UK nations meet to discuss ‘mass migration’ of students at Christmas

Discussions as to whether university students across the UK will be asked to self-isolate before returning home for Christmas are ongoing, Wales’ education minister has said.

Kirsty Williams said she took part in talks on Thursday about facilitating the “mass migration” of learners in December with the UK and Scottish education secretaries and education officials from Northern Ireland.

The Welsh Government said the meeting was chaired by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and included UK and Scottish education secretaries Gavin Williamson and John Swinney, as well as UK universities minister Michelle Donelan.

A further meeting between the four UK nations is scheduled next week to figure out how they could work a “safe return” for students and limit the amount of time they would need to isolate.

Ms Williams told the Welsh Government’s press conference in Cardiff: “I have just within the last half-hour finished a meeting with colleagues across the United Kingdom, discussing how we can ensure that students, wherever they are studying in the UK, will be able to return safely home for Christmas.

“We are looking at a range of options to allow that to happen. Self-isolation is an active consideration, and how we can limit the amount of time people will self-isolate and other approaches are being actively considered.

“We will meet again as four UK nations next week to discuss progress and how we can operationalise that safe return.”

Ms Williams said the discussions would be “mindful” of students’ health and “mindful of the health of their parents… who they’re going home to, and of course the wider community”.

She added: “Given the fact that involves a mass migration of people across the United Kingdom, we need to do that on a four-nation basis.

“Wales needs to make its own plans, but we need to do that in conjunction with other parts of the United Kingdom, recognising that we have Northern Irish, Scottish, and English students studying in Wales, and we have lots of Welsh students studying in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“We all want to achieve the same thing, which is getting our young people home for Christmas if that is where they want to be.”