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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 12 November 2020

Dear colleagues and students,

Key Points

  • We have now received government guidance on student movement and plans for the end of term
  • Our plans will allow and support students who wish to travel home to do so between 3-9 December, unless they have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been asked to self-isolate
  • Teaching at the University of Exeter will move fully online after Friday 4 December until the end of term, with the exception of teaching activities requiring specialist spaces or facilities where online provision is not possible 
  • Social and sports activities will not be allowed to restart when the national lockdown period ends on 2 December
  • The government is making additional testing capacity available and we will ensure all those who want a test before returning home can get one
  • We await further guidance on the return to campuses in January and we will keep you updated
  • We must all continue to observe the current national lockdown restrictions

Full message

As you will have seen from media coverage over the last few days, we have now received guidance from the Department for Education on student movement and plans for the end of term. You can read the full guidance here.

This is an important issue for students and their loved ones, for universities and their staff, and for the country as a whole, and enabling students to travel home at the end of the term should they wish to do so has been a priority for the government and for the University for some time.

The guidelines describe how universities should support this process and we will be working hard over the next few weeks with our local government and health partners to ensure that students who have been living away from home are able to return home at the end of term, if they wish to do so. We will keep you updated throughout on our plans and the processes we will be putting in place.

In providing this guidance we also recognise that it is not applicable to all in our community.

A large number of our students live in Exeter and Cornwall permanently and will not be planning to travel over the Christmas period. I want to reassure those students that we will continue to provide support for you throughout this time, as we work together to ensure that everyone in our community can enjoy a safe and restful break.

Today I want to outline our plans as they currently stand.

Travel

The government is asking that, once the current national lockdown ends on 2 December, students who wish to travel home do so in a ‘student travel window’ lasting from 3-9 December. This excludes students who are already undertaking a period of isolation at the start of the travel window, those who subsequently test positive, or those who have been notified by the NHS Test and Trace system that they should self-isolate, who should wait until their period of isolation is completed before travelling home.

Students who live outside the UK can also return home outside of the specified student travel window, subject to any restrictions in place at their destination. However international students may have additional restrictions on travel to their destination, and may find that there is difficulty in booking flights to and from some destinations. We advise you to check the government’s ‘Travel advice: coronavirus (COVID-19)’ guidance and also the guidance on ‘Entering the UK’ to ensure you are able to plan your return. If students do travel overseas, they should consider the restrictions on entry to the country in question, such as whether they would need to undertake a period of self-isolation in that country, and whether they would need to self-isolate when they return.

Our interpretation of the travel guidance as it relates to postgraduate research students is that they will be classed as researchers and therefore there is no expectation that they should travel only during the student travel window of 3-9 December.

Students who are unable to travel or who choose to stay on campus for any reason will be able to access support throughout the Christmas period. Research-only students (eg PhD students) who are staying to continue their research will also be supported.

We will provide advice on safe travel in future updates and on our COVID-19 website.

Teaching

To enable students to travel home during this period, universities have been asked to move all teaching online by 9 December. For University of Exeter students, this means that after Friday 4 December, we will move all teaching online with the exception of teaching activities requiring specialist spaces or facilities where online provision is not possible, which will continue until 8 December. All teaching after 8 December will be online.                                                  

Timetables will be updated to reflect this, so you will know in advance how this will affect your scheduled classes and you will be able to make plans to travel home once your face-to-face teaching has concluded for Term One. This applies to all undergraduate and postgraduate taught students.

Healthcare students who are on placements are considered essential workers and should therefore remain in their placements until the end of term and Programme Directors will provide further details. They can then travel home for the holidays, following the public health guidance.

There will be no change to the way in which postgraduate research students are currently engaging with their studies. They will continue to be able to access on-campus research facilities, offices and study spaces.

The government has made it clear that universities cannot restart any social, extra-curricular or sporting activity when the period of national lockdown restrictions end on 2 December.

Testing

To ensure that students can have reassurance before they travel home, the government is making additional testing capacity available to universities, especially for those in areas where there is currently a high level of COVID-19 infection. This testing will be available from 30 November. The rates in and around our campuses in Exeter and Cornwall are relatively low at this moment. We are working with government to ensure we have sufficient capacity and we will ensure that all students who want a test can get one, as we have done throughout Term One.

Testing is not mandatory, but we encourage those wishing to travel home and who want to be aware of their COVID status to get a test, to be able to give reassurance to those they are travelling to be with.

  • The government is advising those who test negative for COVID-19 in the period from 3 December to 9 December to return home as soon as possible during the student travel window.
  • Students who test positive will be required to self-isolate in their current location for a period of 10 days and will be unable to travel during those ten days. We will work to support you throughout any period of self-isolation, after which you will be able to travel home if you wish to.
  • Students who are identified as close contacts of someone who has tested positive must self-isolate for 14 days. New guidance is expected which may allow close contacts to continue their isolation at another address if they have received a series of negative test results.

We will provide further information next week on testing for those wishing to travel home. In the meantime anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate and contact the Rapid Response Hub in the usual way to request a test.

During the current lockdown period

Finally, for this plan to work, and for us to be able to ensure that everyone who wishes to is able to travel to be with friends and loved ones over the Christmas break, it is vital that we all observe the current national restrictions in place as part of the second national lockdown period. For students this means staying in your current accommodation and not leaving your term time address, except for specific purposes, including leaving home for education, during the period until 2 December.

As a community we have made big sacrifices and made a great deal of progress in getting our own COVID-19 cases under control. However, if we were to see a significant increase in cases over the next few weeks, is it clear that this will have a direct impact on our ability to travel home if and when we want to, and to have the Christmas break that we all want. We must all therefore redouble our efforts to prevent COVID-transmission.

It is vital that students minimise the chances of bringing COVID-19 back home to friends and loved ones, who could be much more vulnerable. For students this means you should limit your social contacts as lockdown ends and you prepare to travel home. The more we socialise, the greater the risk of us and those around us contracting coronavirus.

Next steps

Every year a number of students choose to stay on our campuses for Christmas. We will continue to support those who choose to do so, and we will shortly circulate a survey for you to let us know if this is your intention so we can plan our support for you.

We await further guidance from government on planning a safe return to university campuses in January. We will update you on our plans as soon as we are able to.

We will provide further updates via email over the next two weeks. Please pay close attention to these emails and share them with anyone you may be planning to travel to stay with over the Christmas period.

Once again I would ask you to continue to take care of yourselves and others, and to access support if and when you need it by visiting our Wellbeing pages. We have made great progress together and I am confident that we can continue to do so.

Best

Mike

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary