Monday 2 November 2020

All students email

COVID-19 update: Monday 2 November - lockdown update

Dear student,

We are writing to you to provide some clarity, following the announcement this weekend by the Prime Minister, of new lockdown restrictions in England. This message covers four key areas:

  1. An explanation of the new lockdown rules in terms of what we know so far;

  2. Confirmation that our new Department of Education (DfE) Tier 2 arrangements for online and in-person teaching will continue;

  3. The additional measures we will take with our Students’ Unions to support your experience and wellbeing at this challenging time;

  4. Our continued engagement with the UK Government on your behalf, to ensure student voices are heard.

A. Lockdown restrictions and arrangements

As you will undoubtedly have heard over the weekend, England will be placed in a lockdown from Thursday 5 November until Wednesday 2 December 2020. However the Government has made clear that universities are exempt from business shutdown arrangements. Instead:

  • Universities (and schools and colleges) are expected to continue their operations, including a blend of online and in-person teaching and the continuation of library services. Here at York we will be adhering to that guidance.

  • Travel to campus: international and domestic travel for education remains permitted and so our welcome and arrival measures remain in place for all students intending to travel to campus.

Lockdown across the country has been introduced to limit further transmission of the virus and therefore, for your own safety and the safety of your families and friends, we are asking you to adhere to this guidance and remain in York.

We will continue to review our policies and on campus arrangements in line with any further updates to the Government’s guidance.

B. Rationale for continued online and in-person learning

We welcome the recognition by the Government that allowing students to be able to continue their education is vital.

This is not only vital from the perspective of your educational progress, but also because being able to be with your friends, and enjoying the wider benefits of an educational setting, is good for student mental health and wellbeing.

This is why we will be continuing to ensure that we can deliver some level of in-person teaching activity, for those students who are able to come onto campus.

Impacts of restrictions and mitigating actions:

While universities across the UK have experienced surges in COVID-19 confirmed cases which also caused many other students to need to self-isolate, those numbers are now coming down across the university sector, often quite rapidly.

This is the pattern we have seen in York and is thanks to the responsible way that students have responded to the situation. We need to continue to keep each other safe. That means we as a community need to comply with the Government’s latest guidance and not undertake unnecessary travel or mix outside our households, otherwise the new lockdown restrictions will not have the effect we all want.

It is in all our interests to ensure that this new lockdown is effective and time limited so that students can enjoy the holiday period after the end of term, but also so that the measures introduced contribute to the national effort to control the virus sufficiently so we can return to more in-person social and learning experiences as quickly as possible after the Christmas break.

However this does mean that other aspects of student life will be adversely impacted - particularly the temporary cessation of sporting activities and the closure of social spaces such as restaurants and bars in the city and on campus, except for take-away delivery. We will continue to provide more updates on our COVID-19 pages, including information on catered meal packages, and via YUSU and GSA communications.

C. Additional support for our students

In anticipation of these restrictions being put in place, our college teams, our student welfare teams, York Sport, YUSU and GSA have also been scaling up our capacity to support students in this difficult time by increasing the range of online engagement tools and activities they can offer. We will share more information about this with you in later announcements. Our academic skills support also continues online.

In these ways we are trying to deliver the best possible experience for you that we can, even in the midst of the resurgence of a global pandemic.

There are just five weeks left to the end of term and we want to make them as rewarding and supportive as we possibly can, and to facilitate your being able to continue your friendships and social networks here in York, and provide you with as much wellbeing support as we can.

Key University initiatives that will be scaled up are as follows:

  • Re-launching our COVID-19 Emergency Student Support Fund to offer financial assistance to students who are experiencing financial difficulty through the introduction of new lockdown measures - we’ll publish details on how to ask for support in the next few days (anyone who needs more urgent support should contact the Student Hub);

  • Continuing and expanding our College welfare checks via our College welfare teams;

  • Increasing our mental health support provision through our Together All platform and through our newly appointed Student Wellbeing Officers working with Departments;

  • York Sports are about to announce a range of activities for all students to be able to engage with.

  • Your feedback has told us you would also like to seek peer-to-peer support. You can do this through the communities built by our Colleges, Students’ Unions and also through the student communities advertised on the Student Hub pages.

Out of hours support

Please also note that support out of hours for students is available through the following:

  • 01904 32 4444 - general issues

  • 01904 32 3333 - emergency

The out of hours team will direct you to the support you need.

Key Student Union Initiatives

Our Student Unions have been integral to the provision of support, pastoral and social activities. As we saw in the national lockdown in Term 3 last academic year, our student opportunities (societies, sports teams, volunteering) were enormously creative and effective at adjusting to restrictions on face-to-face activity. The University has agreed to allocate additional funding to help them to offer more under the new restrictions.

YUSU

The ‘YUSU COVID-19 Community Group’ became a hub for student groups to promote online activities, fundraising, events, information, peer support and competitions. We are pleased that YUSU will shortly relaunch the hub to provide additional opportunities for students to meet up and have fun online. Information will be posted on the YUSU COVID-19 Community Group.

Graduate Student Association (GSA)

The Graduate Students’ Association will also launch a series of new additional online wellbeing, social and academic initiatives and resources. The GSA are recruiting additional staff to offer students a greater amount of guaranteed activities in the coming months. GSA provision is intended to encourage PGs to participate in safe, online events at a time when we all need the benefits of socialising more than ever. Watch out for GSA newsletters and website for more information.

D. Making students’ voices heard

Students across the country have endured a lot this year as their school and university education has been disrupted by COVID-19.

Against that background, we reject the narrative that has played out in some parts of the media that portrays students as irresponsible. Our daily experience of life at York shows a community of students who are creative, constructive and deeply committed to their education. We are working very hard through our mission groups - Universities UK and the Russell Group - to enhance Government understanding of the very real financial and wellbeing challenges that students are facing.

We have made clear to the Government (and will continue to do so) our belief that discussions about movement of people as we head towards the holiday break should focus on the wider population and not just students. We are also pressing the Government to make sure effective arrangements are in place to support your return to study in January.

The future success of our society is reliant on your generation and we are utterly committed to advancing a clear understanding by Government, the media and the general public about how much fortitude and patience you have shown in this past year, and continue to do so, even in the face of further restrictions none of us would wish to see.

Please continue to stay smart, supportive and safe and you can expect to see more communications in the coming days from your Colleges, Departments, and Student Unions.

We know that this is difficult so please do explore the Student Help and Support information available to find out more on how you can access support - we are here to help.

For now please stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Charlie - Vice-Chancellor

Ben Vulliamy - YUSU CEO

Patrick O’Donnell - YUSU President

Darryl Butcher - Chief Executive GSA

Purnur Altay - GSA President