What does England's new lockdown mean for universities?

Updated on: Oct 31, 2023
What does England's new lockdown mean for universities?
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In a sudden, but not entirely surprising speech to the nation on Monday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the country would be going back into a strict lockdown in an effort to bring down a rapid rise in coronavirus cases.

The lockdown starts from midnight on 4 January, and will see schools closed and people encouraged to work from home where possible. 

Universities have been instructed to move all teaching online, except in the case of a few key courses. 

Previous government advice saw students due to return to universities from 25 January, with their return being staggered by their need to learn on campus. 

However, most students are now encouraged to not return until the end of the current lockdown.

The London School of Economcis (LSE) has since become the first English university to announce that all teaching will be moved online for the remainder of the academic year. 

University College London (UCL) have said they are moving all teaching online until Monday 22 January at the earliest, and the University of York have stopped in-person teaching until the end of the spring term. 

The UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has also warned against students returning to university campuses, saying that all teaching should move online until Easter if the UK are to get a grip on the virus. 

New guidance states that students should only return to campus and resume face-to-face teaching if they study one of the following courses:

  • Medicine and Dentistry
  • Subjects allied to medicine/health
  • Veterinary science
  • Education (initial teacher training)
  • Social work
  • Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled

These students should be tested twice or isolate for ten days upon arrival on campus. 

UCL is one of the largest universities in the UK, with approximately 42,000 students. 

The university’s outgoing president, Michael Arthur, and incoming president, Michael Spence, released a joint statement telling students that they “want[ed] to be honest and transparent with you about the decisions we are making”, and telling students that “in London, the number of cases is rising rapidly and our partner hospitals are at or beyond their capacity”.

“We are advising you not to travel, as we do not want to accelerate transmission of the virus and put everyone at greater risk,” it explained, adding that “by remaining where you are, you will be helping to protect each other and get the pandemic under control.”

Dylan Oakley, a first-year student at the University of Sheffield said that students are "confused" by a lack of clarity around rules on university campuses. 

"I definitely do not think that the government has given enough clarity to students at universities, so many students that I have spoken to do not know what to do and are confused about what they can and can't do.

"The big issue is with returning to accommodation because we are paying rent on a contract and we will now not be living in the accommodation that we are paying for which has confused a lot of people I think because they are unsure on whether to return ultimately so that they can get what they are paying for (or some of it at least)."

Oakley said he will not be returning to campus until February, but will miss out on some face-to-face sessions as a consequence. 

Many university libraries and facilities remain open, but you may be required to book a space or time-slot.

Visit your university's website or contact them if you are unsure about which facilities are open on your campus. 


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