Universities are allowing students back to campus early on mental health grounds, it has emerged.
Some vice-Chancellors have written to undergraduates to highlight the exceptional circumstances in which they are allowed to take up residence at their term-time address.
These include “inadequate” study space at home or if their mental health and wellbeing is suffering, according to official guidance.
Last week the Government announced that around one million university students will not be allowed to return to campus for another month.
The only students allowed to return to campus following the Christmas break were those doing degrees that require face-to-face teaching for a professional qualification, such as medicine and dentistry.
On March 8, students on creative or practical courses such as performing arts were also allowed back. But around half of the UK’s student population - including humanities and social science students - will continue to be banned from taking up residence at their term-time accommodation and resuming face-to-face lectures until May 17 at the earliest.
University leaders have attacked the decision to delay the return of students as “illogical” since they are now legally able to visit a gym, theme park, zoo or spa as well as go on a self-catered holiday.
They are now making use of the exceptional circumstances stated in the Government's guidance as a way to welcome more students back.
“We can’t say it in so many words - but smell the coffee, read between the lines of the emails, if you say you need a library we will let you back even if you have plush home circumstances,” one university source said.
"We don’t want to be picked up by the Government for appearing to encourage beyond what they think we should do, but we are very sympathetic to students’ requests to come back.”
Prof James Tooley, vice-Chancellor of Buckingham University said that despite the official ban, it is likely that “many more” students will return to campus following the Easter break.
“It is not for us to second guess what state a student is in, if they say they have mental health reasons to return we should accept that straight away,” he said.
“If they say they can’t study where they are, absolutely they can come back. If they are having difficulties, we accept that.”
He said he expects the university will receive more requests from students wishing to return after Easter, adding that he has told his staff they should be “totally sympathetic” to this.
Universities also believe the Government has effectively given the green light to this approach by highlighting the exceptions in her most recent letter to vice-Chancellors.
Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, wrote to vice-Chancellors saying that the decision to delay the return of the remaining students until May 17 has “not been taken lightly”.
She added: “Our advice remains that some students, such as those with inadequate study space and/or mental health and wellbeing issues, may need to return to their term time address despite their teaching still being online.”
Prof David Green, vice-Chancellor at Worcester University, said: “The way in which the minster put it in the letter - I think that is giving a greater emphasis on the policy."
He said he has written to his own staff as well as other vice-Chancellors in the west Midland to draw their attention to this part of Ms Donelan’s letter.
“Are we expecting more students to come back? Yes. There is a lot of loneliness and that can turn into depression and worse," Prof Green said. "What is the solution? To go back to where there are other young people.”