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Government set to confirm all university staff are key workers

Image: Willy Barton, via Shutterstock

Guidance will clarify that all higher education staff are eligible for key worker status

All higher education staff are considered critical workers by the government during lockdown, the Department for Education has clarified following England entering its third national lockdown.

The DfE confirmed to Research Professional News that higher education staff were eligible for key worker status, along with students undertaking healthcare placements. Research Professional News understands that students on professional programmes in education and health disciplines are also eligible.

In updated guidance released on 7 January after this story was first published, the DfE states, “Staff who are required to deliver or to support delivery of teaching or research and the provision of appropriate university facilities (including catering, cleaning and provision of study spaces including laboratories and libraries) are considered critical workers for the purposes of access to education and travelling to work counts as a reasonable excuse for travel, notwithstanding wider travel restrictions in place. Parents and carers who are critical workers should keep their children home if they can.”

Having critical worker status, also known as key worker status, means that the children of higher education staff and students on some placements can still go to school during lockdown. 

A DfE spokesperson told Research Professional News that this was not a new decision, and that university staff had already been considered key workers in previous lockdowns. However, a Whitehall source said there was an acknowledgement that this had been unclear, and that updates to the official guidance would seek to clarify the position. 

Earlier this week, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association contacted institutions to tell them that the DfE would be updating its guidance soon to explicitly include higher education staff in the list of critical workers.

Ucea chief executive Raj Jethwa said the membership body had been “liaising with the Westminster and devolved nation governments to clarify which higher education staff are considered to be critical workers”.

“This is particularly important for working parents in respect of access to school places, travel to work and for childcare purposes. Once we have that clarity we will share it with our members,” he added.

UPDATE 7/1—This story was updated after publication with details of the guidance.