Students returning to university in England begin classes on May 17th

The government has announced that students on all university courses in England will return “no earlier than 17 May.”

About a million students who have been taking courses remotely online since Christmas will be able to return to university campuses this month. Since the beginning of the year, only students enrolled in hands-on courses have been allowed in-person teaching. About half of the students have been taking only online courses, but beginning next month, all students will be taking a mix of face-to-face and online classes. 

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan, in a written statement, said the timing was a “cautious approach to the easing of restrictions” and “the movement of students across the country poses a risk for the transmission of the virus”.

Students will be offered Covid testing on campus when they return – with an initial three tests under supervision, after which students will be asked to take tests at home.

There will also be an additional £15m for student hardship support this year, announced the university minister.

  • In Wales, students returned this week, with a mix of face-to-face and online study.
  • In Scotland, some students have had in-person classes, but from 17 May universities will “return to a more blended model of learning”. Although some universities in Scotland end their term in late May.
  • In Northern Ireland, hands-on courses have been taught in-person, but other courses are expected to remain online for the rest of the term.

The return will coincide with step three of the government’s wider roadmap, also due to begin that day, where restrictions on social contact and indoor mixing will be further eased.

Some other universities have already decided to stay online for all this academic year instead of opening their doors to students.

Even without in-person teaching, many students seem to have gone back to their university accommodation – with a survey from the Higher Education Policy Institute suggesting about two-thirds of students had been in their term-time addresses.

The news came after university leaders in England had intensified calls for students to be allowed to return to campus as soon as possible, as seminars and lectures will be largely coming to an end at many universities by mid-May.

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