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Confirmed: students in England to return to campus from 17 May


Prime minister says face-to-face teaching will be allowed as easing of Covid restrictions continues

All university students will be allowed to return to face-to-face teaching from 17 May as more Covid-19 restrictions are relaxed, the government has confirmed.

Students on practical courses have been allowed to return to campuses since 8 March, but in April the government said all other students would not be able to resume face-to-face teaching until 17 May at the earliest.

Universities had initially expected students to be allowed to return to campuses for a mixture of in-person and online learning from 12 April, but they were left out of the second stage of England’s relaxation of the rules.

In an update on 10 May, prime minister Boris Johnson said in-person classes and lectures could now resume for all students from 17 May, as England enters the third stage of its roadmap out of lockdown.

Before students return to campuses, they must take a Covid-19 test “at least one day before they travel back to their term-time accommodation”, said the government.

Many students have already returned, or never left: data published by the Office for National Statistics last week showed that more than 80 per cent of students are already living at the same place they lived at the start of the autumn term.

Once the remaining students arrive at their term-time accommodation, they will be told to take three lateral-flow tests between three and four days apart at an on-campus testing site. They will then be expected to take twice-weekly tests for the rest of the summer term.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said the government’s priority since the start of the pandemic “has been to help students complete their courses and graduate as planned”.

“It is vital that we make every effort to keep us all as safe as possible, and every student will be offered three tests on return to campus. I would strongly encourage students to make use of the free tests available to them,” she said.

In response Universities UK said, “This is a welcome confirmation that all students in England will now be able to return to university to take part in Covid-safe in-person teaching, learning and other activities, which the government has recognised as essential to their mental health and wellbeing. Universities have been working hard to prepare in-person activities for returning students, including group work, graduate support and on-campus sport.”

But the University and College Union said that reopening should not be going ahead until more people in England have been vaccinated.

Its general secretary Jo Grady said, ”The decision to return to in-person teaching on university campuses when classes for the vast majority of students have already finished is a distraction, placing more workload onto burnt out staff. It would be much safer to delay any in-person teaching until September when many more students and staff will have been vaccinated. This last-minute announcement will cause further stress for staff who are already facing unmanageable workloads.”

Graduate guide

Meanwhile, Donelan added that the Department for Education and the Office for Students had jointly created a graduate employment and skills guide for “students who have graduated during the pandemic and might not have had access to the opportunities needed to take the next steps in their lives”.

The guide will offer a “five-step plan” for graduates, which will help them to “consider their post-university choices, identify and develop their critical skills, gain professional experience, and further their career while maintaining good mental wellbeing”.