Students: Coronavirus

Department for Education written question – answered on 20th October 2020.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on steps the Government is taking to limit the spread of covid-19 on university campus grounds.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Education, has regular discussions on minimising the transmission of COVID-19 within higher education (HE) providers with his Cabinet colleagues, including with my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Departmental officials and I have regular meetings and discussions with ministers and officials in the Department for Health and Social Care, and with sector representatives, on a range of measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The safety and wellbeing of staff and students in HE is always our priority. The government is doing all it can to minimise the risks to those working and studying in our HE institutions in this unprecedented situation, whilst mitigating the impact on education.

We have drawn on the expertise of the HE taskforce that we set up, and we have been providing robust public health advice and regular updates to the HE sector to help providers to plan carefully to keep students and staff as safe as possible. We issued updated guidance for providers on reopening campuses, which provides advice on teaching, accommodation and student services. The guidance is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses.

Our system of HE tiers, as set out in guidance, intends to help universities identify the appropriate restrictions to impose on their educational provision in response to an outbreak. We have worked to ensure that all universities have outbreak plans. These plans have been shared with local Directors of Public Health and continue to be reviewed and updated based on emerging lessons and local situations.

The plans cover a range of scenarios and will ensure that HE providers are prepared to respond quickly to an outbreak in their educational setting or wider community. We are working with Public Health England to monitor those universities that have outbreaks and to make sure that universities and Directors of Public Health are working together to respond appropriately to any outbreaks.

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