Students in England are set to be given a six-day ‘travel window’ in December to get back in time for Christmas – with mass testing conducted on campus before they leave.
Universities will have to arrange staggered departure dates from 3 December to 9 December, in accordance with instructions set out by the Department for Education.
Any student that tests positive must self-isolate for ten days.
As teaching is currently scheduled to continue beyond 9 December, universities are being encouraged to provide most classes online from this date so students can continue learning from home up until the festive break.
According to The Guardian, the logistics of mass testing and arranging the travel window has already raised concerns with some Vice-Chancellors across England.
Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Allowing just a week for around 1 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.”
Thousands of students have experienced a turbulent first term since leaving home to start in higher education in September.
Fresh outbreaks of the virus have left hundreds confined to their halls of residence for quarantine periods, whilst many are also having to learn via Zoom instead of attending normal classes.
Tension has been building in the community for months, and the tipping point came last week when the University of Manchester constructed fences around accommodation overnight as a ‘safety’ precaution without informing residents.
Within 24 hours, students gathered to tear the fences down.
UoM has since apologised.
Mass COVID-19 testing is expected to take place on campus in the week leading up to 3 December.
Health Secretary Matt Hanock also confirmed this week that the ten boroughs of Greater Manchester would be included on a list of new counties set to benefit from rapid-speed testing.
The new tests launched as part of a pilot scheme in Liverpool last week and are capable of giving results in minutes.