I know many of you are busy working towards exams and assessments, with our common assessment period beginning on 17 May, and I wish you all the best for your preparations.
As you may have seen from the UK’s Prime Ministers announcement last night, 17 May coincides with the next stage in the Government roadmap and the country will be taking the next step out of restrictions.
This means up to six people or two households will be able to meet up indoors and up to 30 people outside, and I hope everyone will enjoy this step closer to normality. The announcement also included permission for in-person teaching to resume in classroom-based subjects. Unfortunately this has little impact for us at York as most teaching finishes on 14 May ahead of our assessment period.
I’d like to thank you all for being so conscientious in observing restrictions - Covid case rates in York and elsewhere remain low, and this is one of the main reasons why the Government is able to remove restrictions. We will all enjoy the significant ‘opening up’ from next week, but we should remain vigilant - keep getting tested (as the Government again stressed yesterday), meeting outdoors is still safer, and meeting indoors is safer with open windows.
After 17 May, the next stage on the roadmap is scheduled for 21 June, and could involve ending social distancing and almost all other restrictions. I am sure we all hope that will be the case. At that point, we will be approaching the end of our term (25 June) for many of our students.
Plans for Autumn 2021 (for students returning or arriving next year)
The removal of restrictions as we proceed on the roadmap is a positive sign as we look beyond June to the next academic year. We are now beginning our planning for the Autumn Term.
But I should say that while the Prime Minister and others have been bullish about the likely removal of restrictions on 21 June, other voices in Government - especially in the Department for Education - have been much more cautious, including suggestions that universities may face continuing restrictions at the start of the next academic year.
We will continue to press the Government for greater clarity and clear, early guidance. We do not want universities and students, once again, to look like an afterthought. We have been told, though, not to expect fuller guidance for September until the end of June. That leaves us with a period of uncertainty. Our response is to develop two scenarios for how teaching and learning on campus might look in September:
This second scenario responds to the caution we are hearing from the Department for Education, but also would give us a carefully considered plan to use in case there were a Covid surge in the autumn that forced us back into restrictions. In both scenarios, the norm will be in-person teaching and we will expect students to be present in York.
We recognise that international travel may still be disrupted in September. I am sure we have all been shocked and distressed by the course of the pandemic in other parts of the world, in particular India. Against that background we will do all we can to support international students to come here.
So we will explore chartering flights from key destinations, as we did last year. We can confirm that we will cover Covid-related post-arrival costs, including testing packages and ‘red-list’ (that is airport hotel) quarantine costs. And all international students will have at least until 1 November 2021 (beginning of Week 6) to join us on campus. Even with this support, it may be that students from some places may not be able to get to the UK by then, so some of our academic departments may continue online-only teaching beyond 1 November.
Work will go ahead in the next weeks in planning and timetabling the scenarios set out above, and we will update you in due course. I am sorry we cannot yet be more definitive, but we are dependent on the Government roadmap unfolding to plan, and on timely Government guidance.
In the meantime, please keep following the guidelines of hands, face, space and fresh air, and take part in regular testing. This is about taking care of yourselves, fellow students, staff on campus, and those in the communities around us - nothing is more important than that.