UNIVERSITIES are preparing for a mass exodus of students to get them home safely for Christmas after lockdown.

The government says there will be a “student travel window” to allow them to return home safely.

It means the University of Sussex, the University of Brighton, and the University of Chichester will have to coordinate an evacuation-style operation to get them home, but even if they have to self-isolate they will still have time to get home for Christmas.

Some students have reported that houses and halls of residences have already emptied with a dash to get home before the lockdown rules were brought in earlier this month.

Many lectures, tutorials and classes have been moved to online teaching only for safety to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Argus reported this week that there have been 820 confirmed cases of coronavirus at Brighton and Hove’s two universities since teaching resumed in September.

Nationwide there are fears that as many as 40,000 students have become infected with the disease since returning to their studies in September.

Department for Education officials say they are working with councils in Sussex and with universities to manage the movement of students in a staggered way.

Universities should soon be telling their students about transport and travel plans, the BBC reported.

They will have to move all teaching online by December 9, it is understood.

Meanwhile there are plans to send out thousands of rapid results Covid-19 tests at the end of November, with campuses with higher infection rates to be the priority.

University and College Union general secretary Dr Jo Grady told the BBC that allowing one week for about a million students to travel “leaves little room for error”.

“If the government instead told universities to move online now it would provide much more time to stagger the movement of students and better protect the health of staff, students and their wider communities,” she said.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group of universities which includes the University of Sussex said he welcomed the government’s end of term plan.

But he said: “However, a mandatory cut-off date for in-person teaching to deliver a ‘student travel window’ does create practical challenges for universities, which our members will now work hard to mitigate.”