Uni students may have to self-isolate at end of term in order to go home for Christmas
Gavin Williamson’s announcement follows pressure on government for clarity on issue
Education secretary suggests unis with COVID-19 outbreaks in December may have to switch to online learning
University students may have to self-isolate at the end of term in order to go home for Christmas, education secretary Gavin Williamson has said.
It comes after the government faced pressure to guarantee students will not be confined to their university homes during the festive period because of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Williamson, addressing MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday, promised: “We are going to work with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely and spend Christmas with their loved ones if they choose to do so.”
He said it is “essential” that measures are put in place to ensure this can happen.
Williamson then announced: “Where there are specific circumstances that warrant it, there may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term.
“We will be working with the sector to ensure this will be possible, including ending in-person learning if that is deemed to be necessary.”
He later added universities with a COVID-19 outbreak close to Christmas could be required to shift to online learning to help with efforts to allow students to spend the festive period with their families.
Thousands of students are currently in self-isolation following a surge in cases at universities including Glasgow, Manchester Metropolitan and Edinburgh Napier.
According to university statements and local reports this month, at least 25 institutions have seen confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Williamson said it’s impossible to “eliminate all risk” but that “we will not condemn a generation of young people by asking them to put their lives on hold for months or years ahead”.
He added universities “are very well prepared to handle any outbreaks as they arise”.
Shadow education secretary Kate Green criticised Williamson over the “desperately worrying” situation.
She said: “Across the country, many find themselves isolated in cramped accommodation, parents worried about their wellbeing and safety, and university staff who have worked so hard over the summer to prepare are anxious and angry that the government didn’t keep its part of the bargain.
“They’ve all been let down by the government just as it let down many of these same students with its handling of exam results last month.”
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