Return of students to Cambridge for in-person teaching is ‘unlikely’ before 17th May

In an email to students, the Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope said that he was “disappointed” by the uncertainty

It is unlikely that government guidance concerning the return of students to university will change until 17th May at the earliest, according to the Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope.

In an email send to students today (09/04), Toope said: “It now appears unlikely that guidance concerning in-person teaching at universities will change before Monday 17 May, at the earliest.”

Although the University hoped that the UK government might indicate how the easing of restrictions on 12th April would apply to universities, the government has provided no further details about the return of students for in-person learning and teaching. Toope said that he was “disappointed by this uncertainty.”

In light of this, Toope said that the University’s policy on returning students “remains unchanged.” Permission to return for in-person teaching previously provided to students studying practical or practice-based subjects, as well as for research students, continues, and previous permission given to students by their College to return for health reasons, or access to study spaces and facilities, also continues.

The Vice-Chancellor also encouraged students who have not previously been given permission, but who wish to return for Easter Term, to apply to their college for permission to return if they need to do so “for reasons of health (including mental health) or to access study space and facilities.”

Toope said the University continues to believe that while for many students, studying at Cambridge will be “the best and preferred option”, they recognise that other students, such as international students, or those with “increased susceptibility to infectious diseases” “may wish to remain elsewhere.”

Toope spoke further about these students who may not wish to return to Cambridge: “We will continue to support them and ensure they can complete their studies remotely if they so choose.”

In February, the government said that it would review the general return of students to university “at the end of the Easter holidays.”

Earlier this week, Universities UK, a body that represents 140 universities across the UK, wrote a letter to the government demanding an explanation for the lack of an announcement on student returns to university in the Covid-19 press briefing on Monday (05/04). The letter argued that it was “illogical” that students could not return to university when other restrictions were being lifted.

If returning to Cambridge, students are both advised to get tested for Covid-19 before they travel, and to get tested as soon as possible after they have returned, in advance of the start of Full Easter Term. Specific testing arrangements apply for international students returning to the UK.

Returning students are “strongly encouraged” to plan their travel so they can participate in the University’s Asymptomatic Covid-19 Screening Programme on the normal swab day for their College, up to and including the week beginning Monday 19th April.

In an email to students on 9th April giving a weekly update about the Asymptomatic Covid-19 Screening Programme, it was announced that “for the fifth week running, no students have tested positive” out of 3,494 students screened.

The email from Dr Ben Warne, Dr Nicholas Matheson and Professor Duncan Macfarlane, some of the leaders of the programme, states that this means that “the chance of testing positive is very low, and that – in the unlikely event this does happen – we will be able to act quickly to minimise the risk of the infection spreading.”

They continue: “As lockdown measures are cautiously relaxed, we all need to remain vigilant to ensure that infections do not once again begin to rise. The Asymptomatic Covid-19 Screening Programme will therefore continue to run throughout the Easter vacation.” 

Feature image credit: Katie Thacker, author’s own screenshot from Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope’s email and Stay Safe Cambridge Uni