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Government guidance for student Christmas return 'riddled with holes', says UCU

11 November 2020

UCU said Westminster government plans to get students home for Christmas were welcome but flaws in the guidance were a sad reflection of a government that has consistently failed to move fast enough to contain Covid-19. The union was responding to plans for a student travel window from 3 to 9 December in which students will return home from university.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The Westminister government has finally announced plans for students to return home before Christmas, but they are riddled with holes and raise as many questions as they answer.  Allowing just a week for around one million students to travel across the country leaves little room for error. 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.

'The plans for mass testing fall far short of universal coverage, with some universities set to receive no tests - and they come with immense practical challenges to overcome in a very short window. The government has created a situation where students and staff are still going onto campus for in-person teaching during a lockdown. Any student who is not able to be tested will either have to spend 14 days in isolation after that lockdown ends, alone in student accommodation, or risk spreading the virus. It is unclear what extra support will be given to help potentially thousands of students who may need to isolate at the same time. £12m for mental health support is not sufficient when thousands of students are already protesting the lack of provision.

'The insistence on continuing with in-person teaching until 9 December is putting the health of the nation at risk by repeating the summer's mass movement of students in just one week.

'There is still no information about what universities should do next term, risking the possibility of a third wave of Covid-19. The government must support students to learn remotely next term and work with universities to help release any students who wish to remain at home from their accommodation contracts.'

UCU has been calling for universities to move teaching online since August, and both SAGE and Independent SAGE have said in-person teaching should be halted. UCU recently launched a legal action over the government's decision to ignore SAGE's advice.

Last updated: 11 November 2020