‘Staggered Departure Dates’ in Pre-Christmas ‘Travel Window’ for UK Students

By Mary Clark
Mary Clark
Mary Clark
November 11, 2020Updated: November 11, 2020

Students in England are to be told that if they want to go home for Christmas they should only do so within a ‘travel window’ on ‘staggered departure dates’ set by their universities.

The government said on Wednesday that under new guidance students should only travel home between Dec. 3 and Dec 9.

Until then, it said, they should stay in their term-time accommodation and follow the national lockdown restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus commonly known as novel coronavirus, that are due to end on Dec. 2.

It also said that in transit students should wear face coverings, avoid busy routes and times, not car-share outside households or bubbles, and follow local guidelines at their destinations.

Since students will have just undergone four weeks of national restrictions, it said, the risk of them spreading the virus to family and friends at home will have been minimised.

Under the new guidance universities will be told to move learning online before the end of the travel window so those heading home can continue with their education.

‘Logistical Nightmare’

Responding on Twitter Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, told Sky News that the government has created a “logistical nightmare” in setting just 7 days for students to be tested and to travel.

She wrote that rather than waiting until Dec. 9 the government should move learning online immediately, allowing time for a “more managed migration of these 1 million students.”

She also wrote that the government “must plan for January” now.

Meanwhile, Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading UK universities welcomed the clarity the government guidance gave on arrangements for the end of term.

He said member universities would endeavour to mitigate the “practical challenges” the travel window faced them with but echoed Grady over arrangements for next term.

“We call on Government to work with the sector to provide clear guidance on how it believes the return to campus in the New Year should be managed to ensure students face as little disruption as possible to their ongoing studies and professional qualification requirements,” he said.

University advocates Universities UK highlighted the unpredictability students and staff have faced amid the pandemic and said both would appreciate the government’s end of term plans.

Loss of In-Person Learning

A spokesperson, however, warned of the need to mitigate the loss of in-person learning and joined the call for coherent arrangements for the New Year.

“The government must now urgently turn its attention to working with the sector on plans to ensure students can safely resume their studies in person in January, supported by enhanced testing capability,” they said.

The student travel plan will accompany mass testing before students depart for home.

“Tests will be offered to as many students as possible before they travel home for Christmas, with universities in areas of high prevalence prioritised,” the government said.

Students testing positive will have to stay put and self-isolate for 10 days under the new measures but can still head home in time for Christmas after that.

Those travelling to England from outside the country should self-isolate for 14 days before leaving campus or on arrival home, the government said.

Students can still choose to travel after Dec. 9 but would have a tight window to get home for Christmas if they tested positive and had to self-isolate.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said students particularly those not leaving campus should get “all the wellbeing support they need.”

Those staying might include care leavers, international students, and those estranged from their families, the government said.

Psychological and Practical Help

It said help should be psychological as well as practical and has provided a £12 million ($ 15.9 million) package to mental health services.

The National Union of Students, which before the beginning of the Autumn term criticised the government for, under earlier guidance, “trapping students in university accommodation,”  welcomed the government’s new plans.

“The government have finally listened to our calls to ensure that students can travel home safely for Christmas,” the union’s National President, Larissa Kennedy, told The Epoch Times.

“We had raised concerns about plans to make students self-isolate for extended periods of time, and the effect this would have on their mental health, so giving students some much needed clarity will hopefully put many at ease,” she said.

“We particularly welcome this mass-testing approach as it equips students with the knowledge to make informed decisions about travel ahead of the winter break based on individual risk, instead of being subject to blanket rules we’ve seen elsewhere this term,” she added.

“The government must now ensure that universities have enough resources to cope with the mass demand for this testing. We do now need a clear strategy for January return: students deserve better than another term of uncertainty.”