Autumn and Spring Term 2020/21

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Reporting in Higher Education Providers

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  1. Release updated to add data on confirmed COVID-19 cases known to providers and estimates of students self-isolating in HE up to 7 April 2021. Some earlier case and self-isolation data have also been corrected following updates from providers.

This ad hoc statistics publication provides a summary of confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases known to higher education providers (HEP) between 1 August 2020 and 7 April 2021. ‘Case’ here means a positive test result known to providers and reported to DfE through the Office for Students reporting tool. This publication is an update to the previous publication which covered cases and self-isolation data up to 3 February 2021. Weekly breakdowns of confirmed cases along with numbers of students known to be self-isolating are presented from 29 October. The data covers England only. 

It should be noted when interpreting the data that the number of confirmed cases reported will depend on four key factors beyond the actual prevalence of the disease at HE settings:

  1. The extent to which providers are aware of such confirmed cases among their students and staff;
  2. The number of providers making a return. This varied across the period covered with weeks unaffected by term start or end seeing between 73% and 83% of providers making a return;
  3. The management of the pandemic. The extent to which students and staff are expected to be ‘on site’ for face to face teaching has varied across the pandemic.  Since 8 March, around 49% of students are expected on site (see About this Release and Methodology for more details). The departure of students for the winter break and their subsequent return in the Spring term was also accompanied by a rapid asymptomatic testing strategy. This would have led to higher detection rates, including asymptomatic cases, compared to earlier in the Autumn term.
  4. University term dates.  The winter and Easter breaks were likely to be associated with many students returning home and not reporting any infections via their providers.

These factors mean that confirmed cases reported by HEPs  are likely to be a subset of the number of positive cases in students and staff identified through NHS Test and Trace.


Headline facts and figures - 2020/21

  • Weekly totals of confirmed COVID-19 cases known to providers declined over the Autumn term (defined as 1 August to 21 December 2020).
  • Weekly totals of confirmed COVID-19 cases declined from 14 January 2021, when most providers had resumed for the Spring term.
  • Only students on certain courses (mainly clinical and teacher training) were eligible to return to in person teaching at the start of the Spring term. In the week to 10 March, all students on practical courses became eligible to return to in person teaching. Despite more students being eligible to return, weekly totals have continued to decline in the Spring term.

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