All university students in England can return to campus next week for in-person teaching, the Government has confirmed.
Returning students will be expected to get tested for Covid-19 twice a week throughout the rest of the summer term.
The decision came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that more indoor mixing and social contact will be able to take place from May 17.
Most students in England, apart from those on critical courses, were told not to travel back to term-time accommodation as part of the third national lockdown announced in January.
Students on practical courses, who require specialist equipment and facilities, began returning to face-to-face teaching on March 8.
But it is estimated that about half of university students have not been eligible to return to in-person lessons.
University leaders have previously criticised the Government for delaying the return of face-to-face lessons for all students until near the end of the academic year, with one vice-chancellor calling the decision “unfathomable”.
Returning students are encouraged to take a test via home or community testing at least one day before they travel back to term-time accommodation.
All students will then be encouraged to take three supervised lateral flow devices (LFD) tests three to four days apart at an asymptomatic testing site on campus, and then they will be expected to be tested two times a week.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference: “All remaining university students will be able to return to in-person teaching where they should be tested twice a week.”
Universities minister Michelle Donelan said: “Our priority from the very start of this pandemic has been to help students complete their courses and graduate as planned, which is why I am pleased that the Prime Minister has today confirmed all remaining students can return to in-person teaching from May 17 as part of Step 3 of the Government’s road map.
“It is vital that we make every effort to keep us all as safe as possible, and every student will be offered three tests on return to campus.
“I would strongly encourage students to make use of the free tests available to them.”
But University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said it would be “much safer” to delay in-person lessons until September.
She said: “The decision to return to in-person teaching on university campuses when classes for the vast majority of students have already finished is a distraction, placing more workload onto burnt out staff.
“The point of universities is learning and research, not jumping through ridiculous hoops.
“This looks like a stupid end to a stupid year beset by government mismanagement.
“It would be much safer to delay any in-person teaching until September when many more students and staff will have been vaccinated.
“This last-minute announcement will cause further stress for staff who are already facing unmanageable workloads.
“After months of chaos and uncertainty, we should be focusing on planning for September.”
The Department for Education (DfE) has worked with the Office for Students (OfS) and universities to launch a guide to help students who have graduated during the pandemic to build skills and secure a job.
Ms Donelan added: “I know that entering the jobs market can be daunting, particularly during a global pandemic, but I know that employers will recognise the resilience and strength of this year’s graduates and the essential role they will play in this country’s recovery.”
A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said: “This is a welcome confirmation that all students in England will now be able to return to university to take part in Covid-safe in-person teaching, learning and other activities, which the Government has recognised as essential to their mental health and wellbeing.
“Universities have been working hard to prepare in-person activities for returning students, including group work, graduate support and on-campus sport.”
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