Roadmap to lockdown lifting
I hope this email finds you well and that you found my recent takeover of your weekly Things to Know updates useful. Thank you to students who joined YUSU’s recent webinars, where we were able to respond to your questions on a range of topics, including learning and teaching, student life and finances.
As the term progresses, we continue to listen to your feedback so we can understand how best to support you. I’d like to update you on our plans, remind you of the existing support on offer, and tell you about some new additions.
Roadmap to lockdown lifting
The UK Prime Minister plans to make announcements around the 22 February about the ‘roadmap’ for the lifting of restrictions, which may be gradual and phased.
What we know: Last week, the Government already announced that education settings in England will not begin to resume more in-person teaching until Monday 8 March at the earliest (as you will remember only a very small number of courses like medicine currently have any in-person teaching).
Even so, we don’t know yet what the guidance will be for universities for the remainder of the Spring Term or how the restrictions will ease.
We hope - if it is safe to do so, and if we are allowed - to resume in-person teaching for some additional groups of students before Easter, with those who need to urgently access specialist facilities, such as labs and performance studios, a first priority.
For classroom-based teaching, we confirmed back at the start of January that we won’t be holding in-person teaching until after Easter. Given that restrictions will not ease before 8 March at the earliest, and the very short window from then until the end of term (19 March for most courses), we believe this was the right decision and we hope it has offered you a period of consistency and stability amongst all the other upheaval.
We will be in touch with Summer Term plans when we know more about the lifting of restrictions and Government guidance for universities. Like many of you, we are very much looking forward to more in-person activity for those able to be in York, and exploring different ways of using campus facilities to connect you with students on your courses, and - if we are allowed - to reopen recreational and sports activities.
We are thinking about how we might use the Summer Term differently than a ‘normal’ year, to support students who are still unable to join us, to help you all catch up on things you have missed to supplement your online learning, as well as deliver our usual assessment period. We have made the difficult decision to move graduation ceremonies online in August this year for Covid safety reasons, but that will also give us the flexibility to use the Summer Term in that different way.
Testing now available on Campus East
I cannot stress enough that testing is such a critical part of enabling more in-person activity to take place safely.
We're now operating a pop-up testing centre on Campus East for free rapid results covid testing, available to all symptom-free students. Tests are available on Mondays and Thursdays, 10am - 2pm. Our Sports Centre site still operates 7 days a week. Please get two tests a week (three days apart) if you visit campus regularly. This should become part of your normal routine.
We know that these tests have already found more than forty cases where people didn’t have symptoms, breaking chains of transmission that could have led to hundreds more infections among students, but also among others you come into contact with, for example cleaning, library or security staff who may be more susceptible to serious illness.
We all need to make sure that we are not unknowingly contributing to any transmission of Covid-19, and we all need to play our part.
Connecting with other students
Some of you told us it has been difficult to meet other students during the pandemic, so we launched Student Connect to help match you with like-minded students and form new connections and friendships. It is for all students, including those living at home or outside York. Over 600 students have already signed up and I encourage you to consider taking part.
If you have accommodation on campus, I want to reassure you again that we will be offering a rent credit for those students who have followed government advice to stay at home. This will apply during the period from the start of term on 11 January until the current national lockdown measures are lifted.
We are pressing the Government to support students who rent privately in the same way. Together with our Student Unions, we have called on the UK Government to cover the rental costs of students who have followed government advice to stay at home during the current lockdown.
I am also working with our YUSU and GSA Presidents and York St John University on approaching private landlords to ask for their cooperation and compassion where possible.
This week, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has sent a letter thanking students. The Minister has also committed to a further £50m of hardship funding for students in England. This amounts to approximately £45 per head if it were spread equally across all students.
This simply isn’t good enough, and we will carry on challenging the Government to provide more support. In the absence of further Government funding, we will continue to support you as fully as we can with our own funding, including our next Emergency Student Support Fund, which will open on Wednesday 10 February.
Finally, do keep in touch with the Covid website for updates on topics that you are concerned about, for example, our guidance on our assessment support package or key things to know.
I hope you are keeping safe and well. Please look out for yourselves and each other.