Coronavirus (COVID-19): student movement

The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to making sure that whenever it is considered safe to do so, students who have been living away from campuses are able to safely return to their term-time accommodation. This page outlines how this can be done safely.

Students who cannot return to university because they are self-isolating

If students are self-isolating because they are a confirmed positive case or a close contact they must continue isolating at their current address until the period of isolation has ended.

Higher education (HE) providers should provide guidance to students if they are self-isolating at their home address and are not returning to campus on their planned return date, setting out what steps they should take to safely return to university when the isolation period ends.

Students return to campus

HE providers are advised that:

  • the return of students should be staggered to help minimise transmission risks from the mass movement of students
  • where necessary, practical and placement students should return first
  • all students should be offered testing on return to university
  • students who returned home over the winter break should be encouraged not to return to their term-time accommodation until face-to-face teaching is scheduled to resume

When planning to return to campus, students should aim to reduce their social contacts during the 14-day period prior to their intended date of travel back to campus.

As above students are encouraged to stay at home until required to be at University. When students do return to campus they should make sure that they follow any relevant local restrictions which are in place and should limit their contacts for the 14 days following a return to campus.

When travelling students should be mindful of the risks of spreading the virus by travel, particularly to others who may be more vulnerable because of their age or an underlying health condition.

To keep themselves and others safe students must follow the public health advice of:

Once you have returned to University you are considered part of the household to which you have returned.

HE providers should allow those students on practical courses to return to campus in line with their planned start dates.

HE providers are required to make an assessment of the courses and students that should be allowed to return first, based on the requirements of the curriculum and taking into account the following factors:

  • work, clinical or practical placements
  • courses requiring practical teaching or learning
  • courses requiring access to specialist or technical equipment

HE providers are encouraged to consider whether courses would be be better delivered online from the beginning of term.

Higher Education (HE) providers

HE providers should facilitate the return of students who may need to return earlier for other reasons. For example, students who do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, facilities, studying space, or that need to return for health reasons.

As part of these plans, providers should consider what provision they can make available to such students, along with those students who remained on site over the winter break, including international students.

This includes access to:

  • resources
  • study spaces
  • campus catering
  • specific support required by international students
  • appropriate pastoral and study support in COVID-secure environments

All students should be tested as soon as they start accessing university facilities.

Asymptomatic testing to reduce risk of transmission

To support the safe return of all students to campus, universities and HE providers are offering a clinically validated swab antigen test (lateral flow devices - LFDs) to returning students. These do not require laboratory processing and can turn around rapid results.

Universities and HE providers will issue local communications and guidance to their students advising how, and where, to avail of testing.

Students must only come forward for a LFD test if they are asymptomatic (that is, they do not have any symptoms of Covid).

If students are symptomatic they must book a PCR test in the normal way.

Further information on how to book a test for those that have symptoms is available on the Public Health Agency website.

All asymptomatic students are encouraged to take two LFD tests, three days apart.

If you receive a positive LFD test result this means you are likely to be infectious when the test was done. If so, you and your household will have to complete a 10-day period of isolation from the date of your LFD test and you will need to have a confirmatory PCR swab test as soon as possible.

Everyone you live with must also self-isolate for 10 days as they will be your close contacts.

If your confirmatory PCR is positive you and your household contacts must complete the full period of 10 days self-isolation from the date  your LFD was taken.

If your confirmatory PCR swab test is negative and you are not a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you do not need to undertake any further period of self-isolation. Your household contacts also do not need to undertake further self-isolation.

There is further information, including how to book a test, at these the links:

If you have COVID-19 symptoms you should book a coronavirus test in the normal way.

Further information is available on the Public Health Agency (PHA) website.

Returning from England, Scotland and Wales

Given recent developments, the situation regarding travel is fast moving students are therefore advised to regularly check all relevant guidance pages for updates:

On your return, you must follow all Northern Ireland specific public health guidance, including following relevant local restrictions which may be in place.


Students are asked to help control coronavirus transmission rates by:

You should also book ahead, wherever possible, in line with the coronavirus (COVID-19): safer travel guidance for passengers.

Specific support for students

Your HE provider should make sure you are supported to self-isolate where you need to, including in university accommodation, if required. This includes if you are self-isolating before the start of term.

If you have stayed in your university accommodation over the winter break, the HE provider should continue to make sure you are well looked after.

This includes paying particular regard to the specific needs of certain groups during this period, including care leavers, estranged students, and international students, who will require access to welfare and mental health support and essential services during the holiday periods.

Further information and a range of resources to help students, their families and friends stay safe and to help look after their mental health during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is available on the PHA website:

Travel for international students

Our borders are open for both returning and new international students, and our HE providers are looking forward to welcoming them to campuses in the New Year.

When in Northern Ireland, you must follow any relevant local public health requirements in place at that time.      

Students should:

  • check with their HE provider in advance to confirm when face-to-face teaching begins
  • check with their HE provider when they intend to arrive on campus so that they can be appropriately supported

HE providers should try to be as flexible as possible with international students travelling to Northern Ireland from overseas, especially if they have already booked travel before this guidance was issued.

Students will need to:

  • complete a passenger locator form on arrival in the UK
  • self-isolate in their accommodation for 10 days

If self-isolating, students will need to:

Be aware that travel advice may change, so regularly check all relevant guidance pages for updates:

Students travelling from Northern Ireland to  should consult relevant guidance regarding the UK and EU transition

Further guidance on self-isolation for international students

The higher education sector has been working to make sure that all students are welcomed to the UK and are supported on arrival by their chosen university. Universities UK has developed a checklist for providers to support students who are required to self-isolate to use as a guide in developing that support. This will be updated following the January return measures. Further guidance is available on entering the UK.


International students considering study in the UK should be aware that visa concessions allow for the ongoing provision of online learning for the duration of the academic year 2020 to 2021. Many HE providers are starting courses online.

Students will not be penalised for being unable to collect their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) while coronavirus (COVID-19) measures are in place.

Students studying in England, Scotland or Wales

Students from Northern Ireland studying at HE institutions in England, Scotland or Wales should follow any guidance issued by their HE institution and the relevant government.

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