Students must be allowed to return to campus, university chiefs tell Boris

University chiefs have urged Boris Johnson to allow students to go back to campuses this month after the Prime Minister failed to mention their plight in his press conference on Monday.

Boris Johnson this week confirmed that from April 12, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and theme parks in England can reopen – while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors.

But the PM failed to mention anything about university return dates – despite ministers promising to reassess current rules at Easter. 

Since January, students have not been unable to return to campuses or university accommodation unless they are studying for a degree that requires in-person teaching, such as medicine. 

University vice-Chancellors have blasted the rules as ‘illogical’ as the rest of the country opens up.

University chiefs have urged Boris Johnson to allow students to go back to campuses by April 12 after the Prime Minister failed to mention their plight in his press conference on Monday. Pictured: Students in isolation in Manchester last year

University chiefs have urged Boris Johnson to allow students to go back to campuses by April 12 after the Prime Minister failed to mention their plight in his press conference on Monday. Pictured: Students in isolation in Manchester last year

University chiefs have urged Boris Johnson to allow students to go back to campuses by April 12 after the Prime Minister failed to mention their plight in his press conference on Monday. Pictured: Students in isolation in Manchester last year 

Universities UK (UUK) president Professor Julia Buckingham and the group’s chief executive wrote a letter to the PM calling on him to provide ‘urgent’ clarity on what the return date will be.

Their letter, reported in The Daily Telegraph, reads: ‘We are asking for an explanation for this omission and seeking urgent clarification about your Government’s plans for student returns and what further steps will be taken to support their education and wellbeing.

‘The list of sectors which are allowed to operate in-person activities in England from 12 April is extensive – all shops, personal care businesses, gyms, spas, zoos, theme parks, public libraries and community centres – and restrictions will be lifted enabling people to travel anywhere in England for a self-catering holiday.

‘It therefore seems illogical that students are not allowed to return to their self-catering accommodation and resume their studies in Covid-safe university facilities, particularly at this crucial time of the academic year.’

From April 12, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and theme parks in England can reopen - while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors. Pictured: Signs in the windows of isolating students in Manchester last year

From April 12, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and theme parks in England can reopen - while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors. Pictured: Signs in the windows of isolating students in Manchester last year

 From April 12, non-essential shops, gyms, hairdressers, zoos and theme parks in England can reopen – while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors. Pictured: Signs in the windows of isolating students in Manchester last year

The Government is set to 'review options' when the Easter holidays come to an end. Pictured: Signs made by students last year

The Government is set to 'review options' when the Easter holidays come to an end. Pictured: Signs made by students last year

The Government is set to ‘review options’ when the Easter holidays come to an end. Pictured: Signs made by students last year

Students display signs in windows at Manchester Metropolitan University's Cambridge Halls

Students display signs in windows at Manchester Metropolitan University's Cambridge Halls

Students display signs in windows at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Cambridge Halls

Students have been studying from home since December. In Autumn, campus Covid outbreaks saw thousands confined to their halls – with many universities cancelling in-person lectures and seminars.

The Government is set to ‘review options’ when the Easter holidays come to an end.  

During the autumn term, multiple coronavirus outbreaks on campus meant that social activities were curtailed and thousands of students were forced to self-isolate in their halls of residence.

As the term went on, many universities cancelled in-person lectures in favour of online learning, leaving students largely confined to their bedrooms.

In January, the vast majority of students were told to stay at home rather than return to campus, and continue their studies remotely during the national lockdown.

Only those taking degrees in a select group of subjects were told they were allowed to return to university, where face-to-face lectures resumed at the start of term. Ministers announced that students taking practical courses who need access to specialist facilities and equipment could go back to campus from March 8.

But all other students have been told to wait until at least the end of the Easter holidays, when the Government will ‘review options’.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick team that correctly predicted the UK's second wave, said he was 'really pleasantly surprised' that reopening schools did not cause a spike in infections

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick team that correctly predicted the UK's second wave, said he was 'really pleasantly surprised' that reopening schools did not cause a spike in infections

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick team that correctly predicted the UK’s second wave, said he was ‘really pleasantly surprised’ that reopening schools did not cause a spike in infections

A Department for Education spokesperson said: ‘This has been a difficult time for students, and we are committed to getting all students back into university as soon as the public health situation allows.

‘Students on practical and creative courses started returning from the 8th of March, and we will be reviewing options for the timing of the return of all remaining students by the end of the Easter holidays. 

‘Decisions will take into account the need to protect progress across the wider roadmap out of the pandemic, including the spread of the virus in communities and pressures on the NHS.’

It follows the news that Britain’s roadmap out of lockdown could be sped up because the coronavirus vaccines are working so well, according to one of the Government scientists – despite doomsday modelling by SAGE suggesting lifting restrictions could trigger a surge in deaths.

Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick team that correctly predicted the UK’s second wave, said he was ‘really pleasantly surprised’ that reopening schools did not cause a spike in infections.

The infectious disease modeller, who is also a member of the SPI-M group whose calculations feed into SAGE, told LBC Radio: ‘If these numbers keep going down over the next few weeks there certainly is an argument to say ‘well actually, we’re doing really well with the road map, it could be sped up’.’ 

This week, some of the modelling in documents released by the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) suggested that lifting curbs fully in June could lead to more than a thousand deaths a day this summer and push the NHS to the brink again.

Dr Tildesley conceded ‘there may well be’ a surge of cases across the country but probably not as high as some of the gloomy forecasts have predicted.  The government was yesterday accused of using ‘Project Fear’ tactics to prolong coronavirus restrictions by stealth after releasing the tranche of SAGE papers. 

The expert group included modelling from three different universities – Imperial College London, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Dr Tildesley’s team at Warwick University.

After reviewing all three papers, SAGE said social distancing, mask wearing and Covid vaccine passports will need to remain in place for at least another year to keep the virus in check even when the most brutal curbs are lifted. 

It added that while the vaccines prevent the vast majority of people from falling ill and dying from coronavirus, they ‘are not good enough’ to see all curbs lifted ‘without a big epidemic’. 

Independent experts told MailOnline the data used by the Government’s scientific advisers ‘didn’t match’ how well the vaccine rollout is going and played down how effective the jabs are – and at least one was ‘very confident the NHS is not going to be overwhelmed’. 

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