There’s a bunch of options here – for example the Christmas “relaxation” (of restrictions) period could be “long and thin” (10 days or so but a small number of households allowed to mix) or “short and fat” (3 or 4 days, and more households).
Crucial in all of that will be to understand how students that have been studying away from home will be counted.
Generally, legally, when students of this type “go home” they are not forming or moving into a new household – they are on an extended visit, so any limits on the number of households involved in a “gathering” will matter.
If for example there’s a tight limit on the number of households allowed in a gathering – let’s say 3 households max – that may mean a family with two kids at university can’t have anyone else over on Christmas Day.
Or for example if there’s a two household limit and three kids live away, a family may need to choose who comes home and who doesn’t. And if the “no” might be one of the students, they need to know sharpish.
Maybe there’s an alternative defining student return at Christmas as some kind of house move (having made clear all term that a visit for, say, reading week isn’t a house move to prevent people getting around the rules).
If the above pans out, what it represents is that over Christmas, residential mode students will hopefully be “allowed” to move home to combine households for a few weeks to combat loneliness.
On that basis, surely students left in university towns and cities should be allowed to combine households to do the same – and surely universities should be both allowed and encouraged to facilitate it?
Ministers may want universities to put on a “special plan” for these students, but right now universities aren’t being told what they’ll be allowed to open – will catering, study, research and library provision to be available? Will any in-person social activities (which may dissuade students from self-organising social activities which break the rules) be allowed to run?
But to be honest, even if DfE gets around to guidance allowing the refectory to open on Christmas Day, that won’t help much for what could be six-eight weeks of living in a cluster flat or HMO on your own. And too many people I speak to are assuming this won’t be a problem in halls (it may well be, legally) and haven’t really thought about students outside of halls.
For international students, this would be a really shoddy thing to not sort out. Right now they are being told that the “lateral flow” testing solution that will enable home domiciled students to see loved ones won’t cut it for their country or airline – but they’re also being told they can only get a PCD test if they have symptoms. Some will fake it. Some won’t.
And that means there’s a real risk that law-abiding international students can’t go home because we won’t give them a proper test and won’t see anyone all Christmas. Charming.
Is it really beyond BEIS, DfE and DoHSC to sort something out here that avoids us all having to mutter “pretend you have symptoms and get a proper test” under our breath at international students who’ve spent thousands to be here?
There is, by the way, also the question of what UK students overseas are expected to do. Most can’t justify what will generally be two weeks quarantine at each end (some will have January exams), especially when it’s not clear if they will be allowed to visit family once in the UK anyway. That needs sorting too.