week period commencing from 25th January, with teaching held online from the start of term.
This will help universities manage a safe return of all students, ensuring they can be tested and minimising the risk of new outbreaks at the start of term.
What about international students – how will they be expected to return?
Our borders are open for both returning and new international students wishing to study in the UK and our universities are looking forward to welcoming them to campuses in the new year.
Returning or new students planning to travel to the UK from overseas in January are advised to check with their provider in advance to confirm when their face-to-face teaching begins and they should arrive on campus.
They are advised to make their provider aware in advance of their intended arrival date so that they can be appropriately supported upon arrival. If they have already pre-booked travel dates outside of their specified cohort date, and are unable to change their departure date via their travel operator, they should contact their provider to make them aware. Providers have been asked to build in appropriate flexibility for international students travelling to the UK from overseas, where there may be limited travel options, especially where they have booked travel prior to the publication of the January return guidance.
Will students need to be tested once they have returned to university?
No, this will not be a legal requirement, however, all students in England will be offered to be tested on arrival back to campus in 2021 to ensure universities remain as safe as possible. Students will be asked to take two lateral flow tests, three days apart, with results turned around within an hour to help control the spread of the virus.
Students who have spent the winter break in Tier 3 areas where mass community testing is on offer should take a test before travelling back to university.