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Who can go back to university and when? What support is available? Students’ questions answered

From 8 March universities can start to resume in-person teaching for students on practical courses and those who need to access to facilities and equipment on campus.

This process will be decided on by universities, but is likely to be staggered, and will depend on course structure.

All remaining students should continue their studies remotely and we will review options for the timing of the return of these students by the end of the Easter holidays, taking into account the latest set of data.

Universities and other higher education providers should inform students, with at least a week’s notice, whether their course will be returning to in-person teaching from 8 March or they should continue studying remotely.

Why can’t all courses return from 8 March?

As the Prime Minister has said, we want to ease restrictions in a way that means we can be confident we will not have to apply them again in the future.

Recent evidence from SAGE suggests that the risk of transmitting the virus through face-to-face teaching is low, however we must take steps to mitigate the risk of transmission elsewhere, including the mass movement of students.

That is why we are advising a staggered return to campuses for students who are currently studying remotely. This will help to reduce risk of transmission around the country.

These plans have been developed to help ensure that students on courses where in-person learning is crucial, can complete their qualifications as they planned.

Will I be entitled to a refund if my course is still online?

We have been clear that universities should maintain the quality and quantity of tuition, and ensure it is accessible to all students, regardless of their background. The Office for Students (OfS) is monitoring online teaching to ensure this is the case.

The OfS has published guidance on maintaining academic quality and standards. If students, staff, or members of the public feel universities are not meeting requirements and have concerns about the quality of teaching on offer, they can submit a notification to the OfS. A guide on how to do this can be found here.

If students in England and Wales have concerns about the tuition they are receiving they should first contact their provider. If their provider is unable to resolve the issue, they can then ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) to consider their complaint.

Whether or not an individual student is entitled to a refund of fees will depend on the specific contractual arrangements between them and their university.

I’m worried my grades or chances of graduating will be affected?

We understand that this a challenging time for students and we have prioritised education throughout the pandemic to ensure students can graduate and do not have to put their lives on hold.

Unlike A-levels and GCSEs, universities are autonomous on matters of assessment, and will make their own judgements about how best to ensure students’ achievements are reliably and fairly assessed.

We are clear that universities should adopt a fair approach to assessed grades that enables students to leave with qualifications that reflect their hard work and take into account the challenging circumstances of the past year. Universities will make their own judgements about how best to ensure this, including the decision of whether or not to adopt ‘no detriment’ policies.

We are working closely with the sector and universities to ensure that students will graduate this year with qualifications that employer’s value.

Will employers think my degree is worth less because much of it has been online?

The Government has prioritised education throughout the pandemic and worked with universities and the sector to ensure academic standards are maintained and students have the knowledge and skills they need to start their careers.

The Universities Minister meets regularly with professional bodies, senior higher education representatives and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), to make sure students can safely and successfully graduate. QAA have provided support and guidance to providers and professional bodies throughout the pandemic.

At the roundtable on 24 February, universities and professional bodies committed to working together to ensure that graduates are able to catch-up, and to reassure students and employers that they can be confident in the quality of degrees awarded in 2020 and 2021.

Am I entitled to a refund for my term-time accommodation I’m not living in?

Accommodation providers are autonomous and responsible for setting their own fees or offering rent freezes.

We welcome that many universities and private accommodation providers have already offered rent rebates and other financial compensation, and encourage others to follow suit.

Providers have also been asked to review their accommodation policies to ensure they are fair, transparent and have the best interests of students at heart.

This has been an incredibly difficult time for students which is why we have made £70m of funding available this financial year for all students, including international students, in the greatest need, such as those struggling to cover accommodation costs. This is on top of an existing £256 million that universities can draw on to support those who need it the most. Students should get in touch with their universities if they are struggling.

How can I access support for my mental health?

We recognise the toll that the pandemic can take on students, and protecting their mental health and wellbeing continues to be a top priority.

Students struggling with their mental health should reach out their university or provider to access the support services on offer. They can also find support from Public Health England’s Every Mind Matters campaign and their local NHS trust, which now provide dedicated 24-hour support lines. Students can also get help from Student Space, an online platform launched specifically to help with the challenges of the pandemic, which offers resources, phone, text and online support.

The Universities Minister has convened a working group of representatives from the higher education and health sectors to specifically address metal health, and has urged vice chancellors to prioritise providing adequate, accessible wellbeing support.

Universities can access up to £256 million funding to use towards mental health support in 2020/21, and we have asked the Office for Students to allocate an additional £15 million towards student mental health to specifically address challenges associated with the transition from school/college to university. This is in addition to the £3 million provided to fund Student Space.

I am a medic and have already been on campus for this term, can I go home for Easter?

It is vital that we follow national guidance, and keep travel to an absolute minimum, in order to reduce the risk of transmission around the country. As such, we advise students not to return home for the Easter Break and to stay at their term time accommodation, where possible.

However, we do understand that some students will have been in term time accommodation for many months now, and there may certain situations where it is necessary for students to return home for the easter break. Where this is the case, we have put into place a travel exemption which means that students can travel home, and back to their term time accommodation once, during their Easter break.

In order to keep themselves, their families and local residents as safe as possible, students are advised to get tested before they leave campus (as offered by their provider) and make use of community testing services on offer to get a test before they return back to campus.

Will I be able to go home for Easter if I am a practical students, due to return to university from March 8?

We strongly advise students to stay at their term time accommodation over the Easter break, especially if they are returning to university from 8 March.

However, there are exemptions in place for those who must return for mental health and wellbeing reasons.

I’m a practical student due to return to university from March 8, what do I need to do?

We would strongly encourage you to test before you travel back to university, where community testing facilities are available. You can find more information on what testing facilities are available in your area here.

Once you have returned to university we recommend that you take another test. We have worked with providers to put in place asymptomatic testing arrangements for all students on arrival at university, and for those students who stayed on campus, to reduce and better manage outbreaks of coronavirus (COVID-19).

We are working with HE providers to offer:

  • two tests to all students eligible to attend their university or HE institution, upon their return
  • twice weekly asymptomatic testing to all students currently eligible to attend their university or HE institution.

Twice weekly testing will help to break chains of transmission, identify asymptomatic infections and help further ensure safety on campus to help enable a return to face-to-face teaching as soon as is possible.

Universities are strongly encouraged to make twice-weekly testing available for staff and to advise those staff that are required to be physically present at work in the university, to take part in the testing programme. Once students have returned to their term-time accommodation they must remain living there unless an exemption to the national restrictions on leaving home and gatherings applies.

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