I’m writing following the announcement yesterday of the Government’s roadmap to ease lockdown restrictions in England and updated guidance from DfE for higher education.
This enables us to make plans for the coming months, as we work towards the Government’s ultimate aim for all restrictions to be lifted by the end of June.
There are many uncertainties around the Government’s timetable, but the roadmap certainly helps us look ahead with a degree of optimism. I know many colleagues will be pleased that schools will reopen from Monday 8 March and will be looking forward to the relaxation of further restrictions over the next weeks.
Reference to universities in the Government’s announcement was focused on the confirmation that in-person teaching and learning can resume from Monday 8 March on courses which require access to specialist equipment and facilities. Tracy Lightfoot, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students, is working with Departments on a limited number of courses which will resume in-person activities from 8 March. But because this is so close to the end of the Spring Term, most students on these courses will resume in-person teaching after Easter. Of course, any in-person teaching that goes ahead at different stages will do so with stringent Covid risk mitigations.
The Government has said it will review whether in-person teaching on other, classroom-based courses can resume after Easter by the end of the Easter holidays, with a week’s notice for any return. The Academic Contingency Group is working on guidance for Departments to enable them to plan for Summer Term teaching activities.
We anticipate that the Government’s review over Easter will depend both on the general tests it has set out, but also the latest picture on campuses, including the take up of rapid-results testing as restrictions start to ease. I have written to students again today to emphasise the importance of testing. For everyone - staff and students - who visits campus regularly, we advise having two tests a week, three days apart.
Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, has also written to students, updating them on the roadmap and with a message that the Government is keen to get students back to in-person teaching safely and as soon as possible.
Our Research Contingency Group is working through the implications of the new guidance, with the aim of maintaining a safe working environment for research (PGRs, research staff and technicians), while increasing capacity for research activity on campus and examining the implications for fieldwork.
Our gradual return to campus
The Government guidance remains clear that you should continue to work from home if you can. We’ll be using the roadmap to consider how, over time, we can resume more activities on campus, but safety remains our priority. So reduced building occupancies will continue and our departmental Covid-19 risk assessments and protocols, now focused on the additional transmissibility of the new variant, remain under review.
As I have stressed to our students, it is possible that the Government’s timetable for easing of restrictions may change, so we will need to proceed cautiously. The Government is planning to review the situation every few weeks, and will only confirm the move to the next planned stage following each review. It may well be that the timetable is delayed if the various tests the Government has set are not met.
So please be patient. We may not be able to do all that we would like as early as we would like. As ever, I will keep you updated on changes in guidance based on the roadmap, and our responses. We can though look a little more positively to the future, both at work and in spending more time with friends and family as we take our steps out of lockdown.