England’s universities will be asked to revert to online classes and employ staggered departure dates for students returning home for Christmas, the Government has said.
Students will be allowed to travel between December 3 and 9 under a “travel window” to manage pressure on transport and infrastructure over the festive period.
The plans are designed to help deal with the “significant challenge” of the mass movement of students at the end of term as part the country’s Covid-19 response.
The coronavirus guidance due to be issued by the Department for Education includes plans to end in-person teaching and a switch to online learning.
The move comes as the NHS was preparing to be able to start delivering a potential Covid-19 vaccine from the beginning of next month in the event it is approved.
It is hoped the risk of transmission will be reduced as students will be travelling after the four-week period of national restrictions in England.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said: ”The measures announced today will help minimise that risk and help students get home to their families as safely as possible for Christmas.
“It is crucial that students follow the guidance in order to protect their families and the communities they return to.”
Jo Grady, the University and College Union general secretary, said the plans were “riddled with holes” and “raise as many questions as they answer”.
Dr Grady highlighted the tight timescale for a mass movement of people. “Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error.”
She added: “If the Government instead told universities to move online now it would provide much more time to stagger the movement of students and better protect the health of staff, students and their wider communities.”