Thursday 21 May 2020

All student email

Covid-19 update - w/c 18 May 2020 - start of next academic year

Please note this email is for all taught students however, the first half refers to students who will be returning to the University for the next academic year. The second half is appropriate to all students.

Dear students

I have been listening to your feedback and your queries, and many of you have been asking questions about what will happen in the next academic year; whether you will be returning to campus, and what kind of educational experience you can expect.

The first thing to say is that we will absolutely start our academic year as planned on 28 September. But you will appreciate that we must ensure that we do so in a way that prioritises the health and safety of our students and staff.

At York, each degree programme has its own, tailored set of distinctive learning outcomes. This won’t change, no matter what your location or mode of delivery, and our academics are working hard to design your programmes and modules next year to inspire you, motivate you, and support you to succeed in your studies.

Our plans are taking into account a range of potential scenarios including the various Government restrictions that may be in place. This means that we’re working hard to design your courses to be flexible, and focused on these distinctive learning outcomes.

As we prepare for the new academic year, our vision for our students also remains the same; you are part of a community of learning and inquiry where you will continue to pursue your academic interests and develop as an individual, ready to make a difference to society and the world.

All the tailored elements of delivering your individual course, whether that’s lectures involving large numbers of students, small groups, seminars, tutorials, or lab and practical-based sessions, will give you the best opportunity to build your knowledge, gain the right skills, and make the most of your experience with York. And we will always continue to provide our award-winning careers and employability skills programmes, to ensure excellent employment and further study opportunities, as well facilitating mentoring and engagement with our global alumni community.

How we are planning for the start of the next academic year 2020/21

We will be starting the next academic year on 28 September 2020 and at this stage, the number of different scenarios we are planning for includes the possibility of continuing restrictions on social gathering and social distancing, or a situation where some students are on-campus while others (perhaps due to international travel availability) join us online, even if only for a short time.

But we do want to be able to provide students with an on-campus experience where possible, and for those unable to join us on campus initially, as soon as possible. To accommodate these uncertainties we have made the following decisions:

  • We are preparing to teach cohorts of students located both on and off-campus (if some of our international students are unable to join us at the start of term);
  • Our teaching and learning spaces are being assessed for their suitability to accommodate students in smaller groups for seminars and tutorials, whilst adhering to any social distancing rules in place at that time;
  • We have assessed the different types of lectures in our timetable. We plan to deliver the majority of larger lectures online for the duration of the autumn term. These will be recorded and made available for ongoing access and use;
  • For those students with laboratory work and practicals, we will reorganise the sequence of study so these can be scheduled for later in the academic year, in order to increase the chances of being able to work with fewer social distancing restrictions;
  • Where possible, we will plan assessments that do not require students to be on-campus, so as to take into account the different circumstances of students able to be in York and those who may not;
  • We are working on different ways for students to interact, to engage with each other and with staff, wherever they are located;
  • We are assessing how the Library can operate as the heart of our community while maintaining social distancing rules, and we will continue to increase the level of access to electronic resources;
  • We are working closely with the Student’s Unions and Colleges to develop innovative ways of creating social and recreational opportunities and experiences for our students both on and off-campus.

Other work in progress

Colleagues around the University are working hard to understand the longer lasting implications of the Covid-19 crisis on all aspects of student life. For example;

  • We are continuing to support students to take online exams and make adjustments to policies including exceptional circumstances to reflect the difficult circumstances facing many of our students. We have also made changes to our support funding including the introduction of emergency support funding.
  • A special Research Contingency Group is looking at ways to accelerate the important research undertaken at the University of York, especially research contributing to a global recovery from this pandemic.
  • Final year students will be conferred with their degrees. The Graduation Team is working through options for a series of virtual graduation ceremonies and we’ll be issuing invitations to those ceremonies very soon, while of course anticipating that students will be able to return to campus for a graduation celebration with their friends and family at a later date.
  • The Academic Support Office is working on ways to assist departments to provide additional academic support for our first and second year students, to help them to progress smoothly onto their next year of study.
  • Careers and OPPA (our Alumni Office) are working on ways to improve the employability prospects for all students and especially those who will graduate this year. Our unique York Strength programme will move online from next week and will be open to all taught students.
  • Student support services continue to develop and expand the support for the physical and mental wellbeing of our students wherever they are in the world.
  • Our estates and accommodation services are working through what life on-campus for returning students will look like if social distancing measures remain in place.

Our planning for the start of term will evolve as the Covid-19 situation continues and the Government releases further information on their approach to easing restrictions. Our priority remains the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and students. We will continue to review our plans and update you as we learn more about what may or may not be possible come September. In the meantime I hope you are keeping safe and well.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery