UK universities outline plans for the next academic year

Universities UK published a set of guidelines this week for universities as they emerge from lockdown, in an effort to support institutions and provide transparency for students.  

“We are allocating students from the same courses into accommodation in groups”

Speaking at a briefing to outline the guidelines, Liz Barnes, vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, explained that students may have to live with others on their course to minimise mixing. 

“We are allocating students from the same courses into accommodation in groups and we are looking at block timetabling so that students in a year group come in together and we minimise movement around campus, so when we describe the bubble that’s what we mean,” she said. 

President of UUK and vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, professor, Julia Buckingham, confirmed that her university would offer an optional January start for international students who are not able to travel in September.

The UUK guidelines have been designed for individual universities to “adapt to their own institutional settings and contexts”. 

The organisation stressed that they are not a set of prescriptive rules, but a framework that can be considered alongside government advice, public health resources and expertise from the global higher education sector. 

Principles for emerging from lockdown include universities making changes to their layout and making sure flexibility is in place to deliver a high-quality experience. 

The guidelines also recommended that universities consider the delivery of “high-quality” blended learning or hybrid teaching models, with a mix of online and face-to-face methods, where appropriate.

“We welcome the principles for emerging from lockdown published today by Universities UK on behalf of the sector, setting out key considerations for universities as they work hard to develop plans to reopen safely for students and staff,” said Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group.

“While our universities will take an individual approach based on their specific situation and needs, all are united by the determination to continue providing the best possible experience for every student. 

“As we emerge from the current crisis, graduates and postgraduates will be at the heart of our economic and social recovery. In uncertain times, one of the most valuable assets individuals can have is a high-quality education, and this is what our universities are focused on delivering,” Bradshaw added.

Students need clarity as to what they can expect from the next academic year”

However, as students approach the June 18 deadline where they must make a decision about whether to join a university, the National Union of Students has said that students must know more about what they are signing up for come September.

Students need clarity as to what they can expect from the next academic year in order for them to make informed choices and all staff must continue to be paid regardless of this decision,” said Claire Sosienski Smith, NUS vice-president (Higher Education).

“It is important that universities do not try to carry on with ‘business as usual’ plans and do not attempt to bring students and staff members back onto campuses too early. 

Sosienski Smith said clear decision-making is needed to combat the chaos that Covid-19 has brought to the education system, as are answers to how education is going to be facilitated to over seven million students. 

She said that the government should introduce a student safety net including funds to allow all students to redo this year at no extra cost, or have their tuition fees reimbursed or written off. 

Sosienski Smith also called for the government to “move quickly” to work with the higher education sector to ensure that all students are able to receive quality education next year and have the resources they need to engage with online learning.

“Students must be consulted with as part of this process and it is crucial for universities to work with their students’ unions to facilitate the reopening of campuses when it is safe to do so.”

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