More than two million students are starting a new university year, with many travelling across the country to live with new people.
But coronavirus cases in places like Belfast, Manchester and Glasgow mean thousands of students already have to self-isolate – leaving them unable to attend lectures or socialise.
Can I have a refund of my accommodation or tuition fees?
Even if you can’t attend lectures in person, it is unlikely that you will get a refund for tuition fees if you can still access your course online.
The government said back in May that
students shouldn’t expect to receive a refund ”if they are receiving adequate online learning and support,” a position echoed by Universities UK.
But demands for refunds or compensation are growing.
Some MPs have been calling for students to receive discounts. And the National Union of Students has called for reimbursement if ”quality of learning is severely impacted”.
It is also unlikely that calls for refunds for accommodation will see many students get their money back.
However, some students who have been told to self-isolate at short notice in their halls are eligible for extra support.
Who am I allowed to see?
Students in Scotland are currently not allowed to socialise outside of their household, after hundreds tested positive for coronavirus. They were also told not to go to pubs, bars or restaurants over the weekend.
In parts of England not under local lockdown, groups of up to six are allowed to socialise, or more if you are all in the same household.
At university, a household will generally be people who are living in a shared house, or on the same halls of residence corridor, sharing a kitchen and bathroom. It doesn’t include everyone in the same block.
You can socialise at home within your household – even if there are more than six of you – unless anyone has coronavirus symptoms, or has been told to self-isolate.
But you won’t be able to invite anyone round if there are six or more.
What if someone tests positive in my halls?
They should keep your distance from others in the household, using a separate bathroom if possible, and using shared facilities like the kitchen when no-one else is there. It’s also important to wipe down any surfaces after they have touched them.
Anyone with symptoms should self-isolate for 10 days, while the rest of their household should self-isolate for 14 days, or until you receive a negative coronavirus test.
Will there still be social events?
Yes. While nightclubs still can’t open, many universities will be opening their bars, cafes and student union.
These must follow the general rules around extra cleaning and social distancing, and may have a one-way system and want orders through an app.
You can’t meet up in groups of more than six unless you are in the same household.
Freshers’ week events can still happen if they comply with the rules for that area, although many universities are holding their welcome fairs online.
While a lot of activities will be held virtually, there are in-person events happening. For example, Nottingham Trent University is hosting a cocktail society taster session and a night time UV party, while Hertfordshire University is putting on a campus scavenger hunt.
However, people are allowed to meet in bigger groups for work or education reasons, such as lecture or study groups, or part-time jobs and placements, but must follow social distancing guidelines.
Will I be taught in person?
The majority of universities have said they will provide a ”blended approach” this term, combining in-person and online teaching.
Smaller groups, such as tutorials, seminars or practical classes like those in medicine and dentistry, will be held in person, but with social distancing precautions.
However, most lectures are likely to remain online for the foreseeable future.
What if I’m studying in an area with local restrictions?
Universities in areas which face additional restrictions have said their terms will still go ahead as planned.
For example, Newcastle and Northumbria universities have issued an open letter saying local restrictions “will not… impact the quality of the education offer”.
In areas where local restrictions are in force, the government has set out tiers of restrictions outlining how universities should respond to an outbreak.
At the lowest level (tier 1), a mix of face-to-face tuition and online lessons can continue, with masks being worn in crowded corridors and communal areas.
If more restrictions are imposed, there would be a gradual move to online tuition, with face-to-face learning restricted for priority courses like medicine.
What about moving around campus?
Your university may take steps to help with social distancing, such as staggered start and finish times for lectures, one-way systems and using outside space where possible.
Unless you are exempt, masks or face coverings should be worn:
- When it’s hard to socially distance, for example in communal areas or corridors.
- In areas of poor ventilation, like libraries and workshops – if the university asks you to
- By students undertaking close contact work such as medicine and dentistry
- By audiences watching performances
- At social and society events, where appropriate
What happens if I’m struggling or fall ill?
Starting or returning to university can be a stressful time in normal circumstances, and the pandemic is likely to add to that.
The National Union of Students is urging people not to suffer in silence and to contact their students’ union, personal tutor or their university’s student services if they are having problems.
NUS higher education vice-president Hillary Gyebi-Ababio said: “If you’re worried and have a question – ask. If you’re struggling and need emotional support – ask. If you need financial or academic help – ask.
”Students’ unions and universities have been working around the clock over the summer and they’re ready.”
If you feel overwhelmed or anxious, help is available. Student Minds has set up Student Space to offer support, online and over the phone.
Additional reporting by Ben Milne