Keele University today revealed students will return to campus in September – but lectures are likely to remain online-only for months.
The five-stage reopening plan will gradually see more and more student services offered face-to-face. Yet is set to take a full year – until 2021/22 – to return to ‘business as usual’.
And if coronavirus infection rates start to rise again in North Staffordshire or nationally, measures could also be tightened up and a partial lockdown reintroduced.
Vice-chancellor Trevor McMillan said: “The safety and well-being of the Keele 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.
“Keele has always prided itself on providing an excellent student experience within a close-knit community, and we are committed to continuing to provide that high-quality experience, both in person and online.”
The plans were signed off by the university’s executive committee yesterday. They are also aimed at giving prospective students some reassurance amid fears they would miss out on the full academic and social side of university life.
University of Cambridge, for instance, recently announced all its lectures would be online only for the entire 2020/21 academic year.
At Keele, the hybrid model means lectures will be delivered remotely until ‘restrictions allow otherwise’. It is hoped ‘larger group sessions’ can resume during the year, although it depends on Government safety guidance.
Students will get some face-to-face teaching from September, such as seminars, small group work and practicals, as long as they can adhere to social distancing. They will also be allowed to do placements ‘where it is safe’ and go on field trips.
Teaching labs and seminar rooms are being transformed so they are ‘Covid-secure’, with new measures to keep students two metres apart.
Halls of residence will also be open from the start of term, although shared facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms will initially be limited to up to eight people. Effectively, students will become household ‘bubbles’ in the halls.
Other steps from the beginning of the academic year will include:
- ‘Virtual’ welcome events during freshers’ week and online student support, but with some socially-distanced activities so students can socialise with others;
- Opening takeaway food outlets and shops, along with limited library facilities;
- Phased return of research activities for both staff and postgraduate students, with priority initially given to funded and ‘critical’ research.
The university is currently at level four out of five, which means it has already eased some lockdown restrictions and is offering a small number of essential campus services. It is likely to be at level three on the sliding scale when the new term starts.
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Once it moves to level two, campus and student facilities will be back to full operation and accommodation will return to normal.
Level one means all physical classes will resume. But there will be a new ‘flexible digital delivery model’ running alongside this, which could mean some students choosing to access teaching resources online for parts of their course.
Professor McMillan added: “The approach allows us to adapt to changing advice from the Government and we will constantly review our delivery to be in line with official guidelines.”
Neighbouring Staffordshire University confirmed it will be announcing its reopening plans within the next week or so.