In a statement to the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister has announced that some university students will be able to return for in-person teaching on the 8th March, while others will have to wait until the end of the Easter holidays to find out when they can return.

Students who are undertaking practical courses, or require specialist facilities for their degrees will be able to return from the 8th March. This will also apply to any course which requires onsite access. Higher education guidance released on today appears to confirm this: “In addition to the students who returned to in-person teaching and learning in January, providers can resume in-person teaching and learning for undergraduate and postgraduate students who are studying practical or practice-based (including creative arts) subjects and require specialist equipment and facilities from 8 March”. The definition of “practical” has not been provided.

However, all other students will continue to work remotely for the time being. Options for a more general return to in-person teaching will be reviewed by the end of Easter: “The government will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for timing of the return of remaining students. This review will take account of the latest data and will be a key part of the wider roadmap steps. Students and providers will be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return.”

The guidance for higher education providers continues that: “Providers should not offer in-person teaching before then, or later if further guidance to this effect is issued, and should encourage students to remain at their current accommodation until the resumption of their in-person teaching, wherever possible.”

The Prime Minister said that all the steps he outlined in his statement would be dependent on four tests, including the success of the vaccine rollout, the number of hospital admissions and deaths, the amount of pressure on the NHS and the impact of future mutations.

The first stage of the government’s plan for exiting lockdown involves the reopening of all schools on the 8th March, and from the 29th March meetings of up to 6 individuals or two households will be allowed outdoors. Hospitality and non-essential retail should reopen on the 12th April as part of the second stage in the government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions. This will include hairdressers, public buildings, indoor leisure, alcohol takeaways and beer gardens.

The Prime Minister announced that the rule of six would be scrapped in May in outdoor settings in favour of a limit of thirty at gatherings. In indoor settings the maximum number of people in a group will remain six. Finally, in June the last restrictions should be lifted, with the final sectors of the economy, such as nightclubs, reopened.

In an email to students today, the university said: “The UK Government is expected to confirm arrangements for the end of the current national lockdown today (Monday 22 February), including plans for the return of students to universities. Once published, the University and colleges will urgently review the guidance and provide information for students about arrangements for Trinity term and about returning to Oxford. We expect to be in a position to write to all students by the end of this week (Friday 26 February). However, the University will not have prior sight of the guidance, and we appreciate your patience as we work through the details.”

Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street.

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