Kirsty Williams and Richard Lochhead have both called on students to voluntarily limit social interactions in the final two weeks on campus alongside measures on rapid on campus testing, and on early and staggered travel. The messaging on social interactions has not been used in England.
In Wales, “the majority” of person learning will end on 8 December, ostensibly to allow anyone testing positive to self-isolate for 14 days before Christmas. Students are asked to take a Covid-19 test whether or not they currently have symptoms, and to travel no later than 9 December. Many universities will host testing facilities and these will begin operation during the next few weeks. The Welsh Government also promises to communicate directly with Welsh students studying elsewhere in the UK.
In Scotland, universities have been asked to make any necessary adjustments to teaching and assessment to allow students to return home early. End of term dates are generally staggered across Scottish providers, so there will be no separate attempts to avoid the a single travel surge. Students are specifically asked to avoid leaving the house for two weeks before travelling whatever the prevailing local restrictions, with exemptions only for essential reasons and exercise. Universities here are also party to the UK wide plan, though Lochhead was clear that it is expected only some students will be tested.
In both nations, further guidance is expected. There has been no announcement of plans in Northern Ireland.
Unlike ministers in England, Lochhead talked about the return to campus in January 2021. He was clear that, given uncertainty over virus levels, the return would not be normal – and the further measures would be announced in the coming weeks. It’s clear that this will also need to be a UK wide plan, and that the risks involved are higher than those that face students and the wider community in returning home for Christmas.