Allow university students home for Christmas, Labour urges Government


The Government must promise that university students will be able to return home to their families at Christmas, Labour has said.

Shadow education secretary Kate Green also called on ministers to consider delaying the start of term to allow for improvements in testing capacity and remote learning.

She has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for “urgent clarity and reassurance” from the Government that university environments will protect students.

Her intervention follows warnings from Sir Mark Walport, a Government scientific adviser, that students may have to stay in halls when term ends to ensure the infection does not spread to older relatives.

It comes as 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University were told to stay in their rooms for 14 days after 127 tested positive for coronavirus.

Hundreds of students are also self-isolating after outbreaks at Glasgow, Edinburgh Napier and other universities.

Ms Green said: “Leaving home to go to university should be a momentous and exciting step for young people and their families. Universities have done all they can to prepare for students’ safe return, but the Government has again let young people down.

“It is unthinkable that students will be locked in their rooms and unable to return home to spend Christmas with their families. The Government must promise that this will not happen, and work with universities to enable every student to access tests so that they can travel home safely.

“The Government should also consider a delay to the start of term or a pause in migration for universities where term has not yet begun to allow improvements in testing capacity and remote learning provision.

“Gavin Williamson must urgently come to Parliament and set out how he will resolve the critical situation in our universities that is causing such anxiety for families across the country.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “The Government is working closely with universities to ensure they are well prepared for the return of students, and we have published guidance to help them keep students and staff as safe as possible.

“Students should follow the latest health advice, just like the wider public, which means they should stay at university in the event that they have symptoms, have to isolate, there are additional restrictions imposed locally, or there is an outbreak on campus or in their accommodation.

“We will continue monitoring the situation very closely and follow Public Health England advice, adapting policies to best support students and providers.”