Petition Allow all students to return to university at the start of the Summer term
It is abhorrent that the Government has repeatedly ignored students in their briefings and trivialised our education. We urge the Government to prioritise the return of all students in Higher Education in their roadmap and ensure that we are all able to return at the beginning of the Summer term.
With pub gardens and salons set to open next week, the question we must ask is why have university students not been prioritised in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown? Why can our younger peers unite with their friends and resume their studies in-person while students in higher education are forced to remain and continue their studies online at home? If we cannot return, students will have missed one third of their time at university. We cannot allow for students to be sidelined again.
This response was given on 26 April 2021
Government has continued to prioritise students and their education. Subject to review, all students will return to in-person teaching alongside step 3 of the roadmap, no earlier than 17 May.
Read the response in full
This Government recognises just how difficult the past year has been for students. Since the arrival of new and highly transmissible variants, we have had to adopt a cautious approach, in line with the wider restrictions. In January, we enabled students on critical key worker courses to return and, from 8 March, we advised practical and creative students to resume in-person teaching.
On 13 April, the government confirmed that the remaining students should return to in-person teaching alongside step 3 of the roadmap, which will be no earlier than 17 May, This is subject to meeting the government’s 4 tests for easing restrictions. This decision was made, as we committed to do, following a review which concluded during the Easter holidays. We wanted to take account of the latest data before making the decision as to when remaining students should be advised to return to in-person teaching.
We recognise the disappointment this announcement has caused and we fully understand that all students want to resume in-person teaching. This is precisely what we want to see too. To achieve this, it is important that we continue to take a cautious – but hopefully irreversible – approach to re-opening. Moving too fast, too soon, risks a resurgence in infections, hospitalisations and deaths. Whilst we are aware that there is limited evidence of transmission in in-person teaching environments, we must not lose sight of the risks the virus poses and must stay vigilant throughout to ensure this roadmap provides a one-way passage to returning to a more normal life. It is vitally important, at this stage, for students and HE providers to engage with the government’s testing programme as we believe this will play a fundamental part in mitigating the risk of transmission.
All decisions have been taken across government and decisions have not been made in isolation. The decision was made for the remaining students to return alongside step 3, when wider indoor mixing should be permitted, as this presents fewer risks from a public health perspective as more of the population will be vaccinated.
There are up to 500,000 students (based on ONS estimates of 23%) who have yet to return to the accommodation occupied at the start of the autumn term. We want to avoid getting these students back too soon as it will increase the risk of outbreaks and may possibly lead to some students having to repeatedly self-isolate. This not only risks damaging their mental health and wellbeing but puts at risk the ability of some students studying creative and practical subjects to graduate.
We must also assert in response to the petition that students are a priority, have been a priority and will remain a priority for this government, and we have sought to protect students’ education throughout the pandemic. From the outset we recognised the potential impact of the pandemic in creating conditions for hardship and put in place measures to mitigate against this. We have made available an additional £85m of funding this academic year to support students experiencing hardship. This is in addition to the £256m in student premium funding that providers can draw upon.
We also recognise the importance of students having access to quality mental health support. We understand that many students have faced additional mental health challenges due to the disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic. We have worked closely with the Office for Students (OfS), providing up to £3 million to fund the mental health platform Student Space in response to the pandemic. We have also asked the OfS to allocate an additional £15 million towards student mental health in AY 21/22, through proposed reforms to strategic priorities grant funding. Importantly exemptions still apply to students who need to return to their term-time accommodation for mental health reasons or because of a lack of study space. We have asked universities to make their facilities available to all students who are back, to support their mental health and wellbeing.
Government will continue to work closely with universities so that, together, we can support students, and especially those who will graduate this year.
Department for Education
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Other parliamentary business
MPs question Government on lost teaching and rent for university students
On Thursday 15 April, MPs asked the Government about its recent announcement on when university students would be able to return to campus, and whether the Government would provide financial compensation to university students for lost teaching and rent during covid-19.
You can watch the question and the Government's response on Parliament TV:
You can read the question and the Government's response on the Hansard website:
Why was the question asked?
If an urgent or important matter arises which an MP believes requires an immediate answer from a government minister, they may apply to ask an urgent question.
Find out more about Urgent Questions here: