The Department for Education, outlining plans for returning to universities in England after Christmas, has asked that institutions stagger the return of students over five weeks in order to “ensure the safety of students and staff”.

Students who will be prioritised for an early return include those on placements or practical courses with a need for in-person teaching (including music, dance, drama, the sciences, medicine, nursing and dentistry).

Subjects starting later, according to the BBC, will include “English literature, history and maths”. By 7 February, all students should have returned.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This is a step forward, but plans for next term still pose a risk to staff and student safety. Universities must work with the government to support students who decide the reality of life on campus during this pandemic isn’t for them, including releasing them from accommodation contracts.”

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, said when announcing the plans: “The health and wellbeing of students, staff and local communities is always our primary concern and this plan will enable a safer return for all students.

“But we must do this in a way which minimises the risk of transmission. I know students have had to make sacrifices this year and have faced a number of challenges, but this staggered return will help to protect students, staff and communities.”

Students will also be offered two lateral flow tests when they arrive back, echoing the current optional lateral flow tests provided for students as they leave for the Christmas vacation. Speaking regarding these tests, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I encourage all students to play their part in bringing this virus under control by getting tested twice, and by following the restrictions in place when travelling to and from university this term.”

It is not yet clear how these plans will be implemented at the University of Oxford.

This is a developing story. It will be updated as further information is provided.

Image Credit: Pixabay.