All university students will not be allowed back on campus until mid-May

13 April 2021, 23:56 | Updated: 14 April 2021, 07:32

The remaining university students not allowed back on campus will have to wait until at least mid-May
The remaining university students not allowed back on campus will have to wait until at least mid-May. Picture: PA/Xinhua/Han Yan

By Will Taylor

University students in England will not be allowed back on campus until mid-May at the earliest.

Students are expected to be permitted in-person teaching when rules on outdoor social contacts are eased, which is slated for May 17 at the earliest – a move criticised as "unfathomable".

The Government’s announcement comes after university leaders called for learners to be allowed back, with many universities ending lectures by the middle of next month.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan confirmed the return will not take place yet in a written ministerial statement.

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"The movement of students across the country poses a risk for the transmission of the virus - particularly because of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of new variants," she said.

"Students who have returned to higher education settings should not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time unless they meet one of the exemptions."

Students who are on critical courses, including those on practical courses who required specialist equipment and facilities, were allowed to return on March 8.

It is thought about half of students are not eligible for in-person teaching.

Professor Graham Galbraith, vice-chancellor at the University of Portsmouth, said delaying the return of all students until May 17 was "unfathomable" because it will mark the end of the teaching year in many institutions.

"This isn't good enough," he said.

Read more: Universities say all students could return to in-person teaching after Easter

"Students can now buy a book on British history in Waterstones and discuss it with a tattoo artist while they have their body decorated, but they cannot do the same thing in a Covid-secure environment with their university lecturer."

In a recent letter to Boris Johnson, Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said it was "illogical" to open shops, gyms, spas, zoos, theme parks, libraries and community centres on April 12 but not allow students to return to campus.

Ms Donelan added: "The Government and I recognise just how difficult and disruptive the last year has been for students.

"However, the road map is designed to maintain a cautious approach to the easing of restrictions, to ensure that we can maintain progress towards full reopening."

The Department for Education will make an additional £15 million of funding available for student hardship this academic year, she added.

A parliamentary petition calling for students to be allowed to return to university at the start of the summer term has more than 6,000 signatures.

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president for higher education at the National Union of Students, said: "Students have missed out not just on huge swathes of education and hands-on experience this year, but on experiencing campus life.

"Having experienced so much injustice, students deserve better than being disregarded by the Government time and time again."

However, the University and College Union (UCU) has called for university courses to stay online until September because, it said, most lectures and seminars will finish by the time students can return.