Universities today defended their decision to offer some face-to-face teaching despite concerns a return to campus could fuel coronavirus cases.
Both institutions say they are following Government safety guidance and will be implementing a range of Covid-secure measures. This will include getting people to wear face masks in many indoor spaces, operating one-way systems and social distancing rules for social activities.
All lectures will initially be delivered online-only, but some smaller group work and practical sessions will be face-to-face, providing students can keep two metres apart. And freshers’ week is likely to involve virtual activities.
At Staffordshire University, many students will also be living in ‘bubbles’ with people from the same degree course or academic school. The new arrangements in halls of residence are aimed at limiting the potential spread of the virus.
But the University and College Union (UCU) has called for all teaching to be moved online for the first term and plans to reopen campuses to be scrapped.
Its general secretary, Jo Grady, claimed students turning up en masse to universities across the country could be a ‘recipe for disaster’. The 18-to-34 age group now accounts for most of the new coronavirus cases in communities.
Keele and Staffordshire universities both confirmed they are not planning to regularly test students for Covid-19, but they will be offering extra support and promoting key safety advice.
Anyone who has symptoms will be urged to self-isolate and given details of how to book a test. A Staffordshire University spokesman said students living with them will also be advised to isolate as a precaution.
At Keele, labs will operate at no more than 25 per cent of their maximum capacity, with students visiting in shifts. In toilet blocks, there will be a ‘one in, one out’ policy.
Both universities are also offering international students 14 days of free accommodation if they are living on campus and need to quarantine when they arrive. These students will also be picked up from the airport and given basic essentials, such as bedding, kitchen equipment and food while they are self-isolating.
Keele vice-chancellor Trevor McMillan said: “The safety and well-being of our students, staff and the local community is our highest priority, and we want to assure you that activities will only take place on campus where it is safe to do so.”
There will be a five-stage reopening plan, which will gradually see more and more student services at Keele offered face-to-face. But it is set to take a full year to return to ‘business as usual’.
If a local lockdown happened, the university could implement stricter restrictions.
Martin Jones, deputy vice-chancellor of Staffordshire University, also stressed ‘every possible measure’ has been taken to keep its campuses safe.
He added: “We have also worked closely with our students’ union to create a tailored calendar of extra-curricular activities, enabling students to make friends and enjoy our vibrant social scene in a Covid-secure manner.”