UK universities prepare to reopen

As universities across the UK prepare to reopen, Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued an urgent plea to students to follow rules banning gatherings of more than six people aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

The opening weeks of a new academic year traditionally start with fresher’s events and social events, but the new lockdown rules which will come into force on September 14 has placed a limit on gatherings, reports Xinhua news agency.

On Thursday, Hancock told the House of Commons (Lower House of Parliament) that he wants students to avoid passing on the virus to parents or grandparents.

His plea came as the Department for Education (DoE) issued an updated guidance earlier in the day to universities as they prepare to reopen in September.

A record-high number of 18-year-olds have signed up this year to study at universities in the UK.

Figures from Ucas, the UK’s universities admissions service, showed a record 71,370 overseas students secured places at the universities, 1,200 more than last year.

The figures also show that the growth in overseas student numbers has more than compensated for a drop in European Union students.

However, experts warned that due to coronavirus-related uncertainty, some students might not take up their places and the next few weeks would be crucial in determining how many would enrol eventually.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan urged students on Thursday to act responsibly as they head to campuses.

“The updated guidance includes recent advice and will help university leaders access the information they need, and assist their existing plans to keep students and staff as safe as possible,” said Donelan.

Donelan said SAGE, the government’s scientific advisory group, has made clear that teaching in person is important and fully online provision would have an impact on students’ mental health.

Where practical work occurs in close contact like medicine, dentistry and performing arts, universities should follow advice for the relevant professional environment, the minister added.

“All social activities will need to comply with the latest measures, though students will still be able to socialize with the same ‘household’ they form in their student accommodation,” she added.