University College London (UCL) has told its students to avoid returning to campus until the end of February at the earliest, due to the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 strain.
The 2 January announcement came a few days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson instituted a new lockdown in England, which has forced many universities into remote learning only.
In a statement from the incoming provost Michael Spence and his outgoing counterpart Michael Arthur, UCL said that it wanted to be “honest and transparent” about its decision-making.
It said: “Our current and most realistic assessment is that it is unlikely that case rates will have reduced sufficiently to allow students to return to campus before at least mid-February, and quite possibly the end of March.
“We will therefore be moving all teaching and other face-to-face, in-person activities online from the start of term until the end of reading week. There will be no in-person teaching on campus until Monday 22 February, at the earliest.
“We are aware that this is later than the government is advising but we believe this is the most responsible course of action in this complex situation.”
Medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and teaching training courses are exempt from these rules, and have be instructed to return from 4 January.
Our current and most realistic assessment is that it is unlikely that case rates will have reduced sufficiently to allow students to return to campus before at least mid-February, and quite possibly the end of March
– Michael Spence and Michael Arthur
All other practical-based subjects have been advised to wait for instruction and guidance from their departments, which is likely to come after a further government announcement on 18 January.
On 5 January, UCL sent an email stating that students who are unable to return to halls or UCL accommodation will not be charged rent.
In the same email, the university acknowledged that it has no control over private landlords, but recommends contacting Student Support and Wellbeing if students “are in need of hardship funds”.
The institution said that it will confirm its plans for the second half of term 2 at the beginning of February, but warned students may not be able to return to campus before the end of March depending on the R rate and vaccination programme.
According to the most recent data, there are around 438,500 active Covid-19 cases in London as of 4 January.