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University College London, the UK’s largest campus, has told its students to avoid returning until the end of February at the earliest because of the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 variant in the capital.
The move puts UCL at odds with the guidelines issued by the Department for Education last week, which called for most students to stay away from campuses in England until 25 January, with only those on courses such as medicine or nursing allowed back initially.
UCL’s order extends the DfE’s return period by a month until 22 February and the university has said it could be further extended until March because of its concerns over safety. Other London institutions are likely to follow the move.
UCL’s students were informed about the delay in a joint message from the university’s incoming provost, Michael Spence, and his outgoing counterpart, Sir Michael Arthur.
Noting that “in London, the number of cases is rising rapidly and our partner hospitals are at or beyond their capacity”, they wrote: “We want to be honest and transparent with you about the decisions we are making.
“Our current and most realistic assessment is that it is unlikely that case rates will have reduced sufficiently to allow students to return to campus before at least mid-February, and quite possibly the end of March.
“We will therefore be moving all teaching and other face-to-face, in-person activities online from the start of term until the end of reading week. There will be no in-person teaching on campus until Monday 22 February, at the earliest (except for a small number of exempt subjects).
“We are aware that this is later than the government is advising but we believe this is the most responsible course of action in this complex situation.”
The message concludes by strongly advising students not to come to campus until after the middle of February. “If you stayed in London over the winter break or you have already returned, you should remain here and not travel home again,” they were told.
“We are advising you not to travel, as we do not want to accelerate transmission of the virus and put everyone at greater risk. By remaining where you are, you will be helping to protect each other and get the pandemic under control.”
UCL has nearly 44,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students, making it the largest conventional university in the UK. Only the Open University has more students enrolled.
The universities minister for England, Michelle Donelan, sent a message to students on New Year’s Eve telling most not to return until 25 January and advising them to take two tests for Covid-19 before using university facilities.
Donelan also told international students preparing to travel from overseas that they should “consider whether they in fact need to travel to the UK” during the spring term.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: UCL tells students ‘stay away for at least seven weeks’ over Covid fears | Education