Covid-19 update: latest Government guidance for universities
The latest Government announcement
As you know, in-person teaching has been restricted by the UK Government since January to specific degree programmes, as well as those requiring access to specialist facilities.
The Department for Education last night confirmed in-person teaching will not be available for other programmes - those with classroom-based teaching - until 17 May at the earliest. This is of course when the summer common assessment period begins for many of our undergraduate students, and when much of our scheduled teaching finishes.
I am extremely disappointed with both the decision and the length of time it has taken for the Government to provide this guidance. With others across the sector we have voiced our disappointment with the latest announcement at the highest levels.
I believe it is disrespectful to students to have left the announcement so late and the guidance appears to have little regard to student wellbeing. We know from our surveys of student opinion that the biggest boost to wellbeing will come from enabling students to spend time safely, in-person, with their friends and coursemates.
The Government has announced an additional £15m in hardship funding. While this is welcome - every little helps - it is to be spread across all universities in England and will make little practical difference. We will continue to provide hardship and emergency support funding, targeted at those most in need, at much higher levels than the Government has provided.
How this impacts on our Summer Term
We recognise that many students have remained in (or returned to) York and that others may decide to follow. So we have been working to provide more study spaces, sports opportunities and social spaces on campus for those students who are in or decide to return to York.
Academic departments and support services are exploring what optional in-person opportunities they will be able to offer for those on campus without, of course, disadvantaging any students who cannot be in York.
Students on courses which the Government has already identified as being able to continue with in-person teaching (including Nursing, Midwifery, Social Work, Teaching Training, Medicine, and those programmes that require access to specialist spaces), should continue to follow their Department’s timetable.
Monday 17 May sees the beginning of our three week common assessment period for many undergraduates, which runs until Saturday 5 June. As we have already confirmed, these assessments will be delivered online. Some departments will be offering additional teaching and learning activities after the assessment period and through to the end of the summer term.
We know that our final year undergraduates are disappointed by not having an in-person graduation this year (please be reassured you will have the opportunity of graduation ceremonies in Central Hall when it is safe to do so, probably in spring 2022). In the interim we are planning to host small scale departmental celebration events for our finalists towards the end of term in our safe outdoor venues - this will be, I hope, a welcome opportunity for those who can be in York to share experiences and achievements over the last year with their coursemates and tutors.
Bringing creativity to campus
For students not yet in York, whatever your degree programme, you are able to return to York any time if you feel that your current learning and living environment is unsuitable for effective study, or if being in York will be better for your wellbeing.
Even more teams across the University are looking forward to being back on campus - for example, I know our Open Door team, Student Hub and Careers are ready to welcome you to more in-person opportunities (as well as keeping online provision available) and the new, bookable outdoor meeting spaces we are creating are looking great in the Spring sunshine, including new initiatives like our pop-up park. YUSU will also be reopening the Forest and other outdoor venues.
Of course, we understand that some of our students are not in York and are unlikely to return this academic year for a variety of reasons. With the Government guidance indicating 17 May at the earliest, the University accommodation rent credit/rebate scheme will be extended to 17 May. It’s very important that you know we will continue to support you wherever you are continuing your studies during the Summer Term. We are one community, which will continue to work together and help each other, and we want to help make your University a welcoming environment wherever you may be.
Roadmap - keeping our resilience
It is good to see some of the lockdown restrictions easing as we move through the Government’s roadmap. But the Government has also made it clear that we must continue to meet the roadmap criteria if we are to progress to step 3 on 17 May, and move beyond it to the general removal of restrictions anticipated on 21 June.
The Department for Education has made it very clear that regular rapid results covid testing is an important part of this. We believe it is too, to help protect our whole community and each other, which is why we have set up such a comprehensive partnership with the City of York.
All students (and staff) making use of University facilities can and should get tested twice a week, 3 days apart. This is becoming easier and easier with home testing kits available in York, which you can collect from pharmacies, test centres and elsewhere in the city. You need to build testing into your routine. For me, I’ve been using the test centre in the sports hall twice a week till now, but yesterday picked up a stock of home test kits and now plan a twice-weekly swabbing session at the kitchen table with the rest of my family!
In addition to testing, we all need to follow the hands, face, space and fresh air guidance. Now we are able to socialise with friends again, it is easy to forget that while some restrictions have eased, others remain, and for good reason.
Covid is a respiratory virus which spreads easily inside where there is poor ventilation. It is vital that you remember to wash your hands, open windows, avoid sharing indoor space and physical contact with people who are not part of your household, and wear a mask when inside shared public spaces. Please remember that most staff and the vast majority of students have not yet had a vaccine and are not protected.
Nobody wants covid infection rates to increase and cause a return to extended restrictions, and nobody wants to cause transmission among our community on campus. Together, we need to work hard to keep the roadmap on track.
I look forward to seeing many of you on campus soon. It is, in the spring sunshine, looking glorious. Please do take care of yourselves and one another.