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‘Follow the rules if you want students home for Christmas’, says culture secretary

Written by on 27 September 2020

University students will be able to return home to their families for Christmas if the public sticks to the new COVID-19 restrictions and helps bring the virus under control, the culture secretary has told Sky News.

Appearing on Sophy Ridge On Sunday, Oliver Dowden said: “I want students to be able to go home for Christmas and if we all pull together and observe these new rules, we follow the guidance, then we should be able to get to a point where that should be possible.”

He accused Labour of playing party politics following a letter sent by the shadow education secretary calling for action to be taken on the issue of students and coronavirus.

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“I don’t think it’s helpful at this stage three months away to speculate,” he said.

“We have announced a range of measures. We are constantly keeping this situation under review, taking the necessary measures to keep the virus under control.

“All of that is designed to ensure that we keep the virus under control in a way that will enable people to continue to live their lives as normally as possible in this situation.”

Mr Dowden added: “The thing we should be focusing on now is ensuring that we actually take these measures and abide by them.”

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Labour’s Kate Green has written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson calling for “urgent clarity and reassurance” on the matter.

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The party wants to see testing provision put in place to ensure students can be home over the festive period.

It comes after 1,700 students at Manchester Metropolitan University were told to stay in their rooms for two weeks after 127 tested positive for the coronavirus.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens told Sophy Ridge On Sunday: “We have to put safety and public health first obviously, but we have said, Labour has said, we think that students should be allowed home at Christmas and to enable them to do that we need an effective test, trace and isolate system in place.”

It is not just Labour that has demanded more action.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the education select committee, has also called on ministers to reassure parents on the matter.

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He told Sky News on Saturday: “We need a clear testing system for universities… across schools universities and colleges testing should have been one of the priority areas… the government has got to sort it out.”

Mr Halfon also questioned whether universities should be considering refunding tuition fees to some degree, if students can’t get the face-to-face tuition they would expect.

“We need to be clear about what is happening in terms of lockdown in halls,” he said.

“We also need to get guidance about online learning and also whether consideration should be given that students will get a discount if they don’t have significant face-to-face tuition or interaction with their lecturers over the coming months.”