Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff - 31 December 2020
I hope you have had a restful break so far and I would like to extend my thanks to those colleagues who have worked during the closure period.
I am writing to give you a brief update following the announcement by the Government of further measures to respond to the changing COVID-19 situation across England. Some of these changes have a direct impact on our plans for the beginning of the Spring term and in particular the return of students to our campuses.
I have written separately to our students and colleagues and you will be able to access a copy of this communication from the COVID-19 website shortly.
Due to concern about the spread of the new variant of COVID-19, and the increased national case numbers, the Government has set out further steps to reduce the mass movement of students across the country over the coming weeks. Yesterday we received a letter from the Minister of State for Universities setting out further guidance for the January return requesting additional restrictions.
I will update you in full on 5 January. In the meantime the key points to note are as follows:
- The Government has asked universities to restrict the number of students returning to campus at the beginning of term to those studying in the following subject areas:
- Medicine & dentistry
- Subjects allied to medicine/health (including Nursing and Medical Imaging)
- Veterinary science
- Education (initial teacher training)
- Social work
- Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled. We are working with academic departments to determine which courses are included and will provide further clarification in the update next week
- We have been asked to delay the start of in-person teaching for all other students until the week beginning 25 January at the earliest, in order to delay the movement of students across the country. The Government will review this decision in the week commencing 18 January and will then offer updated guidance on the staggered return to in-person teaching for further students.
- This means that some in-person teaching planned for the week beginning 11 January will need to be moved online. The cohorts most likely to be affected by this change are new Postgraduate Taught (PGT) students and Undergraduate students on degree programmes with placement or practical elements, other than those subject areas listed above.
- Timetables will be updated by the end of next week to reflect these changes.
- Examinations will begin on 4 January as planned. All exams will be online.
- The Minister also made it clear that students could return to university in order to access study spaces and support if they are:
- International students who have remained in the UK, or those who have arrived and do not have alternative accommodation
- Students without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities in their vacation accommodation
- Students who have remained in their university accommodation over the winter break
- Those requiring additional support, including those with mental health issues
- Students on placements where the placement provider has COVID-secure measures in place, is permitted to open based on the relevant local restrictions and is content for placements to continue.
- Students who commute from their permanent home to study on our campuses should not access campus facilities unless they are eligible for one of the above exemptions.
- Government has also advised international students travelling from overseas for the Spring term to consider whether it is necessary to travel to the UK at this time, particularly if their course does not require them to be on campus until later in January. Such students should consider delaying their arrival if their travel plans can be rearranged without undue costs.
- Government have confirmed that postgraduate research (PGR) students will be considered on the same basis as members of staff. Where they are able to work from home they should do so, unless they require access to specialist facilities, including laboratories and libraries, for their work. PGR students who do not have access to suitable space at home can use on-campus study facilities.
Staff return to work
- Colleagues who were scheduled to be working on our campuses from Monday should continue to do so. Government has confirmed that staff required to operate essential campus services are considered essential workers. However, if you are able to carry out your work from home then you may wish to continue to do so. If you have concerns or need support regarding your return to work, please discuss these with your line manager in the first instance.
- We will be offering asymptomatic tests to staff working on our campuses from 4 January.
- Devon and Cornwall have both now moved into Tier 3 of the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions. This will mean further restrictions on meeting those from outside of your household or support bubble, and the closure of hospitality venues other than for takeaway services. Full details of the restrictions in place under Tier 3 are available here.
In the meantime, to minimise the risks to ourselves, our loved ones and those around us, we must all continue to observe the COVID-19 restrictions, and follow the relevant local tier guidance at all times.
Understandably, many of you will not be checking your email over the break, and this update should not affect your plans for resuming work after the break. I will update you further on 5 January. Until then I wish you a peaceful few days and a Happy New Year.
Registrar and Secretary