Ministers are holding talks over having a two-week lockdown in December which would involve students remaining on campus and having all teaching delivered online.
The government’s plan is in its early stages, but proposes that university campuses in England would go into lockdown between 8 and 22 December and, once over, students would be allowed to go home for Christmas, according to The Guardian.
The plans would also mean that students who have either tested positive for Covid-19, or have been in contact with someone who is, would have to stay in their accommodation for as long as their quarantine period is.
On 12 October, it was announced in parliament that Public Health England said there were Covid-19 outbreaks at almost 70 universities, and about 9,000 students had Covid-19 at the time.
However, the University and College Union (UCU) have criticised the plans, calling them “unworkable”.
Speaking about the plans, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This is an unworkable and chaotic set of measures that will be impossible to deliver or oversee.
“Instead of this perverse obsession with Christmas, ministers and universities must focus on the here and now. We should be talking about getting people home now, not in two months’ time.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) has questioned the legality of keeping students in a pre-Christmas lockdown.
We are really questioning whether there’s legal precedent to do this, and to treat students differently than the rest of the population, largely because students aren’t the homogenous group that the government seems to think they are
– Larissa Kennedy
On Thursday, NUS President Larissa Kennedy told LBC’s Nick Ferrari: “We are really questioning whether there’s legal precedent to do this, and to treat students differently than the rest of the population, largely because students aren’t the homogenous group that the government seems to think they are.
“There are students of all ages, students who are parents and carers. I mean what would this mean for students with jobs that they can’t do remotely.”
The plans have been met with criticism from some vice-chancellors of universities, who instead favour a testing regime that would allow students who test negative to return home by the end of term.
One university leader told The Telegraph: “The plan to keep students in their rooms for two weeks in nonsensical.
“What if they go to a shop to buy a cheese sandwich? How will the shop know they are a student? Who will stop their mum and dad picking them up? You can’t discriminate against them. The solution is around testing.”
Further questions have been raised over what would happen to students at universities whose term ends before 8 December if the plans went ahead.
The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge finish term on 4 December, raising questions over whether students would be able to go home when term ends or have to remain at university until the two-week lockdown is over.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “If students are travelling home, we must ensure they do so in a way which minimises the risks of spreading the virus, and the date when universities must stop in-person teaching will be an important part of this. We will set out details on this shortly.”