Belatedly, a Happy New Year to everyone and while it hasn’t quite started as we might have hoped, it will start to get better at some point, I’m sure!
I think everyone is still processing the implications of last night’s announcement and there is still considerable uncertainty and ambiguity. We are awaiting detailed guidance from DfE – we’d hoped this would have arrived today. The best guess is that it won’t and it could be as late as Thursday. Given we are still waiting for the detail, I wanted to try to give you some sense of how we are looking to progress in terms of managing activity during and beyond lockdown. Much is still under discussion and the DfE guidance could change things, so for now please see this mostly as a direction of travel rather than a definitive position. There should be formal comms in the coming days.
Teaching and Learning
This is probably all pretty clear already, but we need to follow Govt guidance and that means that with our current understanding of the position, only the recognised exceptions can undertake face-to-face teaching (MBChB, ITT, SW). We don’t currently believe any of our students are covered by the specific provisions around PSRB/essential assessments; we do have a small number of students on placements. The Minister is supposed to be meeting PSRBs to discuss the implications for accreditation so we will get further information once this meeting has taken place. Effectively, we’re delivering our teaching in line with DfE Tier 4 until the next review (and so we presume nothing changes until Feb 22nd at the earliest). Education Executive has been discussing implications and is aware that it will need to have some detailed discussions with lab/practical subjects about how best to manage provision with a view to both graduation and continuation. I know there is massive uncertainty at the moment and we’re really just trying to keep an open mind around the last third of term 2 and term 3. We may need to look at options for flexibility in timings in a number of areas to enable lab/practical work to be completed and to enable assessment to happen in a timely fashion.
The general message to students will be that they need to follow the Government guidance and that discourages travel other than in certain circumstances (although not wholly clear what these mean in practice!). We think there are perhaps 1,200 students currently on campus and that we may have had 1000+ new international students who have arrived in anticipation of joining a blended programme at the start of term 2. We will need to support these students – they will be local but they will have limited access to facilities and some will be new to the UK. Other students should be able to continue to study from home, although many are likely to find this more challenging and we will also need to be sensitive to support needs for this group.
We are also looking at what needs to be done in relation to accommodation charges during lockdown when students are told that they cannot travel to campus. I think we know what we need to do in principle, but the precise implementation is complicated, so for now there will simply be a holding email to students to say we’re reviewing charging arrangements and will confirm changes shortly.
Although we are waiting for specific confirmation, our view is that research is critical work and should continue; researchers, including PhD students, will be able to work on campus if they are unable to work from home. Any on campus activity of this nature will continue to require appropriate risk assessments. (And that may mean that many of you will need to look again at your risk assessments).
Campus Testing Facilities
Both the PCR and LFD (asymptomatic) testing facilities will continue to operate. We have significant capacity for LFD (asymptomatic) testing and students involved in f2f teaching will be expected to get LFD tests as will other students who are on or using campus. Not only is the LFD facility open to staff there is also an expectation that those staff coming onto campus will do the same. (I don’t yet know how approval to use campus facilities will work in the medium term and it may be that the expectation of testing gets formally linked to approval to work on campus - but watch this space – there will be some more detailed guidance).
Critical activity and critical workers
In a meeting with representatives of employers and of the trades unions earlier today, DfE reiterated that HE staff are deemed to be critical workers for the purpose of accessing school places and that, like during the first lockdown, there is no requirement for both parents to be critical workers. However, it was noted that individual schools may decide that they require that both parents are critical workers as a way of prioritising access when there are limited places available.
In brief then – this is rather different and stricter than the November restrictions, but not quite as severe as the March lockdown and there will be more activity taking place. Many of the arrangements that operated as part of the campus re-opening will probably come back into play, but it may take a little while for some of the arrangements to be confirmed. But hopefully the above gives you something to be working with for the next couple of days.
Just quickly – two things I managed to omit from the earlier message:
- UCAS Application deadline extended to 29th January
- Perhaps more significantly, promotions application deadline also extended to 29th January to recognise that some colleagues may have final preparations disrupted and that you also may have your evaluation writing time disrupted. Applications can still be submitted to the original deadline if they are ready, but we wanted to allow a bit extra time to recognise exceptional circumstances. Could you let staff know – website will be updated shortly and this will also be announced in the formal HoDs bulleting later this week.
Professor Christine Ennew OBE