Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, has written to English universities to outline new plans for the beginning of next term, with returns for most students now delayed until at least 25 January.
Return at the start of term is limited to: students studying medicine, dentistry, subjects allied to medicine or health, veterinary science, education (initial teacher training), social work, and courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body assessments or activity which is scheduled for January and cannot be postponed.
In the letter Donelan says that, given rising COVID-19 infection rates, all other courses should be offered online from the start of term, with in-person teaching “paused until at least the week commencing 25 January”.
The planned return of students scheduled for the two weeks beginning 25 January will now also be reviewed by the government, with further information to be given to Universities in the week commencing 18 January.
Universities have been asked to “Plan for the staggered return of further students, prioritising those who will most benefit from in-person provision.”
While the letter says that “students should be encouraged to remain in their vacation accommodation until the resumption of their face-to-face teaching”, it also stressed the importance of ensuring that “those students who have remained at university or who have compelling reasons to return are given appropriate support and access to study space”.
In an email sent to University of York students, Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffrey confirmed that spaces such as the Library will remain open, and other courses that do not qualify for in person teaching will start online.
Online assessments that are to be held before 25 January remain in place.
The announcement was criticised by Jo Grady, General Secretary of the University and College Union, who said that the Government’s plans were “doomed to fail”, and called for all “non-essential teaching” to be moved online until Easter.