New coronavirus measures will come into force in England next week, bringing with them updated guidance for universities on working from home, vaccine certification, and international travel.
From 13 December, staff that can work from home should do so – this rule broadly applies to all non-teaching staff in English universities.
Unlike in previous months when levels of Covid infection were rising, the government has this time instructed universities to maintain in-person teaching. “Teaching and learning should not be moved online as a result of the work from home guidance, and staff can continue to attend work as necessary to deliver this,” the official guidance notes.
Staff previously considered clinically vulnerable are not advised to self-isolate this time.
Universities are asked to encourage students to take up any vaccinations to which they are entitled. Students should continue testing for the virus with lateral flow devices twice weekly – and they should test negative for Covid-19 before travelling home for the Christmas break.
HE teaching and learning spaces do not require a Covid-19 pass – but universities should inspect entrants to specific events, like receptions or concerts, and venues, like nightclubs, covered by the new regulations.
Students travelling from countries with approved vaccine programmes can use photographic identification and Covid documentation as certification. Travellers from red list countries that are British or Irish nations must self-isolate in government hotels on arrival. The ‘test and release’ scheme is not open to those nationals that have travelled through a red list country within 10 days of their arrival.
Students can form new households uninhibited, meaning there are no restrictions on students moving away from or to universities over the festive period.
Move final week online, says UCU
The latest guidance in England was not welcomed by the University and College Union, which has called for the last week of teaching terms to move online.
The union also argues staff should be permitted to work from home if they choose. Most students have not received booster vaccines and are, therefore, more at risk of contracting the virus. “Moving university teaching online for the final week can reduce social mixing and allow students to return home for Christmas before cases rise exponentially in the coming weeks,” the union said.
UCU wants mandatory face masks in HE settings, the publishing of daily Covid cases in HE and better filtration units to ensure the air indoors is hygeinic.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Instructions to move online in universities for the final week are the most sensible temporary measure and will allow university students to return home rather than risk unnecessary infection and isolation in their accommodation over Christmas. This will also allow the sector to re-evaluate whilst scientists get to grips with the emerging picture presented by Omicron.
“In both colleges and universities we need new rapid risk assessments and measures in place which must include allowing staff who can work from home to do so. We also want to see the mandated wearing of masks for any staff and students on site, including in areas where lessons and lectures are still taking place.”