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Education Secretary announces plans to allow students to return home at Christmas

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced plans to enable students to return home for Christmas, after growing concerns regarding recent university Covid-19 outbreaks.

There has been increasing worries regarding the well-being of students currently self-isolating in university halls. Students from Manchester Metropolitan University have compared their situation to “being in prison”. 

Mr Williamson has rejected claims by Labour MPs that the government had not adequately prepared for the return of millions of students to universities, and insists that universities should continue the current blended learning of face-to-face and online teaching. 

“There are many courses including medicine and dentistry, as well as the creative arts, which require a face-to-face element,” the Education Secretary added. 

While the government and other regulators have yet to release official statistics, Uni Covid UK has reported that 75 universities have had positive cases on their respective campuses. 

Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green has described the situation as “predictable and predicted”, with Labour also criticising Williamson for failing “to get testing fit-for-purpose”.

One student at the University of Edinburgh described being left without food for two days while in self-isolation. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh universities have described such incidents as “teething problems” to be dealt with as the situation develops.

There may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term. And we will be working with the sector to ensure this will be possible, including ending in-person learning early, if that is deemed to be necessary

– Gavin Williamson

As part of the new plans, Mr Williamson announced that some students will have to self-isolate before returning home.

“Where there are specific circumstances that warrant it, there may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term. And we will be working with the sector to ensure this will be possible, including ending in-person learning early, if that is deemed to be necessary.”

The Independent Sage group has said that starting the academic year with a majority of learning online was the right call after government advisers predicted outbreaks at the start of the autumn term. 

The group has outlined five key recommendations for the government, including providing funding to allow universities to transfer all teaching and learning online.

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