The UK government has announced that students will not be permitted to return to university campuses before 17 May.
Previously, the government had said that university students may be able to come back following the Easter holidays.
The news means that most students will not receive any in-person teaching this semester, as teaching usually makes way for exams in May.
University leaders have been lobbying the government over their silence regarding when students would be allowed to return to campus.
Universities UK (UUK) has called the announcement “hugely disappointing” for students, especially during the high-pressure nature of exam season.
"We know that many are desperate to return to use facilities and take part in covid-safe in-person teaching, learning and other activities – which the government has previously recognised as essential to their mental health and wellbeing,” said Julia Buckingham, UUK President.
"Universities have proven that the safety measures put in place – including regular asymptomatic testing, additional cleaning, support for self-isolating students and adherence to guidance on ventilation and face coverings – are enabling effective management of the virus on campuses, with minimal infection rates in face-to-face teaching settings and limited onward transmission to local communities.
"With schools, colleges and many businesses open, we now need the government to urgently explain how it reached this decision so that universities can communicate with their students and continue preparing to maximise opportunities for in-person activities from 17 May."
Times Higher Education has reported that the delay could be due to a push from the Treasury, who fear that students returning will derail the reopening of hospitality.
It is said that Chancellor Rishi Sunak blames the mass movement of students across the country last September for the rise in coronavirus cases.
Hospitality and other non-essential retail opened in England this week for the first time since January.
Sir David Bell, vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland, called the refusal to allow full reopening of universities “bizarre, given the wider opening-up of society this week”.
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