The universities minister has urged students to act responsibly to ensure campuses can remain open.
Ahead of thousands of students arriving at campuses across the country for freshers’ week, Michelle Donelan has warned police will take “serious action” against those organising large events.
New restrictions are coming into force in England on Monday that mean social gatherings of more than six people will be against the law both indoors and outdoors – including in pubs and restaurants.
After reports some companies have been advertising mass social freshers’ events, Ms Donelan said: “Health advice only works if we all follow it.
“I urge students, just like the wider public, to do their bit and act responsibly to ensure campuses can remain open for them to use and enjoy.”
She added: “As a Government, we have clearly set out the consequences for anyone who risks spreading the virus, whether that’s through illicit social gatherings or organising large events.
“The police and local authorities will take serious action where it is necessary.”
Our updated guidance, based on the latest scientific advice, will help universities make campuses as safe as possible for students and staff ahead of the new term starting 👇https://t.co/2w39yYieyr#UniSafe pic.twitter.com/KcdqKU5E9l
— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) September 10, 2020
The warning came after health minister Lord Bethell appealed to students not to spread coronavirus in “pubs, clubs and bedrooms up and down the country”.
Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, said students could face exclusions if they do not follow rules on social distancing.
Boris Johnson also pleaded with students not to socialise in larger groups and said they should not return to their family in the event of a local outbreak.
Lord Bethell told the Lords: “We are deeply concerned about the spread among students. Some of that spread will take place in universities, and I pay tribute to the efforts of vice-chancellors to put in place social distancing arrangements in universities. We hope that they will have an impact.
“However, some of the effect is in their social life — in pubs, clubs and bedrooms up and down the country. That is the responsibility of the students themselves, and we are looking at measures to enhance and enforce the social distancing measures that will stop the spread of this disease.”
All social activities will need to comply with new rules but students will be able to socialise with the same “household” they form in their accommodation.
Guidance from the Department for Education (DfE) says universities should not allow students to have “private gatherings” in halls of residence that exceed the limits for gatherings in private households.
But it says universities should support students to socialise in Covid-secure environments – like campus bars and students’ unions – and they should identify “safer social activities” for them.
“We are aware of the planning already under way for freshers’ events that provide Covid-secure entertainment activities in ways that comply with public health guidance,” the advice adds.
On Thursday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock also pleaded with university students to “follow the rules”.
He told MPs: “If you are a student who is about to return to university or go to university for the first time then please, for the sake of your education and your parents’ and grandparents’ health, follow the rules and don’t gather in groups of more than six.”