A message about new arrangements for the return of students in January, based on updated government guidance.

5 January ETA: the information below has been superseded by the new national lockdown announced by the Prime Minister on 4 January. An initial message about the effects of this new lockdown was sent to students and staff today. More detailed information will be sent out as soon as possible.

This message was sent to all students on 31 December 2020.

Dear students, 

January return 

In light of the growing number of COVID-19 cases across most parts of the United Kingdom, and the extension of Tier 4 restrictions to many regions of the country, the Department for Education has put in place further measures to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in universities. Last night the Minister for Universities outlined how the new guidance applies to higher education settings. She will be writing to students later today, and her letter will be posted on the University website. [ETA: the letter is now available here.]

The government expects the University and the colleges to remain open. It is now the government’s expectation, however, that the majority of undergraduate and taught postgraduate students should not return before 25 January. Until then, teaching will be delivered online. 

I know that this change is potentially both disruptive and difficult for students, but the government is clear that all parts of our society will have to adjust to the fast-changing circumstances of the pandemic. 

The date of 25 January will be subject to review by the government, and we will let you know if the current guidance changes.  

Exceptionally, an earlier return will be allowed for specific groups of students including: 

  • Medical, Veterinary and PGCE students returning for placements; 
  • Students without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities; 
  • Students who need to be in Cambridge for specific reasons, including health-related reasons. We ask that students who are in this category contact their colleges directly after the holiday break. 


Students who are already in Cambridge should remain in Cambridge. Some college and University facilities and support will be available. 

Postgraduate research students who need to be in Cambridge for their research projects can return – though we strongly encourage this group of students not to do so before the week of 11 January, when asymptomatic testing will restart. 

International students who are able to change their return travel plans should consider doing so. If this is not possible, for reasons including the cost of rearranging travel, students should notify their colleges and return to Cambridge as planned. 


The government expects all students to be tested upon their return to university. As indicated above, individual tests will be available from 11 January for those who have to return early. The pooled asymptomatic testing programme for student households will resume on 18 January.  

Testing for students will be arranged by their colleges. Information about testing is available here

Students will receive further communications from their colleges over the next few days. The University will continue to update its COVID-19 pages

Despite the uncertainties, let us all look forward to a better and brighter new year. 



Professor Stephen J Toope