A message from the Vice-Chancellor about travel and arrangements for the winter break.

Government plans for the winter break 

The Department for Education has today published its latest advice for universities, including guidance about student travel at the end of this term. 

I note that the guidance issued so far concerns undergraduates and taught post-graduate students only, and does not address issues that concern research students including PhD candidates. We are working on the basis that this latest advice applies only to students in taught programmes, and we are seeking urgent clarification from the Department for Education. We are also seeking clarification about how this affects students on placements, and will be sharing further details when they are available. 

Holiday travel 

In order to travel home safely, and to reduce the risk of transmission to family and friends at home, students in taught programmes are required to remain in residence until the end of the current lockdown period. They will be allowed to travel home by 9 December, on staggered dates to be agreed with students by the University and Colleges in collaboration with local public health bodies and transport companies. 

This will be underpinned by the deployment of increased testing for students, to ensure that undergraduates and taught post-graduates students who test negative can return home safely and minimise the risk of transmitting coronavirus. The University is considering the available options to enhance its current testing capacity. 

The University and Colleges will provide additional help and practical support to students who are unable, or decide not to, travel away from Cambridge over the winter break. 

Overseas travel 

International students wishing to travel overseas during the winter break must adhere to the public health advice, and will be subject to any self-isolation restrictions, both in the country of their destination and upon their return. Students should not travel if they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are part of a household group that is self-isolating. 

Returning to the University 

The Government has yet to provide detailed guidance about the return to University after the winter break. As at the end of this term, the Government is likely to be using mass testing as a means to prevent the transmission of infection by students returning to universities. I will keep you all informed of our plans to implement the Government’s advice. 

The University and the Colleges, working closely with public health officials, will do everything they can to bring students back to Cambridge safely after the winter break. We are planning for Lent term on the same basis that we planned for Michaelmas term. We expect to continue with a blend of in-person and on-line learning as appropriate, with as much University and College activity as can be safely offered.  


I wish to thank all the students and staff who have made it possible for the University to run its successful COVID-19 screening programmes. Local public health officials have expressed their complete confidence in the University’s management of its testing programmes, and in Colleges’ ongoing efforts to support all students and to control the spread of infection. 

The latest testing results show an increase in the number of positive cases identified through our asymptomatic and symptomatic testing schemes. Though this increase is not entirely unexpected, it is a cause for concern. Above all, the increase in positive cases reaffirms the importance of following public health guidelines, and the advice set out by the University and the Colleges

And finally… 

It feels more important than ever to support the University’s museums, collections and Botanic Garden. For many of them, and under normal circumstances, this would have been the busiest time of the year. I am pleased to draw your attention to Curating Cambridge, a new website offering articles and gifts inspired by our collections – perfect for finding stocking fillers for the holiday season.  

With best wishes,  


Professor Stephen J Toope