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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff and students - 20 October 2020

Dear Students and Colleagues,

Key points:

  • The number of new Covid-19 cases continue to fall in Exeter. Case numbers in Cornwall remain low.
  • We must not be complacent. The virus is not going away and will require all of us to follow public health advice for the long-term.
  • Student society activities are safely stepping up in Cornwall and a safe and controlled return to indoor sports is being investigated in Exeter by the Athletic union.
  • Close to 3000 students responded to the teaching and learning pulse survey and in the circumstances the feedback is encouraging. 82% said they felt progress with their studies was ‘very good’, ‘quite good’ or ‘average’.
  • A huge thank you to all staff and students involved in and supporting teaching and learning.
  • PHE guidance on travel during term time is that the best option is to remain at University in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
  • Nothing is more important than your mental health and wellbeing and there are links below to student and staff wellbeing resources and support. 

Full message:

Update on cases and Covid-19 measures

There is good news this week that the number of new positive Covid-19 cases are beginning to fall in Exeter and we are beginning to contain the outbreak. The latest information on the Devon County Council website shows that in the 7 days up to 17th October there were 199 cases in Exeter with the majority within the university community. Dr Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health for Devon says that we have seen a “successful reduction in student cases with no sign of significant spread thanks to the swift actions of the University and other partners in working together to contain the situation.”

But we must not be complacent. The pandemic is not going away and therefore we must adapt and expect to change the way we live, work, study and socialise for the long-term. The last few weeks have shown us that we can prevent the spread of Covid-19 by following the advice of public health experts – give people space who are not in your household, wear a mask in crowded spaces and wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. If you have symptoms, get a test and isolate. If you test positive isolate for at least 10 days.

I know this can be difficult particularly for our younger students away from home for the first time in a difficult and unfamiliar social situation. We are acutely aware of the impact on mental health and wellbeing and the restrictions on social life so integral to university life. The upside though if we stick to the rules is that we can enable more social interaction, support more society activities and offer more teaching on campus.

The Students’ Union in Cornwall has already started to step up society activities whilst the Students’ Guild continues to work in partnership with the University to plan to restart Covid-secure society and indoor sport activity with further updates to follow, and the Athletics Union has announced a safe and controlled return to indoor sports. Living in the Covid-19 pandemic does not have to define us and there is so much we can do if we follow the guidelines. I know that so many of you are and I hope that you can help us persuade your friends and peers who are not to act for the good of the wider community. You may also have seen in the media over the weekend that the police issued fines to several students in our halls for breaking the Covid-19 rules and this does a huge disservice to the vast majority of our students who are abiding by the rules. We cannot and will not allow a minority of students to damage your and our standing in the wider community.

Pulse survey on teaching and learning

I want to thank all those students – close to 3000 – who recently responded to the pulse survey on teaching and learning. The percentages below are based on all those who gave a rating as some gave a ‘not applicable’ response. 

  • 82% said they felt that progress with their studies was ‘very good’, ‘quite good’ or ‘average’ and 18% said ‘quite poor’ or ‘very poor’. Most students chose ‘average’ (40%) or ‘quite good’ (37%).
  • 65% of students said their experience of in-person teaching was ‘very good’, ‘quite good’ or ‘average’ and 7% said ‘quite poor’ or ‘very poor’. (28% of students answered ‘not applicable’).
  • 81% of students said their experience of online live teaching was ‘very good’, ‘quite good’ or ‘average’ and 18% said ‘quite poor’ or ‘very poor’. (1% of students answered ‘not applicable’).
  • 90% of students rated the lecturer and academic support as ‘very good’, ‘quite good’ or ‘average’ and 4% said ‘quite poor’ or ‘very poor’.

I want to thank everyone involved in learning and teaching and those supporting teachers and students for their extraordinary efforts so far this year. These results are only a snapshot but give us a sense of the progress we are making and the remarkable adaptability and resilience of our learning community of students and staff. The individual comments give more insight into both the enjoyment and challenges that students are experiencing. There are not many surprises in that many students want more face to face teaching and have really benefitted from the classroom interaction, saying that it has helped them feel more included and part of the learning community. There is also praise for the complementary role of online teaching and materials. It is very early days of course but we will provide more detailed results to college leaders as well as conduct a complementary qualitative survey this week and a repeat of the pulse survey in week 7 or 8.

Travelling home in term time

Finally, I wanted to respond to recent enquiries about students travelling home during term time. We have sought advice from Public Health England (PHE) and their guidance to students is that the best option is to remain at University in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission locally, nationally and internationally. However, if you need to travel home and are not self-isolating or showing symptoms then you can do so if you adhere to current Government advice. If you are self-isolating or have symptoms then PHE have made it clear that you must remain in your current accommodation to complete your period of self-isolation.

You should know that the Government are currently advising not to travel into and out of areas which are designated as in the ‘high’ or ‘very high’ tiers (2 and 3). This means that if you travel from Devon or Cornwall, currently in the ’medium’ tier (1), to somewhere which is in one of the higher tiers, you will need to adhere to the guidance that applies in that area, and there may be restrictions on travelling back.

Support

We know that the current restrictions and situation is affecting people’s mental health and wellbeing in many different ways and so I just want to urge you to seek support whenever you need it. Every one of us will have a different perspective on the Covid-19 pandemic and react in a variety ways to the restrictions and measures. Nothing is more important than your health and wellbeing so please access the resources we have available for staff and students. Supporting each other is at the core of our university community.

Best

Mike

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary