Coronavirus: Students might have to stay in "protective bubble"

Students might have to stay in a "protective bubble" of the same small group, when the UK's university campuses reopen in the autumn.

University leaders suggested students would live and study with the same group to minimise mixing. They were setting out safety measures for a socially-distanced student life - including a virtual freshers' week. A survey suggested 71% of students would prefer to start the term later, if they got more in-person teaching. University campuses have been closed since the coronavirus lockdown, with teaching switching online, and their representative body, Universities UK has been setting out how they might bring students back for the autumn term.

To prevent the risk of infection, the Universities UK briefing suggested students could be kept in small groups, sharing accommodation with people taking the same course, using the "protective bubble" approach used in primary schools in England.

Liz Barnes, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, said to the BBC that she had been discussing the idea of protective bubbles with other universities - with her university expecting to have eight people per bubble. By housing students in groups taking the same subjects, with timetables that bring them on campus at the same time, it would minimise contact with other students. "The more that we can keep them into a small group of regular interaction the better in current circumstances," said Prof Barnes.

Students could see others outside, but there would be controls on who could go inside accommodation. This would also assume that university accommodation would have a big reduction in capacity, so that social distancing could be possible and facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms could be safely shared. If lectures are delivered online, there would also be fewer people on campus.