The Labour Party has called on the government to set out plans to stagger the return of students to universities in January, or risk a repeat of the infection spike seen in September.
Its proposed plan would see students on placements, or students for whom face-to-face teaching is essential, return to campus first. Other students would then follow later in the term.
The government has not yet set out its own guidance for how students should return at the start of next year.
In a letter to universities minister Michelle Donelan, the shadow universities minister Emma Hardy wrote: “The government have said nothing about the return of students to universities in January.
“This urgently needs to be addressed to ensure the movement of almost two million students across the UK does not lead to spikes in infection rates of the kind seen in September.”
According to data from Public Health England, by mid-October, there had been Covid-19 outbreaks at 68 universities. University towns saw Covid rates 40% higher than the rest of the UK.
We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic”
– Scottish Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead
Ms Hardy said: “Ministers are again passing the buck to universities and expecting them to come up with answers where the Government has none.
“Students are about to leave universities for Christmas holidays without knowing when or how they will go back. Guidance on their safe return must be published without delay to give universities time to put processes in place.
“The Government should adopt Labour’s call to stagger their return and work with universities to deliver this.”
A government spokesperson said: “We understand this has been a very difficult time for students, which is why we have prioritised their education and wellbeing from the start of this pandemic, by supporting universities to provide a blend of online and in-person learning in a Covid-secure way.
“We have set out plans, delivering on our commitment to enable students to return home for the Christmas holidays while minimising the risk of transmission.
“We will provide further guidance in due course on the spring term, which will look to use mass testing on offer and consider the latest scientific advice.”