Tuesday 5 January 2021

All students email

Important update 5 Jan 2021 : Latest UK restrictions and national lockdown

Dear students

I am writing about the latest UK Government announcement about new lockdown restrictions in England. The Government announcement responds to growing evidence on a new variant of Covid, the concerning growth in positive Covid cases nationally, and the pressures this is bringing to the UK’s National Health Service - NHS.

We know the lockdown announcement is unsettling news, especially as different announcements from the Government and Department for Education have arrived in quick succession. We recognise that these changes can appear confusing, and mean it’s hard for you to make decisions and know what’s best for your personal circumstances.

The most important thing is that your safety and wellbeing remain our priority.

For students in York

For those of you who are currently in York, already making the journey, or with travel and accommodation plans which can’t be changed, we are here to welcome and support you. You can continue with your plans as they are and we will update you with what we have put in place to keep you safe and keep your studies on track, including arrangements for your teaching and learning.

I’d like to reassure everyone that the University is not closed. Study spaces, the Library, accommodation, our on-campus supermarkets, on-campus catering (including takeaway service), and student support services all remain available.

For students yet to return or arrive in York

If you have not yet made your way to York or are still making your travel plans, we will fully support you to study online from your current residence.

As we have said before, there are exceptions to the guidance in the Government message of ‘stay at home’ in the UK: students who feel their physical and mental wellbeing will be better served by returning to York may do so, and students who do not have adequate study facilities at home (eg good wifi, computer equipment or study space) may also return.

For students in university owned, managed or approved accommodation, we’ll be in touch directly about the impact of this new guidance, including questions on rents, which I know some of you have already asked about.

For our international students starting your course in January, we will understand if you need to change plans to travel to York. We will fully support you to study online, or if you still wish to, and are able to join us, we look forward to welcoming you. For students awaiting booking information from Hainan Airlines, we will be in touch as soon as we have had an update from the airline on flights.

Impact on in-person teaching over the course of Spring Term

To be clear, the Government has required us to change our teaching plans. Only a specific set of courses identified by the Government - at York these are Medicine, Nursing and Midwifery, PGCE courses in Education and Social Work - will start the term as we had planned, with a blend of online and in-person teaching.

The Government advises that we cannot allow students on other programmes to return to in-person teaching before mid-February at the earliest, and Government officials’ media appearances even this morning suggest a more realistic assessment is that this will be extended, likely into March and for us, through to the end of term.

To offer some level of stability to our students, we have made the very difficult decision that all classroom-based teaching activity will be delivered online for the entirety of the Spring Term. We hope to be able to provide in-person teaching using specialist teaching spaces (eg lab and performance spaces), subject to further Government guidance, later in the term.

We want to be upfront with you and offer you clarity and consistency for this whole term. This decision has not been taken lightly, as we know students have a preference for in-person teaching, but we also recognise the desire for a period of stability as we tackle the pandemic given the new variant of this virus and the need to support the national effort to suppress transmission.

Some important detail, acknowledgements and flexibility:

  • We know that moving to online only for classroom-based teaching will have different implications for different subjects/disciplines and we will work closely with Departments to understand the impact and we may need to find alternative ways to meet your programme learning outcomes.

  • Whilst we understand that there are a number of pressing concerns for students, we recognise that those related to final year projects (UG and PGT) are particularly challenging. We are working hard to identify ways to prioritise resumption of these projects as soon as possible, in line with health and safety considerations and UK Government guidance.

  • In addition, we know that some programmes in Sciences and Arts & Humanities are dependent on the use of specialist teaching spaces. We are exploring opportunities to prioritise the resumption of in-person teaching activities in these specialist spaces as soon as possible, again in line with health and safety considerations and UK Government guidance.

I appreciate you will have many other questions, including questions on adjustments and assessments, and we will be addressing these issues in the coming days and sharing further communications.

I also know that many of you were hoping for a return to more on-campus activity in 2021, but the new Government guidance makes it very clear the steps we all need to take while the vaccination programme is rolled out. We are also exploring additional ways to amplify our provision of academic, social, pastoral and wellbeing and employability initiatives.

Thank you for your patience and understanding. We have a lot of detail to work through, with further guidance still to come, and as soon as we have more clarity, I will be back in touch. Your Departments will also be in touch with further information on timetabling and other related matters.

Best wishes