When Should I Go Back To University After Christmas?

Clara James, a criminology major, departed from her student house during Halloween and plans to stay away until the New Year. She stated, “I would prefer to prolong my stay at home. I have been feeling fatigued by the pressure.” James added that she does not want to get stranded in her student room in the case of a strict lockdown. She stated, “If circumstances improve, I would love to go back to uni. However, I am still paying rent, so it all hinges on how things turn out in January.”

This week a lot of students in England went back home for Christmas, but it is uncertain when they will be able to come back. The government is mandating them to stagger their return journeys for five weeks starting January 4th, with everyone expected to be back at the university by February 7th. However, so far politicians from Scotland and Wales have followed suit, and have asked universities to phase student arrivals in January because of the pandemic.

The government has asked universities to prioritize courses requiring practical, in-person instruction such as nursing, medicine, dentistry, sciences that require laboratory work, architecture, geography, arts, and performing arts like music, dance, and drama for an early return. Priority will also be given to courses with exams scheduled in January that cannot be postponed. All other courses including humanities will be required to return later.

While some students like James are trying to take advantage of the plans for staying away from campus as long as possible, others are afraid that they may not be able to return quickly enough. Isabella Cooke, who is studying history and Spanish at the University of Bristol, stated: “I’m worried that there will be another lockdown and I’ll be stuck at home. It’s more challenging to be productive at home, and I can work better in the library on campus.”

Natasha Cooper, studying a humanities subject at the University of Durham, also expressed concern about next year. She said: “I’m anxious that I won’t be able to return. It’s hard and no less inconvenient when I’m far away from the library, especially when I have essays to submit early in February. It stresses me out that I could be forced to stay away and miss my deadline without having access to the books I need."

Universities are committed to providing a combination of face-to-face and online instruction after Christmas and will release information concerning the spring semester as the situation changes. A spokesperson from the University of Birmingham said: “similar to other universities, we will deliver a combination of face-to-face and online teaching after Christmas. Depending on government guidelines, we will implement phased ordinances for on-campus activities.”

Presently, students must continue to pay rent for their accommodation, even if they are away from it, unless otherwise agreed upon. However, some universities have started offering reimbursements. For instance, the University of Sheffield announced that it will reimburse undergraduates a total of £1 million for their final two weeks of study, while the University of Manchester has deducted 30% of halls rent for the autumn term, following pressure from students.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is urging the government to provide financial support to those who are not permitted to return to their universities in the New Year. Larissa Kennedy, president of NUS, says: “If students are advised not to be in their accommodation from December to February, then the government must provide more financial assistance to support student renters who will be paying hundreds or thousands of pounds for properties they are being told not to live in for months."

Students from universities all over the UK are planning the largest rent strike in 40 years in the coming months. Nonetheless, purely from a legal perspective, students must pay if they have signed the contract. According to Daniel Fitzpatrick, a housing partner at the law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, students who cannot return may try to argue that their contract has been frustrated due to COVID-19-related circumstances. There is also presently a "massive backlog" of possession claims. “That’s one thing student strikers are probably relying on: that it would be an enormous hassle for landlords to get these claims processed,” Fitzpatrick says. Nonetheless, he warns that withholding rent could result in a money judgment against them.

For students struggling to decide when they should return to their universities, mental health charity Student Minds runs Student Space. It provides phone, text, and email support.

If students find themselves feeling overwhelmed, they can seek assistance from support services. These services may not provide all the answers but they can guide students on how to access the necessary support. Most services are now available via remote communication methods such as video, telephone, or online chat, which makes accessing support from home possible.

During university breaks, Wilson recommends that students take time to rest and reflect on their experiences of the previous semester. It is important to acknowledge what went well and identify areas that need improvement. If a student considers extending their break, Wilson advises them to discuss their options with the wellbeing team. While studying online may appear tempting, they should also consider what opportunities they may miss out on. Alternatively, if a student experienced significant challenges during the previous term, extending their break could be a better choice.

Please note that the name of the interviewee has been kept anonymous.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.