Pupil motion and plans for the top of time period

Students returning home

The government is committed to ensuring that students that have been living away from home are able to return home at the end of term, if they choose to do so. HE providers should support students to ensure that this is possible, following the period of national restriction, whilst mitigating the risk of transmission of the virus. It is essential that measures are put in place to ensure this can happen as safely as possible for students, staff and the communities that they return to.

Movement during the period of national restriction (5 November to 2 December 2020)

Everyone should follow the national restrictions in place from 5 November until 2 December 2020, meaning that students must stay in their current accommodation and not leave their term time address, except for specific purposes, including leaving home for education, during this period. On 4 November, we published national restrictions guidance for higher education which explains how the national restrictions affect the HE sector.

Movement after 2 December 2020

The national restrictions are set in law to finish on 2 December and the government is committed to this date. To ensure that students can be home at the end of the winter term but also reduce any transmission risk, the government is asking that students return home once the national restrictions have been lifted, in a student travel window lasting from 3 to 9 December. This should be in line with specific arrangements put in place by their HE provider.

This excludes students who have tested positive or been notified by the NHS test and trace system (see the section on self-isolation).

To support all students being able to travel home in the window, face to face provision for the winter term should finish at every provider by 9 December at the latest. Those who do not return home by 9 December will be advised to undertake a further period of restricted contact either before or after returning home to minimise the risk of transmission.

We expect providers to stagger the end of face to face provision between 3 to 9 December between faculties. A provider can end face to face provision before 3 December if they wish.

We expect higher education providers to work with other higher education providers in their city, town or county to agree on the staggered return home of students between these dates. This will also alleviate pressures on public transport. Of course, higher education providers can continue online learning after 9 December.

We have selected this date as the cut-off date for in-person learning to ensure that the last date students are required on campus allows enough time for students to complete self-isolation before Christmas, should they develop symptoms that day or be identified as a contact (of someone who has tested positive) by the tracing system. We expect every university to follow this timeframe to ensure that the last date students (including students that commute from home to study) are required on campus can allow for any isolation period that may follow.

Under the current national restrictions, students will have completed a 4-week period of national restriction by 2 December, limiting the risk of them contracting and transmitting coronavirus (COVID-19). As this is a key measure to reduce the risk of transmission to their families and friends at home, it is very important that students comply with the measures for the duration of the period of national restrictions and manage social interactions safely between 2 December and the point of travel.

Anyone who remains at university after 9 December will run the risk of having to undertake a period of isolation of up to 14 days at university if they contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) or were identified as a contact of someone who had and would therefore be at risk of not being able to travel home in time for Christmas. We ask higher education providers to help reiterate this message so that students can make an informed choice.

Students who are unable to access online learning or continue their studies at home should be supported to do so at university (see the section on specific support for students).

Following the end of the national restrictions on 2 December, students should continue to follow all national and local public health guidance while they remain at university and when they return home if they choose to go home. To protect loved ones and their communities they should keep social contact to a minimum and try to minimise their risk of contracting the virus.

Students studying in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland should follow the guidance from their institutions before returning home to England. Once they return to England, they should follow English guidance for their home area. We recommend that all students who have not completed the 4 week period of national restrictions in England immediately prior to their return home, including students studying in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, undertake a period of at least 14 days of reduced contact (similar to the measures in place during the national restrictions) either before or after returning home. Scotland and Wales have recently set out their plans for students returning home. As long as students returning home to England follow this guidance, they do not need to take additional measures.

In deciding where they want to undertake these measures, students should take into account the risks of transmission to their household on return home, in particular, if any of their household are more vulnerable.

Following the end of term break, our top priority for January will be the welfare of students, staff and the communities around higher education providers. We are looking to utilise mass testing to make the return to higher education as safe as possible and will provide further guidance in due course, considering future developments and the relevant scientific advice.

Mass asymptomatic testing availability and end of term movement

To support the return home of students in December, we will utilise a clinically validated swab antigen test (lateral flow devices (LFDs)) that does not require laboratory processing and can turnaround rapid results within an hour at the location of the test.

We are issuing separate communications to each university regarding the testing programme. We will target testing based on a range of factors including local prevalence rates, whether testing is available already and the percentage of high-risk students in each institution.

Testing needs to be completed by the end of the term (9 December) allowing students who test positive to complete self-isolation at university before returning home for Christmas.

This will provide additional assurances that where tests are negative, there is a reduced risk in students travelling home, and a reduced risk of transmission to their family and home community. Targeted higher education providers should encourage students to take the test.

If students test negative, they should return home as soon as possible after receiving their result. If they test negative but are identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive, they can return home but must continue self-isolation at home for a period of 14 days, using private transport wherever possible. If they have no other option than to use public transport they should strictly observe social distancing measures, wear a face covering and wash hands thoroughly and regularly during the journey. If a student tests positive, they must self-isolate at university for a period of 10 days.

Your students must follow the rules on movement and self-isolation after a test.

If a student tests positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) they are required by law to self-isolate for a period of 10 days.

If a student has been identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive but can access testing via the mass testing programme, they should seek a test. If they test negative, they must still self-isolate for 14 days but this can be done at home if they wish to do so, taking into account the risk of transmission to their family. Students should only use public transport if they have no other option. They should strictly follow safer travel guidance for passengers. Where mass testing is not available, students must self-isolate in their current accommodation and not return home.

If a student tests negative and is not a close contact of someone who has tested positive, they can travel home by any mode of transport and do not have to undertake any further periods of self-isolation. If, after travel, they subsequently develop symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), or are alerted by NHS Test and Trace that they are a close contact of a case, they should immediately self-isolate at their new location and get tested.

Students who are unable to self-isolate safely and practically at home, whilst continuing their studies, should be supported to do so at university (see the section on specific support for students).

The LFD tests we are deploying have a high specificity which means there is a very low chance of false positive test results occurring. The test does not detect all positive cases, however, and works best in cases with higher viral loads – those who are most infectious. As the test is easy to administer and does not require a laboratory, repeat tests can be carried out. The benefit will be the ability to detect a significant number of people without symptoms who are infectious who will then be asked to self-isolate thereby reducing the transmission of the virus.

LFD tests will not be available in all locations. If you cannot provide LFD testing, you should inform them of the broader guidance in this document and they should return home, either:

  • in the student travel window between 3 and 9 December if not symptomatic
  • after isolating if they have been advised to do so by NHS Test and Trace

University plans for returning home

Universities should ensure they have plans for how they support students to return home safely, including planning transport support, staggered departures and moving teaching online early so students can finish their studies from home. They should also communicate safer travel guidance to students, ensuring they understand how to stay safe while travelling (see the transport section).

Moving teaching online by 9 December

As part of this plan, HE providers should plan to have moved all teaching online by 9 December at the very latest. We expect providers to stagger the end of face to face provision between 3 to 9 December both between faculties and universities in the same city (and region if possible). A provider can end face to face provision before 3 December if they wish. This should be undertaken by all providers, with exceptions only for healthcare students on placements as outlined below.

HE providers should not restart any social and extra-curricular activities when the period of national restrictions ends on 2 December and should work with hospitality settings in the local area to discourage opportunities for students to socialise extensively prior to their departure home.

The government has powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 to direct HE providers, including to take specified steps in connection with the provision of education if necessary and proportionate to do so, and will consider the appropriate use of these powers if it becomes necessary.

Healthcare and other students on placements returning home during December

In line with face-to-face teaching provision moving online by 9 December, providers should reschedule and rearrange placements or simulation work due to take place between 9 December and the end of term, to ensure that students who wish to return home during the travel window are able to do so.

We recognise there are limited circumstances in which some placements may need to continue beyond 9 December, see the exemptions section for more information.

However, all students should be able to return home during the student travel window between 3 and 9 December, if they choose to do so (as long as they are not required to self-isolate). This includes all students on placements (including those listed in the exemptions section), in these circumstances, providers should work with these students to rearrange the placements where possible.

Your students should consider their living arrangements and their access to mass asymptomatic coronavirus (COVID-19) testing if they decide to continue their placement after 9 December.

Students that choose to remain in their placements beyond 9 December will run the risk of having to undertake a period of isolation of up to 14 days at university if they contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) or were identified as a contact of someone who had and would therefore be at risk of not being able to travel home in time for Christmas.

Any student that does remain on a placement after 9 December who wishes to return home after this date, should restrict their social contact to minimise the risk of transmission. We ask higher education providers to help reiterate these messages so that students can make an informed choice.

Providers and placement workplaces (for example, hospitals and schools) that are participating in the mass asymptomatic testing programme should ensure that students staying after 9 December have access to a test before returning home, to ensure the risk of transmitting coronavirus (COVID-19) is mitigated.

Exemptions for critical worker placements

Some course placements are essential to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

If a student is defined as a critical worker whilst on their placement and that placement is considered to be operationally essential (for example, there would be workforce implications if the placement ended on or before 9 December) then that placement may continue.

This includes students on healthcare placements and initial teaching training (ITT) trainees.

Health and social care students

As critical workers who have played a key part in the phenomenal NHS response during the pandemic, health and social care students may continue on operationally essential placements beyond 9 December.

This only applies to students on placements where they meet one of these criteria:

  • they receive Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) placement funding
  • they can access support through the Learning Support Fund
  • they have access to the NHS bursary

Only students participating in higher education courses (undergraduate, postgraduate, degree apprenticeship courses, diploma and level 5 courses) in these professions meet these criteria:

  • medicine
  • nursing (all branches)
  • midwifery
  • allied health professions, which includes:
    • chiropodists and podiatrists
    • dietitians
    • occupational therapists
    • operating department practitioners
    • orthoptists
    • paramedics
    • physiotherapists
    • prosthetists and orthotists
    • radiographers
    • speech and language therapists
  • dentistry
  • dental hygiene, dental therapy, dental nursing and dental technology
  • physician associates (including other related physician associate professions)
  • social work
  • pharmacy
  • optometry
  • healthcare science practitioner training programme

The government is supporting students on health and social care placements to access support broadly equitable to that available to NHS staff, including:

  • being classed as critical workers for the purpose of testing
  • access to appropriate PPE needed for placement duties
  • access to NHS help and support services

Postgraduate and final year undergraduate initial teaching training (ITT) trainees

As critical workers providing support to schools during this challenging time, postgraduate trainees and undergraduate trainees in their final year can continue their placement in person until the end of term, where they are operationally essential and content to do so.

For all placements that end in person earlier than planned, ITT providers should consider how to best use the remaining training time before the end of term. This may include remote centre-based or school-based training.

Other exemptions

Final year veterinary students

Final year veterinary students may continue their clinical placements beyond 9 December, if they wish to do so.

If students choose to leave during the student travel window, providers should work with these students to rearrange the placements.

Postgraduate research students

Postgraduate students may continue their independent research activities beyond 9 December if they deem it necessary to ensure there are no delays to the completion of their postgraduate research qualification or implications to funding.

Any face-to-face teaching element of the postgraduate qualification should be moved online by 9 December.

Providers should keep research facilities open (including research laboratories, suites, and office spaces) to facilitate this and other ongoing research. However, where it is possible, research should be carried out at home.

Students and providers should also adhere to the guidance on working safely in labs and research facilities during coronavirus (COVID-19).

Students on paid employment

Students who are undertaking paid employment as part of their course, for example, sandwich placements, can continue in their employment beyond the 9 December, if they choose to do so.

If students would like to go home before 9 December, they should speak with their employer. Any teaching element of their course should be moved online by 9 December. Students should follow the guidance on working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19) and any national guidance.

All teaching and learning for apprentices (delivered at a HE provider as part of an apprentice’s off-the-job training) should move online by 9 December. The government has issued separate guidance for training providers, employers and apprentices regarding changes to apprenticeships due to coronavirus (COVID-19). Apprentices should contact their employer and training provider if they have questions about the flexibilities both parties have put in place to enable them to continue to receive their off-the-job training.

In situations where apprentices training towards an apprenticeship are living away from home to undertake their apprenticeship, they can continue in their employment beyond 9 December but should speak with their employer if they would like to travel home before this date.

Transport

Universities should make plans to ensure that their students can leave safely to return home by public transport or private vehicle. These plans should include: staggered end of term dates for courses or cohorts, ensuring students are able to travel safely to public transport hubs; and co-ordination with other universities in the area.

Universities should liaise with their local transport providers (train, bus and coach operating companies) to ensure they have sufficient visibility of the university’s plans. Open collaboration will help operators plan accordingly.

If students are travelling home, they should follow the safer travel guidance for passengers. Universities should also communicate travel guidance to all students, including how to help control coronavirus by:

  • wearing a face covering unless exempt
  • keeping their distance from people from other households when they travel, where possible
  • washing or sanitising their hands regularly
  • avoiding the busiest routes, as well as busy times like the rush hour
  • downloading the NHS COVID-19 app before they travel, if possible, and checking in where they see official NHS COVID-19 QR code posters

Universities should remind students travelling home by public transport that, in line with the safer travel guidance for passengers, they should book ahead wherever possible.

If students are travelling by private vehicle they should try to avoid car sharing with anyone outside their household or support bubble and should follow the safer travel guidance for passengers to reduce the risk of transmission where this is not possible.

For students identified as close contacts and who have tested negative, and have chosen to return home before undertaking 14 days of self-isolation, universities should advise them that they should travel straight home to begin self-isolating. Students should use private transport wherever possible and only use public transport if they have no other option. They should strictly observe social distancing measures, wear a face covering and wash hands thoroughly and regularly during the journey. They should follow safer travel guidance for passengers.

Specific support for students

Providers should ensure that students are supported to self-isolate where they need to, including in university accommodation if needed. This includes if students are self-isolating beyond the end of term. Universities UK have published a checklist for providers to support students who are required to self-isolate.

Where students remain in their university accommodation over the winter break, HE providers should continue to make sure they are well looked after and supported. This could include keeping libraries, study and performance rooms open for students to use in a COVID-secure way.

Providers should pay particular regard to the specific needs of certain groups during this period, including care leavers, estranged students, and international students who will require access to welfare and mental health support and essential services during the holiday periods. This has been a particularly difficult year especially for students and we ask that special plans are created for students who stay on campus or alone in university areas over Christmas.

For information and guidance on sponsor and care arrangements for higher education international students under the age of 18, please see the care arrangements for children section of Home Office sponsor guidance.

Higher education students considering overseas travel for non-educational purposes during period of national restrictions

If a student wishes to leave their home or accommodation to travel overseas during the period of national restrictions, they should only do so if in accordance with the guidance on the national restrictions. It is permissible to leave home to travel in some circumstances, such as moving home, or for a medical reason. Examples of what constitutes a reasonable excuse for leaving home can be found in the regulations (regulation 6, on pages 6-10).

International students currently in England can return home, subject to any restrictions in place at their destination. Being outside of one’s home for the purposes of outbound travel to one’s country of nationality or residence can be considered a reasonable excuse under the regulations. However, it is not considered that leaving home for the purposes of outbound travel for a holiday would amount to a reasonable excuse.

Students planning to travel should adhere to Public Health England advice while in England to ensure they are travelling safely. Students should not travel if they have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) or are part of a household group which is self-isolating.

If students do travel overseas, they should consider the restrictions on entry to the country in question, such as whether they would need to undertake a period of self-isolation in that country, and whether they would need to self-isolate when they return.

Returning students travelling from countries not on the exemption (travel corridor) list will need to self-isolate in their accommodation for 14 days.

Students should be aware that travel advice may change while they are overseas, and are advised to regularly check all relevant GOV.UK guidance pages for updates.

Students travelling to the EU should also consult relevant guidance regarding the UK and EU transition.

Higher education students considering overseas travel for non-educational purposes for the winter break

Students planning to return home at the end of the period of national restrictions (after 2 December) for the winter break should adhere to Public Health England advice while in England to ensure they are travelling safely. Students should not travel if they have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) or are part of a household group which is self-isolating.

If students do travel overseas, they should consider the restrictions on entry to the country in question, such as whether they would need to undertake a period of self-isolation in that country, and whether they would need to self-isolate when they return.

International students should also consider their ability to access course materials overseas if they choose to travel home – for example, confirming arrangements for online learning with their higher education provider before they travel, if needed.

Students should be aware that travel advice may change while they are overseas, and are advised to regularly check all relevant GOV.UK guidance pages for updates.

Students travelling to the EU should also consult relevant guidance regarding the UK and EU transition.

Higher education students considering travelling to the UK from abroad during the period of national restriction (5 November to 2 December 2020)

Our borders are open for international students wishing to study in the UK in person. Before travelling, international students are advised to contact their current or chosen university to find out how they are adapting their teaching in light of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) context.

All international arrivals will be required to complete a passenger locator form on arrival, and passengers travelling from a country not on the exemption (travel corridor) list will need to self-isolate in their accommodation for 14 days.

Students required to self-isolate upon arrival should only use public transport if they have no other option and should follow safer travel guidance for passengers.

In England, those self-isolating can only leave their accommodation in limited circumstances and should follow guidance on how to self-isolate when you travel to the UK.

We are working with the higher education sector to ensure that all students are welcomed to the UK and are supported on arrival by their chosen university – Universities UK has developed a checklist for providers to support students who are required to self-isolate to use as guide in developing that support. Further guidance is available on entering the UK.

International students considering study in the UK should be aware that visa concessions allow for the ongoing provision of online learning for the duration of the academic year 2020 to 2021. Many higher education providers are starting courses online. If you have any questions about starting your course you should contact your higher education provider.

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