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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for students - 31 December 2020

Dear Students,

Key points

  • The Government has announced further measures to respond to the changing COVID-19 situation including requesting that the majority of university students across the country delay their return to campuses until their in-person teaching resumes
  • It is therefore recommended that only those students studying in the subject areas listed below, or those who meet the exceptional criteria listed below, should return to our Exeter and Cornwall campuses before 25 January
  • Examinations will begin as planned on 4 January. All exams will be online.
  • Online teaching will begin as planned on 11 January
  • Timetables will be updated by the end of next week to reflect these changes
  • Postgraduate research students are able to return to campuses where they require access to specialist facilities, collections or libraries
  • Devon and Cornwall have both been placed in national Tier 3 which means that hospitality venues will close and household mixing will be restricted
  • All students should take two COVID-19 tests as soon as they arrive in their term-time accommodation and before starting any in-person teaching, or using study or social spaces on our campuses. Links to book tests are below
  • We should all follow the updated regional restrictions carefully and restrict unnecessary contact with others to protect ourselves and those around us
  • I will update you further in a more detailed briefing on 5 January

Full message

I hope you have had a restful break so far and are looking forward to resuming your studies in the new year. I would like to welcome all those students who are joining us for the first time in January. We look forward to welcoming you to our Exeter community as soon as we can.  

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 to our campuses.

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 campuses 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 students who will have been planning to return to in-person teaching from the week beginning 11 January should now plan to study online at home until the week beginning 25 January. This will include new Postgraduate Taught (PGT) students and Undergraduate students on a number of 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. We will ensure that we are able to deliver the highest quality online teaching until we are able to restart our in-person sessions.
    • 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. Online study will be available for all students to support this.
    • 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.
    • 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. This means that students returning to Devon and Cornwall should not mix outside their households. Students should not return to campus teaching, study or social spaces until they have received two negative COVID-19 test results.

Testing in January

Students returning to our campuses should take two COVID-19 tests as soon as they arrive in their term-time accommodation and before starting any in-person teaching, or using study or social spaces on our campuses. Students who have remained on campus through the winter break should book and take two tests before returning to shared campus spaces.

If your first test is negative you should remain isolated from others until this can be confirmed by a second negative test result after 3 days. You should then continue to observe the COVID-19 restrictions and remain in your household bubble.

Our website has all the information you will need, including links to book your tests. Please read the information carefully and follow the instructions to book a test, depending on whether you are:

  • Arriving from the UK
  • Arriving from overseas
  • Remaining in your term-time accommodation throughout the winter break

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, acting responsibly before travelling back to campuses when the Government says this is possible, and following the relevant local tier guidance at all times.   You may be able to get a test locally before you depart a Tier 4 area.  Please take advantage of that if possible. 

Understandably, many of you will not be checking your email over the break. I would ask you to share this message with their peers, if the chance arises, so together we can ensure that as many members of our community as possible are made aware of the changes announced today.

I will update you further on 5 January. Until then I wish you a peaceful few days and a Happy New Year.

Best wishes



Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary