After some uncertainty, the UK Government eventually announced a plan to allow university students in England to travel home to their families for Christmas.
The official guidance, as stated by the Department for Education, advises that students abide by the lockdown measures until 2nd December. After that, there will be a designated time window from 3rd to 9th December, where students will be allowed to travel home.
Of course, this option is not without terms and conditions. A large scale, rapid testing scheme is currently in place across institutions to ensure students can get tested before travelling, with closer attention being paid to higher risk areas. Imperial College is encouraging testing, and currently asymptomatic students and staff have access to the College’s testing scheme. If a student tests negative for COVID-19, they are free to leave under the condition they travel “as soon as possible”. If a student returns a negative test after contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, then they must self-isolate for 14 days, but the student has the choice to isolate at their home provided they travel safely. However, if a student returns a positive test, they must self-isolate for 10 days before travelling.
It is important to remember that the opportunity to travel is optional. Whilst I imagine that Christmas is a time that most would like to spend with the same company they usually do, 2020 has consistently forced us to reshape our vision of normality. Therefore, it is understandable that some students will choose to stay in student housing this holiday. Furthermore, for those who return home – their Christmas experience may still be affected by social restrictions, personal losses or financial setbacks.
I do hope that ‘Christmas spirit’ can bring a sweet ending to what has been a bitter or confusing year for so many, but I cannot speak on behalf of all students. Therefore, I felt compelled to send out another survey. So, I did. I asked several questions and received responses from 28 students who all had different stories to tell.
If you are a home student, will you be moving back home during the travel window of 3rd - 9th December?
Eight home students said 'yes'. Seven said 'no'. Two said 'undecided'. Two said 'I am already at home'.
If you are an international student, will you be moving back home during the travel window of 3rd - 9th December?
Two international students said 'yes'. Nine said 'no'. Only one said 'I am already at home'.
If you are moving back home, do you have a clear idea of what you will do at the start of the next term?
“Probably sit my January exams at home and then return to London”
“Come back to London again”
“Return to London immediately after New Year’s”
“Sort of ”
“Coming back because I’m stuck in a 39 week accommodation contract”
“Stay at home for the foreseeable future”
“Return on the 27th and miss the first 2 days due to quarantine”
If you will not be moving back home, could you explain why?
“Quarantine on arrival and then upon return.”
“Too expensive, need to book space in managed isolation facility which aren’t available for over a month.”
“I would have to quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival, would not be worth the trip for a 3-week holiday.”
“The whole process of quarantining again and again makes going back not worth it.”
“Going on placement.”
“I’m going back after the 9th December like most students.... Bojo’s 9th deadline is stupid.”
“The flights are unpredictable and there’s a long waiting list. I’m also not sure how uni will work next term.”
If you are undecided, could you explain what is causing your uncertainty?
“Waiting on when I get test results. Don’t know if I want to isolate at uni or at home”
“I can’t deal with being at home for a more than a few days. Feels irresponsible to only go for a few days. Don’t want to risk giving my grandma COVID-19.”
Will Christmas be different for you this year? If so, how?
“Yes, we cannot gather in the group we usually do.”
“Without family, I will celebrate with friends in London, as I cannot go home abroad.”
“It will just be spent with parents and siblings, not other family.”
“No, I don’t celebrate Christmas anyways.”
“Gran died as a result of NHS prioritising COVID-19 over routine checkups. Therefore, not the usual family Christmas.”
“Yes, as I’m not certain I’ll be able to go home.”
“Yeah, staying at home.”
“Yes, seeing less family.”
“It’s the first time I am going to have to spend Christmas alone. I’ve always spent it with my family.”
“Much smaller celebration.”
“Won’t be able to see my extended family which is usually a big tradition. No Christmas markets or ice skating etc.”
“No my Christmas is always small.”
“Probably. Every year my grandparents come to visit but it might not be safe for them to do so this year. No Christmas lighting-up show and market. Probably no pantomime on Boxing Day.”
“My grandparents won’t be there.”
“Yes, we were supposed to go to Brazil for Christmas and NYE with my family.”
“I have to self-isolate and cannot participate in any Christmas preparations.”
“Won’t have extended family join us” “Either will spend Christmas alone or be at home for longer than usual.”
How will moving back home affect your social life, academic life and mental health?
“Social life will be similar, as still in London. Academic life worse. Mental health, who knows.”
“I have friends at home too.”
“I’m looking forward to it, it will be positive to have a change and be in the countryside.”
“No social life at home. I moved just before uni, so home for me has no close friends or family.”
“Academic - motivation decrease. Mental - not sure. Social - not sure.”
“Mental health is already in the toilet, so.”
“Socially and mentally much better, as practically no social life in London. Academic work may suffer as a lot of things to do but may not as I’m not as prone to procrastinate all day when ‘working’.”
“Affects academic life the most, harder to work from home.”
“Social life is dead, so is mental health. Academic life is doing well.”
“Won’t have a social life as much as at uni, but this means I will be able to focus more academically which will be useful for upcoming exams.”
“Social and academic life will be worse harder to focus, which will unfortunately affect mental health.”
“I think it might be good. I like my parents and obviously before uni I had to do all my work at home. Lots of my friends didn’t go to uni so stayed in my hometown and I can’t wait to see them. Definitely better for my mental health.”
“Improve my academic and mental health.”
“It will be way harder to focus. Also, it will be hard to keep in touch with all the people I have just met.”
“All will get worse due to strict and disruptive family life.”
“Will be detrimental to all three. Friends are in London, hard to work in a house full of arguments, traumatic memories.”
How will staying away home affect your social life, academic life and mental health?
“Would actually be better for them (can talk to friends on phone more easily and study without family around).”
“Most of my friends are back home and I don’t know when I am going to see them again. My academic life will be better if I stay in the UK because I’m alone and have no distractions. My mental health has just been a mess.”
“It would kill my mental health and productivity.”
“Everyone else is going away, so I’ll be alone. Able to focus on work. Hit and miss about whether my mental health will be ok or not.”
How has the decision to allow students home made you feel about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in England?
“Glad to be able to go home for Christmas.”
“Good, I think we should be allowed to leave.”
“Great that everyone gets to be tested.”
“The UK government is completely f****** useless.”
“I think it’s the right decision if people get tests before they go.”
“Pretty predictable. Just another way of the government trying to keep control of stakeholders.”
“I’m glad they’re letting us go home, while we may have questioned their actions constantly, I think they got this one right, and you cannot say that the government doesn’t care at all.”
“No different, already thought the handling was horse****, this just confirmed it even more.”
“I think that the concept of ‘allowing’ us home has crossed the boundary into government control.”
“Bit of a mess but fair enough.”
“Good. I was very worried about when I’d travel home and if it would be safe. Also, I’m quite happy to go home a bit earlier.”
“It’s necessary but I think COVID-19 tests prior to travel should be forced.”
“I think it was smart to make a lockdown and then allow students to go back home. They would anyway.”
“I think it’s a strange decision to limit the movement of students to one week after the restrictions are lifted. I don’t think the infection rate will be controlled.”
“I think it is really unfair how they handled the whole term. Of course, I understand that we have to be considerate of older people and high risk groups but as a student I would have wished for a bit more certainty before moving to London.”
“Unsure now that 3 tier system is being introduced it doesn’t make sense to allow people to travel across the country to go home for Christmas especially as holidays such as Eid were cancelled.”
“It feels odd that they’re respecting Christmas more than other religious festivals. Gathering with family feels irresponsible. They’re self-serving hypocritical bastards wanting to celebrate their own holidays and give public money to their mates for shi**y track and trace systems.”
Do you think the College is doing enough to support you? Please elaborate under your selected choice.
Eighteen students selected 'yes'. Six students selected 'no'.
Students who selected ‘Yes’:
“There is little more the college can do than to help facilitate the government guidelines.”
“I feel ok about my situation and I feel I have all the resources I need to achieve what I want to achieve.”
“Don’t need it at the moment.”
“I’ve had a few emails about testing and movement of labs and stuff during that week so we can go home early.”
“Department support is satisfactory. Aware of support service at uni should I need access.”
“I feel secure and I know that there is always someone I can talk to.”
“I don’t feel supported but I’m not sure how they would effectively support me.”
“It’s hard for them to do more.”
Students who selected ‘No’:
“College policy on only having five meetings with therapists and then recommending new paid ones has been uninspiring.”
“I need some mental health support.”
How do you feel about the way this term has gone, and the way it will be ending?
“I hate online learning.”
“Been too quick.”
“Disappointed that all my learning was remote, however being allowed to access campus facilities was useful.”
“It’s definitely strange but shoutout to all the clubs and societies for going above and beyond to organise events so that we feel that we have some social time.”
“I want more in-person classes to be honest, hasn’t felt like uni at all.”
“Academically term has gone fine, feels like a waste in terms of meeting people from uni, had a much better life outside of it.”
“Better than I thought it would go.” “A mess.”
“It has been depressing because of the lockdown but there is hope for next term.”
“I think the term has been okay but basically for the most part I didn’t really need to move away from home for uni. So, for social life and just progressing in my life it was good to move here and live in halls but going home early and finished term there seems good to me.”
“Could have been worse, could have been much better.”
“I think we made the best out of the bad situation.”
“Disappointed in terms of the restrictions on in-person events and limitations on attending campus for lectures.”
“It’s quite sad that it is ending so abruptly after lockdown. A few days to say a (socially-distanced) goodbye to all your friends would have been nice.”
“Sad - was very rough at the start with getting used to Teams, now the constant use is starting to affect my physical health (head/backaches, dry & strained eyes). Spent most of it isolated from coursemates and other friends, and will now return home as soon as people are allowed to visit others.”
“Quite like lectures from the sofa but I’m awful at focusing at home.”