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New principles set out for university emergence from lockdown

Universities UK have released nine principles to help universities with emerging from lockdown.

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Image Credit: Patrick Hook-Willers

The report helps to shed light on how universities will look in a post-lockdown world, and what universities are to consider in preparing for re-opening their campuses.

The report by Universities UK begins by setting out why the re-emergence of universities after lockdown is so crucial, citing that “the UK’s world-leading universities transform lives, enrich local communities, drive regional and national economic growth, and improve society and social justice.” The summary, therefore, immediately points out just how “imperative” it is that universities do emerge from lockdown, and also that they do so “safely” and “in line with guidance from governments, public health advice and health and safety legislation.”

The considerations set out by the report, which was published on 3 June, are not set out as a list of strict rules for universities to follow. Instead, the report aims to give higher education institutions “key considerations, resources and advice to support them in meeting each individual principle”, and act as a “framework” for the safe reopening of university campuses across the UK.

The 20 page document then sets out nine key principles put forward by Universities UK. As earlier stated, these principles range from assessment and mental health, to the hygiene of physical spaces and the support of international students.

On the latter of these, principle five of the report highlights that “universities will develop effective processes to welcome and support international students and staff, including throughout any self-isolation period.”

In discussing how universities can consider this issue post-lockdown, the report lays out various examples, such as “how to source or provide accommodation, support and facilities for international students to complete their self-isolation period”, “what actions are needed to ensure international students understand the UK health system and what to do if they fall ill (including if they display symptoms of Covid-19)”, and crucially, “what support is needed for international students experiencing online teaching and learning, including technological support and welfare support (and how to account for different time zones).” Due to how pivotal international students are both socially and economically for universities, it is not a surprise that the report sets out clear considerations for how their university experience is affected and how the issues within this can be mitigated.

Additionally, something perhaps more surprising is the report’s focus on student wellbeing, and the need for universities to “regularly review the welfare and mental health needs of students and staff and take steps to ensure preventative measures and appropriate support are in place and well communicated as restrictions are eased.” This principle should ease the minds of many students whose mental health has already been severely affected by the pandemic, and it is refreshing to see this addressed in the report.

Something which students have also been struggling with during lockdown is teaching and assessments, and the changes that have had to be made to these - which have, consequently, caused rampant worry and stress amongst students. On this, the report outlines that “universities will review their teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that there is the required flexibility in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students to achieve their learning outcomes in a safe manner.” Some examples for consideration on teaching and assessment are as follows: “where the delivery of high-quality and accessible online provision might be appropriate and what steps are required to address digital poverty, and to support those who lack access to suitable study space at home”, “how to meet the needs of students who are unable to travel, or are abroad, but want to access provision online”, and finally, “exploring new ways of delivering in-person teaching that adheres to guidelines on social distancing.”

This demonstrates the importance to bring physical teaching back to campuses, especially for subjects that require practical spaces for learning, such as performance and science degrees, but in a way which still “adheres to guidelines on social distancing.” This could potentially mean fewer students per group, or meeting in rooms larger than they would have usually occupied.

The trend amongst the principles is the issue of health and hygiene, with principles one, six, and seven discussing this issue. These principles will be crucial in ensuring that university campuses remain safe spaces for students and staff alike.

Nouse contacted the University for their response on the report, asking if they will ensure the principles set out by Universities UK are enacted at York, they told us:

"The report highlights nine key principles and the working group in charge of opening up our campus will be using these to shape our implementation plan. We know student life is a vital part of the university experience and we are working closely with the student unions and colleges to develop innovative ways of creating social and recreational opportunities for our students on and off-campus.

“Our planning for the start of term will evolve as the Covid-19 situation continues and the Government releases further information on their approach to easing restrictions.”

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