The UK government is planning an evacuation-style operation to get university students home safely for Christmas.
The mass exodus of perhaps a million students will take place between December 3 and December 9 after England’s four-week lockdown ends.
Increased numbers of international students are expected to stay in the UK over Christmas regardless of the plans.
But the government said the six-day window to get home will be a welcome relief for most students who have had a “really difficult term” under strict coronavirus rules.
Students frequently complained about being unable to leave their halls of residence and socialise as universities grapple to control on-campus outbreaks.
Under the government’s plans, a voluntary, rapid Covid-19 test will be offered to as many students as possible before they depart.
If they test positive, the government said they will still have time to self-isolate and get home for Christmas.
The testing will be focused on high-risk areas, while departures will be staggered.
Students are strongly encouraged to select a date to return home.
The government will also instruct universities to move classes online by December 9 so students can have the option of studying from home.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan acknowledged that many international students would choose to remain in the UK over Christmas given the potential difficulties of getting back.
She told Sky News: “We expect universities to produce a plan – a bespoke plan for those students – including well-being support.