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Information about higher education and student support during the coronavirus pandemic.

First published:
23 October 2020
Last updated:

Students

How can I feel safe at university with the Delta variant?

The most effective way to minimise risks, especially serious illness, is to take up the offer of vaccination, where we can. Both doses of vaccine are needed to have protection. It takes at least two weeks (14 days) after the second dose before a person will have the full protection from the vaccine.

Taking this responsibility and becoming vaccinated means we are considerate of others and can get back to doing the things we’ve missed the most. It is never too late to get the vaccine and walk-in centres are open to all, including international students.

Even if you’ve been fully vaccinated, remember the best ways to minimise risks

  • book a test before you travel to your term time address, and only travel if you receive a negative test result within 48 hours of your travel date. If you live in Wales or Scotland, you can book a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, if you live in England you can order a pack of lateral flow tests
  • self-isolate and take a test, even for mild symptoms
  • meet outside, it is safer than inside
  • limit the time and number of people you interact with
  • keep your distance when you can, wash your hands and wear a face mask, especially in crowded places

Universities have a responsibility to make sure the learning environment is safe for students and staff and we have worked with our universities to keep our young people and our communities as safe as possible.

We all have to play our part in stopping the spread of the virus, even as restrictions are largely removed. Transmission of coronavirus is most strongly associated with close and prolonged contact in indoor places. The highest risks are in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces over extended periods.

Asymptomatic testing is designed to reduce the spread of the virus by helping to identify new cases early on. If you have a negative Covid test result before you travel when moving between addresses, you still catch the virus subsequently or when travelling. To minimise the risk we expect all students to test twice weekly for the first 28 days on campus and if they test positive to self-isolate and get a confirmatory PCR test. It is the responsibility of all students to agree to this short period of testing, to help keep themselves, their housemates, their universities and our communities safe.

Since August 7, those identified as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to self-isolate if they are:

  • under the age of 18
  • fully vaccinated (you are considered to be fully vaccinated, if it is at least 14 full days since you had the full course of an approved vaccine, and it was administered in the UK), or
  • a participant in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial (if carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004(2))

However, if you do not fall within the above categories, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days if you have been contacted by the TTP service and told to self-isolate because someone you have had close contact with has tested positive for COVID-19. We also advise you to self-isolate if you live with someone who has developed COVID-19 symptoms and they are awaiting the outcome of a PCR test or (in advance of being contacted by the TTP) if you live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and book a pcr test, regardless of age or vaccination status.

What about the risk of students mixing in halls of residence?

We all have to play our part in stopping the spread of the virus, even as restrictions are largely removed. Transmission of coronavirus is most strongly associated with close and prolonged contact in indoor places. The highest risks are in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces over extended periods.

Although students are no longer restricted to only mixing with those they live with, we still recommend minimising the number of people they interact with and meet others outside as much as possible. If mixing inside students should seek to keep a distance from others as much as possible and reduce the time spent doing this.

The most effective way to minimise risks, especially serious illness, is to take up the offer of vaccination, where we can. Both doses of vaccine are needed to have protection. It takes at least two weeks (14 days) after the second dose before a person will have the full protection from the vaccine.

Taking this responsibility and becoming vaccinated means we are considerate of others and can get back to doing the things we’ve missed the most. It is never too late to get the vaccine and walk-in centres are open to all, including international students.

Testing before travel and on arrival will help to stop the chains of transmission and keep the university community safe.

Any student who tests positive or shows symptoms will have to self-isolate in accordance with the guidance.

We have asked our universities to make sure they can support students who need to self-isolate. It is important that any student self-isolating during this period contacts their student services team so they can be offered support.

Support might include food deliveries, laundry services, buddy calls or video calls, health and wellbeing sessions or other online social activities. If you are worried about someone who you know is self-isolating you should contact the university directly.

Can I travel back to university in Wales?

Yes. There are no restrictions on travel to and within Wales from other parts of the UK and the Common Travel Area (CTA). Current restrictions also allow international students to travel to the UK, although you would need to follow the appropriate testing and quarantine rules.

To reduce transmission of COVID-19 when arriving from overseas, international arrivals must follow border rules depending on where they have travelled from.

Please contact your university before you arrive as they will be able to let you know about the support they can offer.

International students arriving from countries (not on the red-list) who are not exempt from self-isolation should see our guidance.

How can I access a test before travelling to university?

Before you travel, book a PCR test and order a pack of lateral flow tests ready to take with you.

You should take the PCR test within 48 hours of your travel date. If this test is negative, you may travel to your university/term time accommodation. If you test positive you must self-isolate and must not travel.

Before you access campus facilities you should take a lateral flow test (LFT) as close to your day of arrival as possible. If you test before travel and test as close to your arrival as possible, this will significantly reduce the risk of you spreading the virus.

You should take a second lateral flow test 3 days later.

We are asking students to take lateral flow tests twice a week for the first 28 days back on campus after term breaks. This is to reduce the risk of outbreaks and large numbers of students needing to self-isolate. If we detect cases early because everyone is getting tested, we keep stop the virus spreading.

Can I move into my university accommodation?

Yes. Please book a PCR test before you travel and do regular lateral flow testing when you start using on campus facilities.

You should not move into an HMO or other shared accommodation settings if any of the current tenants are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or are self-isolating. Before you plan your move, you should check to make sure that this is the case. Your landlord or letting agent may able to help you with this.

You should not move into an HMO or other shared accommodation settings if you yourself are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive or have been asked to self-isolate as a close contact.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable (formerly referred to as “shielding”), you should consider whether moving home into an HMO or other shared accommodation is appropriate based on your medical needs, and seek medical advice if necessary. You may want to let your university and the people you share with know that you are clinically extremely vulnerable so they can help protect you.

Where a home move into an HMO or shared accommodation setting is necessary and other people already reside at the property, additional precautions are recommended:

  • good respiratory hygiene practices should be followed, and you should wash your hands regularly
  • all hard surfaces should be cleaned with normal disinfectant, especially high touch areas such as door handles, window handles, WC handles, taps, basins and work surfaces

I am self-isolating, how will I get my essentials?

Speak to your student support services at your university. If you haven’t already, tell them that you are self-isolating and require help. They should have processes set up to help with day-to-day essential such as delivering food, laundry, medication and toiletries etc.

Your university should also support you with your well-being at this difficult time and may have buddy systems or other support networks that can help you.

There are also organisations that can help such as Mind Cymru and Student Space.

If someone in my accommodation tests positive for COVID-19, will I have to self-isolate?

Since August 7, those identified as a close contact to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to self-isolate if they are:

  • under the age of 18
  • fully vaccinated (you are considered to be fully vaccinated, if it is at least 14 full days since you had the full course of an approved vaccine, and it was administered in the UK), or
  • a participant in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial (if carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004(2))

However, if you do not fall within the above categories, you must self-isolate for at least 10 days if you have been contacted by the TTP service and told to self-isolate because someone you have had close contact with has tested positive for COVID-19. We also advise you to self-isolate if you live with someone who has developed COVID-19 symptoms and they are awaiting the outcome of a PCR test or (in advance of being contacted by the TTP) if you live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19

Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and book a PCR test, regardless of age or vaccination status.

I am worried about my health and wellbeing and feeling very isolated?

Universities in Wales have a range of activities aimed at supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing, supported by funding made available by the Welsh Government.

This support should be extended to students who are experiencing anxiety and stress. They may wish to contact their student welfare services at their university or organisations such as Mind Cymru and Student Space.

There are also a number of national charities who may be able to help.

We do recognise how difficult the pandemic has been for students and that they face unique issues.

If you are experiencing a worsening of your mental health, contact your GP, NHS 111, your student support or someone you trust.

Is it safe for universities to be open?

Yes. In Wales, there is still a legal duty on organisations to assess the risk of coronavirus spreading on their premises and to take reasonable measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Please refer to the Infection Control Framework for Higher Education for further information. As autonomous bodies, universities are responsible for the provision of their courses for staff and students, and all universities in Wales have ensured that students undertook their studies as safely as possible throughout the pandemic.

Whilst there have been outbreaks of COVID-19 at universities in Wales, these have been well-managed by Public Health Wales, the local health boards and the universities.

We know clusters have been contained within university communities and have not spread to the wider community, or to those who may be more prone to poorer outcomes from COVID-19 because they have particular existing health conditions, complications or they are older.

The scientific advice has been clear that there may be outbreaks among students, as with any group in society and the measures in place are designed to keep students, staff and local communities safe. The wellbeing of our students has been at the centre of decision-making throughout the pandemic and will continue to be so.

If you have any COVID-19 symptoms, you should book a PCR test, self-isolate and tell the people you live with that they must also self-isolate if they are unvaccinated adults until you either receive a negative test result or your period of self-isolation is over. If you test positive, you and your contacts will be advised further on what to do. This will help stop the spread of the virus and keep Wales safe.

There is a careful balancing of the risk of any potential infections and ensuring that young people – who have faced incredible disruption during the pandemic – can continue with their education and be supported by their families, their universities and this Government.

Your university will have provided clear guidance to you on how you can act responsibly and minimise risk to yourselves, your family, friends and community.

Testing

How many students do you expect to test?

We advise all students to take up the offer of a PCR test before travel and all students should then take lateral flow tests twice weekly for their first 28 days on campus. This will help keep students, staff and communities as safe as possible.

Is testing mandatory?

No. Testing is voluntary.

However, we hope students will understand that vaccination and testing are the best ways to keep their families, friends and university community safe. This will help them to be able to stay on campus and help in-person teaching continue.

What is the benefit of participation for universities?

Testing before travel will reduce the spread of the virus from one location to another and will help reduce the risk of outbreaks in student accommodation. In addition, twice weekly testing for the first 28 days will help spot cases of COVID-19 quickly and help stop the spread by breaking the chains of transmission.

We wish to give students and staff confidence to continue in-person education.

What happens if I receive a positive test result?

If you receive a positive Lateral Flow Device Test (LFD) result you will be advised to immediately self-isolate and book a PCR test to confirm the result.

Any unvaccinated adults you live with or have been in close contact with should also self-isolate.

You should let your university know you have a positive LFD test so they can help with online learning and help you self-isolate safely.

If you receive a negative PCR test please inform your university and your contacts that they can stop self-isolating. 

Do close contacts of a positive COVID-19 test result still have to self-isolate?

If you are a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, and you were fully vaccinated at the time of your contact with the infected person or you are under 18, you will not have to self-isolate. You are considered to be fully vaccinated, if it is at least 14 full days since you had the full course of an approved vaccine, and it was administered in the UK.

If you have not completed your vaccination course (usually two separate vaccinations), at least 14 full days prior to close contact, or if you received your vaccination outside of the UK, you will be required to self-isolate if contacted by TTP.

If you have participated in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial (if carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Medicines for Human Use (Clinical Trials) Regulations 2004(2)), you do not need to self-isolate if contacted by TTP.

If you are unable to receive a COVID-19 vaccination for medical reasons, you are required to self-isolate if contacted by TTP.

If you are under 18 and identified by TTP as a contact, you will not need to self-isolate.

However, any close contact who experiences symptoms should take a PCR test and self-isolate pending the result.

Why is it safe for me to attend university if I live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19?

For those who are fully vaccinated in the UK there is no longer a requirement for them to self-isolate if identified as a close contact or a household contact. 
This is because our vaccination programme has weakened the link between positive cases, further transmission, negative health outcomes, hospitalisation and deaths. 
We encourage anyone who is vaccinated and lives with someone who has tested positive to remain vigilant for symptoms, take a PCR test if they become symptomatic and to take a precautionary PCR test to identify asymptomatic transmission.

In addition, we encourage all students and staff to access the regular LFD testing which is available for the first 28 days on campus and beyond that if they are identified as a close contact. This helps students and staff feel safe as regular testing of close contacts can help reduce the chance of onward transmission.

I am on a health/social care placement and I am a close household contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and I have been told not to attend my placement setting. Can I still attend university?

Students or teaching staff who come into direct contact with patients while on health or social care placements are advised to follow the guidance for health and social care in that sector and the general guidance (above) when in the university setting, this difference is due to the likelihood of being in contact with extremely clinically vulnerable individuals in the health and social care setting.

Who will cover the cost of this testing?

Students and staff do not need to pay for a test.

This is covered by a UK Government scheme operated in partnership with the Welsh Government.

Students and staff are able to collect packs of lateral flow tests from their university. They may also collect packs of tests from their local pharmacy or by ordering a pack online.

Have LFDs been validated?

We are confident that these tests are right for this use case.

A positive test result is 99.7% accurate, so we are confident that the test are as accurate as possible.

We do know that there is small chance that a test may return a false negative, and that is why we recommend taking two tests. In addition as the test is able to detect infectiousness, it is likely that a false negative may be because an individual is carrying less virus and are less infectious. We are also suggesting students take extra care to reduce their contacts before or after they return home as a test is only accurate for the point in time. It does not stop you from becoming infected after the test.

Can students refuse the tests?

Tests are not compulsory but will be an important tool to help students to protect themselves, their friends, family and wider community.

Are students legally required to take a test to attend university?

No, it is not a legal requirement but will be an important tool to help students to protect themselves, their friends, family and wider community.

However, anyone who experiences COVID-19 symptoms should follow the self-isolation guidance immediately and book a PCR test (GOV.UK). Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate for 10 days.

Vaccinations

How can I access my COVID-19 vaccine?

If you are studying in Wales or returning to Wales and have a different address during term time, you don’t need to return to that address to get your vaccine. You can get your two doses at different locations (including different locations in Wales). 

Students staying or returning to Wales and registered with a GP in Wales

You will receive a vaccine offer through your health board.

Please ensure the contact details held by the GP (current address and phone number) are correct so that you can be contacted. 

If you will not be staying in the registered address over the summer, efforts will be made to contact you by phone. 

If you have not received an invitation yet, health boards are operating reserve lists and some are offering walk-in clinics. Check for local information.

If you have received your first vaccine, please keep your vaccination record card (and/or a photo of it) to show which vaccine you had and the date you received it.

Students staying in Wales but not registered with a GP in Wales

If you are not registered with a GP, you will not be proactively contacted by the NHS in Wales, as they will not have your contact details. 

You can register with a local GP or alternatively, find out about arranging a vaccine though your local health board. 

Please see our guidance on COVID-19 vaccination for higher education students.

Are international students eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes.

International students are equally eligible to receive both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and we encourage all international arrivals to receive their vaccination to protect themselves and our communities.

You can register with a local GP or alternatively, find out about arranging a vaccine though your local health board. 

Do I need to prove my vaccination status to attend university?

No.

There are currently no plans to introduce vaccine certification to access essential services, such as education.

However, employers, events, and venues may require you to prove your vaccination status, or proof of a negative Lateral Flow Test (LFT) result, using the NHS COVID Pass.

From 11 October, all those over-18 will need to have a NHS COVID Pass to enter:

  • nightclubs
  • indoor, non-seated events for more than 500 people, such as concerts or conventions
  • outdoor non-seated events for more than 4,000 people
  • any setting or event with more than 10,000 people in attendance

People who are fully vaccinated in Wales can already download the NHS COVID Pass to securely show and share their vaccine status. It also allows people to show they have had a negative lateral flow test (LFT) result within the last 48 hours.

Do I need any other vaccines to attend university?

The Welsh Government and Public Health Wales advise students to check that they are fully up-to-date with their routine immunisations by contacting their GP or local health board (NHS Wales).

Many young people have not completed routine immunisations on leaving school, especially the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

People under 25 years of age, particularly first year students living in halls of residence, are at greater risk of contracting meningitis and meningococcal disease, which can have serious consequences.

Information on Health Boards and how to find yours is available.

International students

I’m travelling to Wales from outside the UK. Can I still come?

Yes, but you need to be aware that you may have to quarantine or self-isolate, depending on where you have travelled from, your age, and your vaccination status. Please see guidance on foreign travel to and from Wales.

Our international students are a welcome part of our communities in Wales. International students, from certain countries outside the UK will need to comply with the self-isolating requirements in place when they arrive in the UK. 

We strongly recommend students travelling from outside the UK to contact their university before they intend to travel to the UK to find out about the support available from their university during their required period of self-isolation on arrival.

You should speak to your university as they will be able to support you in the self-isolation period.

Contact with others

Self-isolation means you should not leave your accommodation or have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing essential care. The only friends and family students can have contact with are those who travelled with them or the people they are staying with. The people they are with should also self-isolate.

People you travelled with

Where you travelled together with other students and you are sharing accommodation, you can continue to have contact amongst yourselves, but it is recommended that where possible social distancing should be maintained.

What are the travel implications? Can I leave the country/UK? Can I go home?

If you currently live in Wales or the UK, you are permitted to travel freely within the Common Travel Area (UK, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands).

Students must be aware of any travel restrictions in place for international travel, which may include needing to self-isolate on return to Wales.

Students arriving in the UK must also follow the quarantine rules on arrival in the UK, depending on where they have travelled from.

Further information on rules on foreign travel to and from Wales.

Impact of the pandemic

I am not happy with the quality of education I received during the pandemic, what should I do about this?

The pandemic has inevitably resulted in changes to how higher education has been delivered over the previous two academic years. However, universities have provided online learning throughout the stay at home restrictions which has been different but broadly equivalent as a means to access education.

Your university should have offered different ways of doing things to try to ensure that you were not disadvantaged academically because of the pandemic.

The offer will have varied across institutions and across courses. However, the Welsh Government has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) to review the standard and quality of higher education provision in Wales during the pandemic.

Therefore it is unlikely that you will get a fee refund if you were given a range of learning opportunities. If you are not satisfied with the learning offer you received, you should contact your university in the first instance to discuss your concerns. If you are not satisfied with the response you receive, you should consider your university complaints procedure. Your student’s union will also be able to offer advice and support. 

If you are still unsatisfied after following your university complaints procedure, you can contact the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education for further advice.

I struggled to complete work for my course whilst learning online and am worried how this could affect my grade. What assurances can you give?

You should discuss any concerns about your studies or examinations with your personal tutor or course leader. They will be able to advise you of your options and alleviate your concerns.

If you feel that you have been unfairly treated or have not received the teaching or support you feel is acceptable you may wish to speak with the Students’ Union for advice or you can follow your University’s complaints procedure to make a formal complaint. If you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the complaint, you can inquire with the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education who may be able to review your complaint.

Staff

I work in the post 16 sector, what does this mean for me?

The most effective way to minimise risks, especially serious illness, is to take up the offer of vaccination, where we can. Both doses of vaccine are needed to have protection. It takes at least two weeks (14 days) after the second dose before a person will have the full protection from the vaccine.

Taking this responsibility and becoming vaccinated means we are considerate of others and can get back to doing the things we’ve missed the most. It is never too late to get the vaccine and walk-in centres are open to all.

Employers or persons responsible for premises, events or activities, are subject to a long standing legal responsibility to maintain the health and safety workers, and others attending their premises (HSE website). There is a further requirement that applies in Wales to carry out a specific bespoke coronavirus risk assessment to identify risks and to do everything reasonably practicable to minimise those risks.

Your employer will have risk assessed the building/s where you work and introduced procedures to ensure that your environment is COVID-secure. If necessary you would have received a personal risk assessment or equality impact assessment specific to your personal circumstances.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable, the Welsh Government guidance recommends that working from home is the default position unless your employer can assure your safety.

What sort of conversation should I have with a member of my team who is worried about coming into work?

There are a number of models which can be used to support managers during discussions with their teams about an individual’s personal risk factors when returning to, or remaining in, the workplace. The aim is to help enable good quality conversations between managers and colleagues about any personal circumstances which may increase risk from coronavirus, and to agree any actions which need to be carried out. “Talking with your workers about working safely during the coronavirus pandemic” is guidance from the Health and Safety Executive on how employers may approach this conversation with staff.

Communities

Will Wales cap tuition fees next year like they have done in England?

There are currently no plans to raise the undergraduate tuition fee cap that regulated higher education institutions in Wales may charge. It will remain at £9000, £250 less than in England.

Furthermore, the Welsh Government provides the most generous system of student support in the UK.

In Wales, we have continued to provide maintenance grants for students.

Welsh students are also unique in receiving a maintenance loan write-off of up to £1500 when they begin repaying their student loans.

I’m an A level student interested in going to university. Will there be additional support available to help me prepare?

Welsh Government have worked with practitioners, WJEC and universities to develop resources to support learners to progress to University.

Online resources are available on Hwb and new resources are added throughout the year.

The Welsh Government has invested £200,000 in a project aimed at transition to university in partnership with the Open University and Universities Wales. The University Ready Hub is aimed at learners who have already decided they will be going to university and for those who are curious and are thinking about going to university.

University Ready is a free, open access hub with resources and materials, available in English and Welsh, to help people with subject specific information and well as advice on moving out, organising finances, and mental health and wellbeing support.