Friday 9 October: Student email

Dear students,

I have recorded a message for you which talks through self-isolation, teaching and learning, and the wider context that faces us in the City of York.

I am very aware you are receiving a lot of information, but please take the time - when you can - to watch this so you’re aware of these important updates.

In case you prefer to read this through an email, I have included a transcript of the video message below.

The relevant links to information included in my message are here:

Self-isolation guidance and support

Student self-isolation form

Stay smart, supportive and safe

Lastly, I’d like to remind you to let the University know if you are self-isolating or quarantining. This applies to all students, even if you're currently away from campus.

Best wishes for the weekend

Charlie

Vice-Chancellor and President

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Video message transcript

First off, thank you.

We know you are coping well with the Covid restrictions we have in place. As I walk around campus I see students taking all the safety measures very seriously.

Whether you are a new starter or resuming your studies, it goes without saying this new term will be like no other.

Many of you are telling us you are pleased to be in York, and are enjoying the opportunity to get back to your studies, and physically to be here.

I hope that those of you who haven’t yet joined us on campus will be able to do so before too long.

I want to cover three things in this message - self-isolation, your teaching and learning, and finally, the wider context we have in the City of York, how this might change and what it could mean for you.

So, firstly, turning to those who are self-isolating

We know that some students are already self-isolating or will need to in the coming weeks, either because they have Covid symptoms and are awaiting a test, or have tested positive themselves, or someone in their household has.

Again a big thank you.

Self-isolation is no fun. We know there’s been some negative media coverage about the support other universities have in place, but we have created a big package of support to help you, whether you’re on, or off, campus.

Our view is that self-isolation is a community-spirited act intended to safeguard others, not a punishment, and so it’s important to ensure you receive the care and support you need.

At its basic level, that’s about keeping in regular touch, so we know how you are, and that you know who to turn to if you have questions or concerns.

But we’ve also been setting up new initiatives to help, like persuading Morrisons to create a hotline for off-campus students who are self-isolating, so you can have food delivered quickly. (And with a special delivery rate!). And for students self-isolating on campus, we have catered meal packages and NISA deliveries that can be delivered to your accommodation.

We not only want to help look after you in terms of all the essentials, like food, prescriptions, laundry, but - importantly - your wellbeing.

We’ve been working closely with our Students Unions and they have done a great job in putting on new online entertainment and activities. And if you’re feeling low or feel unable to cope, all students can access Togetherall (a 24/7 online support service) as well as our own Open Door team, staffed by our own mental health practitioners.

Do use this support if you need it. Let us know if you are self-isolating - by filling in our form - so we can get you the support you need.

Secondly, your teaching and learning

You may be wondering what this term will look like and what your teaching and learning experience will be.

I can tell you what this looks like now, however the reality is things may change and perhaps change quickly over the coming weeks or months perhaps as new national or local restrictions impact on us or, perhaps if a member of staff needs to self-isolate.

But I assure you we will keep you informed and tell you if things are about to change as soon as we know.

Whatever happens, above all, we are determined to deliver quality learning and teaching that is as safe as possible.

That has meant moving some of our learning online in order to allow for social distancing in our physical classrooms and labs. We do want to keep as much in-person teaching and learning in place as we can - but we may need to go further if additional restrictions are put in place.

So, what might change?

The Department for Education has created four Tiers for different levels of teaching and learning experience as we deal with Covid.

Tier 1 is where we are now with a blended approach involving some teaching taking place using our digital platforms, and some happening face-to-face in a Covid-secure environment.

After Tier 1, come Tiers 2 and 3, where further restrictions would mean more of our teaching and learning activities are moved online or postponed until restrictions are eased again. In Tier 3 in-person teaching and learning would be restricted to practical subjects where some things like labs or performances cannot be reproduced online.

Tier 4 is reserved for a full lockdown scenario - one which we truly hope will not come about again.

You may have heard that some universities with higher positive case rates than us, in cities with higher case rates than York, have moved to higher Tier levels.

If our situation changes, we may need to move from our current position, too.

If so, each academic department has worked out what needs to happen to each teaching session in the event of a change in Tiers.

As and when restrictions are eased, we will then look to restore face-to-face teaching where possible.

Whatever happens, I want to reassure you that throughout this period of uncertainty we will maintain our levels of investment in providing good quality teaching, learning, and academic, careers and pastoral support so you can meet your learning outcomes - whether these are delivered face-to-face or virtually.

We will maintain the value of a York degree so that the knowledge, skills and experience you are working so hard to achieve will continue to be recognised by employers and other educational institutions across the globe.

Now a little bit about the City of York and the importance of this local context

We work very closely with the City Council, its Public Health team and the local NHS. Through this we are well-informed about the Covid situation in the City and work with our partners to keep that situation under constant review.

Any decision to move to different Tiers within the university will be taken with local partners and will take into account the situation of positive cases in the city as a whole and the situation in the University community, including the numbers of you having to self-isolate.

Currently in the City of York, we are seeing an increased number of Covid cases spread within and between households, not just in student areas, but also in those areas and on campus.

So I cannot stress enough the critical importance of following safe behaviours to protect each other. We need as a City to do all that we can to avoid York facing some of the restrictions we now see in other parts of the UK..

And that means that we at the University need to do all that we can to follow the guidance in place to keep numbers of Covid cases down.

If we need locally to move from our current position, that decision will be driven by infection rates.

And this will very much affect you - it could mean a reduction or even suspension of face-to-face teaching, the loss of sporting activities, the loss of the Forest and other venues. This has already happened at other universities.

Together, we need to do all that we can to preserve what we have by keeping ourselves, and those around us, safe.

I know that the vast majority of students are taking this very seriously - I’ve seen this as I’ve walked around teaching rooms, in academic departments, at the Forest.

But there is a small minority of our students that is not. And those who are not following the rules risk a rise in infections and through that risk losing our on-campus teaching, venues and other facilities.

Where this happens - and I have to be upfront and honest about this - we will use our disciplinary process to come down hard on those who aren’t behaving responsibly. And don’t forget that many of the restrictions we now face are set out in law and subject beyond the university to legal measures, including fines.

But I don’t want the focus of my message to be on the small minority breaking the rules, because that’s hugely unfair on the great majority of you who are not.

I do want the focus of my message to be on our responsibilities to one another. By all of us sharing responsibility to follow all of the Covid guidance we limit the risks each of us faces, we support each other.

And as guidance changes we’ll help every one of you to understand any changes we might need to follow.

So let me finish now with a reminder to Stay Smart, Supportive and Safe:

  • Stay SMART - keep looking at the Covid-19 web pages, and keep reading your emails and following our social media advice - it’s important you are aware of what the latest situation is at all times

  • Stay SUPPORTIVE - of others including your friends, families, neighbours and teaching staff, we are all in this together and need to help and support one another

  • And stay SAFE - follow the guidelines and keep on with the basic rules around hand washing, face coverings and social distancing - hands, face, space - and if you have symptoms self-isolate straight away and get a test.

Thank you