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Fresh Covid-19 guidance for English and Welsh universities

English universities prepare for student returns while Welsh universities look ahead to next year

Students in England have been given permission to return to their university accommodation to collect belongings.

In an update to existing guidance on 21 May, the government said it was advising students who had left their term-time accommodation for lockdown to return and pick up their belongings, as long as they stick to social distancing and other safety measures.

Although it stressed that people should still “stay at home as much as possible”, the government said its Covid-19 recovery strategy “sets out a cautious roadmap to ease existing measures in a safe and measured way”.

Universities were told to contact students with items to collect, and to make sure everyone involved stays safe by using hand sanitiser and ensuring all surfaces are cleaned after students have taken their belongings. “We encourage you to enable your students to collect their belongings from your accommodation in England in a way that minimises the risk of coronavirus infection,” the government said.

Students who did not leave their term-time accommodation at the start of lockdown can now “make a one-off move to an alternative residence” if they follow the government’s guidelines. 

In separate guidance for universities in England, the Office for Students has published a briefing note on the different ways in which institutions are supporting international students. 

“International students may be particularly vulnerable at this time, with remote working in different time zones presenting a unique set of challenges for teaching and assessment, and those still in the UK potentially being more likely to experience precarious living situations, isolation or financial hardship as a result of the pandemic,” the OfS says.

Elsewhere, the Welsh government set out its “resilience plan for post-16 learning” on 20 May, which details a “new normal” for universities next year. While the first “rescue” phase of the plan is “already well underway” and includes support to move teaching online, the second “review” phase looks at expectations for the 2020-21 academic year.

In the plan, the Welsh government says higher education institutions are likely to see “a significant fall in international and EU student numbers and the possibility of increased deferment, with a consequential serious financial impact” and says “models of blended learning” for online and face-to-face delivery would need to continue.

In its third “renew” phase, the Welsh government will look at longer-term impacts of the coronavirus in 2020-21 and its funding models for post-16 education. Kirsty Williams, the Welsh government’s education minister, said the coronavirus “presented huge challenges for both students and education providers, in both the immediate and the longer term” and the plan would “provide a clear focus so we can work together with our education partners to overcome these challenges”.

Williams also announced that £1.3 million of capital funding will be used to invite Welsh universities to submit novel research proposals to advance research into the coronavirus.