Kirsty Williams MS, Minister for Education
The Welsh Government has been working closely with our university sector to agree a set of principles that will allow all students living in term time accommodation to move home if they wish at the end of the current term.
We have agreed two main measures to enable the sector to manage the movement of students at the end of term as safely as possible:
Firstly, universities will conclude the majority of in-person teaching in the week leading up to December 8th. We would encourage students who are planning to travel to make arrangements to move from term time accommodation by 9th December at the latest.
Secondly, will be asking students who wish to return home at the end of term to follow a simple set of guidelines. These will help students consider what they should do and allow them to take actions, having assessed the risk, based on their individual circumstances. This will mean every student must make responsible choices to protect the people they love, including the option to take an asymptomatic lateral flow test. We are developing tools, guidelines and messages with Public Health Wales, our universities and our students. These will be published shortly.
We are working with the other governments across the UK to ensure that all students, no matter where they live or study are treated fairly and can travel home as safely as possible to keep all our communities safe. We will be communicating directly with Welsh students at universities elsewhere in the UK. Further details on the full set of measures to support safe travel will be available shortly.
This includes the opportunity for all our universities to take part in an asymptomatic mass testing pilot that explores the use of new lateral flow devices within Higher Education settings. These tests enable quicker results and could prove invaluable in testing large volumes of people, finding positive cases faster and preventing and reducing transmission in the community. We are working with our universities in order to make arrangements to roll out of the pilot before the end of term. We would encourage students to sign up for the asymptomatic testing in order to support their return home at the end of term.
While we have seen incidents of COVID-19 in the student population, these are linked to the fact that students travelled and formed new contacts and new households in term time accommodation at the start of term. We are also seeing a steady decline in cases. Evidence shows transmission is not taking place in the teaching and learning environment. Universities are operating COVID-secure campuses and adhering to strict social distancing.
Our universities have also agreed to develop a phased exit from campus and university towns to reduce pressure on public transport and travel infrastructure.
We recognise that our students and institutions in Wales are varied and diverse. Not all students will need to travel to return home for Christmas. We have high numbers of students who live at home and travel to campus to access education around their daily lives, living with and caring for family members as well as studying. We also recognise the valuable contribution that students in Wales make to public services, including health and social care, education and research. These students may need to continue with placements, assessments or other essential in person teaching. Our universities may continue in person teaching and on campus activities where necessary. We have worked with our universities and continue to support them in making responsible decisions that are appropriate to their circumstances and the needs of their students and staff whilst keeping Wales safe.
The need to balance people’s rights and support their wellbeing with the desire to protect our families, friends and communities from the risk of infection remains challenging, and I am grateful to our universities, student’s unions, staffing unions, staff and students for their positive engagement on these difficult issues.
We must do all we can to support people to see their loved ones as safely as possible.
No person should travel if they have symptoms, a positive test or have been asked to self-isolate by a contact tracer.