Updated: New travel exemption for students to return home over Easter

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The UK government has announced a ‘travel exemption’ for students, enabling them to “move on one occasion from their student household on or after 8th March 2021 but before 29th April 2021 to one other household for the purposes of a vacation”. The new legislation came into effect on the 8th March as an update to The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020.

The new legislation also states that students are permitted to return to their term-time accommodation after the vacation or, or after any earlier vacation during which a student returned home and has remained there, as permitted in former guidance concerning travelling home during the Christmas period (up to the 8th February). 

UPDATE: In an email to students, the University wrote that they were “urgently seeking clarification on what this means for students, and we will provide more information as soon as possible” since “detailed guidance has not yet been published.”

In a blog post dated 5th March, the Government wrote that “[they] understand that some students will have been in term-time accommodation for many months now, and there may certain situations where it is necessary for students to return home for the Easter break.” 

While the Government strongly advises that “students to stay at their term-time accommodation over the Easter break, especially if they are returning to university from 8 March,” the post acknowledges that “there are exemptions in place for those who must return for mental health and wellbeing reasons.” 

After returning from their vacation, returning students must then remain living in their term-time accommodation unless a new exemption to the national restrictions on leaving home and gatherings applies. Previously circulated guidance stated that travel could only occur with a permitted exemption including illness or mental ill-health.

The exemption replaces previous guidance issued concerning the travel of students over the Christmas vacation, and similar to a guide that was developed for that period, Oxford University’s Student Welfare and Support Services have developed a set of resources to signpost students to the welfare provisions available.

As always, the latest guidance from the University is available on the student coronavirus homepage.

Students are encouraged to take a test before leaving and returning to campus, and the Government is working to provide twice-weekly testing for all students at university.

Previous guidance issued by the University stated that students should remain living in their term-time accommodation unless they met the requirements for returning home. In a recent email to Somerville students, the Principal wrote that there was “room for some discretion in the implementation of the University guidance.”

St Peter’s College expected students to “make your own decisions about exemptions and whether you to stay in Oxford or return home for the vacation.”

“Some of you will need to stay for the vacation; others will not. You should take your own decisions about this; College is neither requiring you to stay nor instructing you to leave.” They also clarified that rent would not be charged during a period of absence from college accommodation.

University College and St Hugh’s College similarly wrote that they did not have the ability to either withhold or grant permission for students to leave, while Keble and Magdalen encouraged students to make their own decision based on the available guidance. 

Image Credits: Bob McCaffrey (left) and Wirestock via Freepik (right)

This article was updated at 11:56 AM 8/3/21 to include an update from Oxford University