The government has announced that students on all university courses in England will officially return to campus from 17th May onwards, but not before that date.
A written statement from Universities Minister Michelle Donelan says that this timing was chosen as “the movement of students across the country poses a risk for the transmission of the virus”. Universities had initially favoured a return of all students in April. The decision from the government has therefore been met with a certain disappointment, as Vanessa Wilson from University Alliance has said that the delay was “nonsensical”.
The criticism comes in the light of other restrictions being lifted before the date set for students’ return to campus, notably the opening of shops on 12th April and in-person teaching for schoolchildren in March.
Representatives from universities have also pointed out that, by 17th May, most universities would already have finished their cycles of lectures and seminars for the academic year, which means that a return to campus would “make absolutely no sense” according to University and College Union General Secretary Jo Grady.
The government’s decision also reopens the debate about refunds on tuition fees and rent, as many students have not been able to use their university accommodation for most of the year.
Upon return to campus, students will be offered Covid-19 testing on-site. The government has also detailed plans for an additional £15 million of funding to combat student hardship.
Teaching at English universities has been almost exclusively online since January, with only students on a very limited number of mostly practical courses receiving in-person teaching.
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