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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for students - 24 February 2021

Dear Students

Key points

  • The Prime Minister has announced the plan to gradually lift lockdown restrictions in England. This email details how this will affect us
  • Congratulations to those who have received January exam results. Results this year have been very strong which is a testament to you all
  • We are hosting a Q&A session on the ‘No Disadvantage’ guarantee tomorrow
  • There are no immediate changes to the current arrangements for research
  • Government has confirmed that from 8 March students on programmes that require specialist facilities can recommence face-to-face teaching. Further details are below
  • Government will make a decision in April as to when all remaining students may be able to return
  • It will be possible for students to continue to study remotely for the remainder of this term, should they need to
  • To enable the safe return to campuses it is essential that we continue to observe the COVID-19 restrictions and hygiene measures
  • Twice-weekly testing is expected for all students taking part in in-person activities or using any facilities on our campuses
  • Students who are living in University accommodation between 4 January and 19 June will only be required to pay their accommodation fees from the point when they return to their rooms
  • We await further Government guidance on the opening of sports facilities but we hope some will be able to open in April
  • Case numbers on our campuses remain low
  • Remember that wellbeing and mental health support is available to everyone wherever you are and that there are lots of events and opportunities to connect with others

Full message

On Monday the Prime Minister announced details of the plan to gradually lift the lockdown in England, with the current restrictions to be eased in phases with specific conditions that must be met before each further phase of easing can begin.

This signals that the end of the current lockdown period is in sight, and that if we are able to maintain our vigilance against the spread of COVID-19, we may be able to look forward to further restrictions being lifted in the Spring and Summer. The onus remains on all of us to continue strictly to follow the guidelines and to play our part in keeping each other safe.

I want to offer my congratulations to those of you who have received results from your January assessments.  Analysis has shown that these provisional marks (before the application of the ‘No Disadvantage’ guarantee at the summer Exam Boards) are broadly in line, and on average slightly higher, than the marks achieved during the same assessment period last year.  This is a fantastic endorsement of the hard work you have committed to your studies as well as the efforts of our academic and professional services colleagues to continue to deliver a first class education, despite the difficulties of the pandemic. My academic colleagues know that results in a small number of modules have been out of line with previous years and, through application of the ‘No Disadvantage’ guarantee by exam boards in the summer this will be corrected, as the guarantee FAQs state: “For example, should a module show a distribution of student attainment significantly below that of previous year groups, the APAC (exam board) will scale the cohort results to bring them into line with the attainment in years prior to the COVID-19 pandemic”.

If you have not achieved the results you hoped for, please do remember to reach out to your personal tutor or to the many colleagues who are here to help you if you need further advice or support. You can find links to wellbeing support on our website.

I would also like to remind you that, with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, we are hosting an online session on the ‘No Disadvantage’ guarantee tomorrow, 25 February, from 18.00 to 18.45. To join the event, please use this link, and to understand the background to the ‘No Disadvantage’ policy, please watch this video with Professor Tim Quine.

Lifting the current restrictions

As promised in my quick update on Monday, here is a fuller explanation of what this week’s announcement means for us.

Postgraduate Research (PGR) students

There are no immediate changes to the current arrangements for research.  PGR students will be able to continue approved research activity on-site (including the use of desk/study spaces where home-working is not possible) and in the field.

We will be investigating the possibility of restarting certain types of fieldwork and research with human participants when we progress to later phases of the roadmap. Current existing process for amending research activity and approval processes will remain in place.

Please remember that PGR students working on campus should get tested twice a week; and log in to SafeZone when on campus.

Teaching

The Government has confirmed that for now, only students on programmes that require specialist facilities will be able to recommence face-to-face teaching from 8 March. For the University of Exeter, this will mean that undergraduate and postgraduate taught students on the programmes listed below should check their timetables for further information about what in-person activity may recommence after 8 March:

  • Archaeology
  • Biosciences
  • Drama
  • Education (placements will continue as normal)
  • Engineering
  • Environmental Science
  • Geography
  • Geology
  • Maths and Computer Science
  • All College of Medicine and Health programmes
  • Mining Engineering
  • Natural Sciences
  • Physics and Astronomy
  • Renewable Energy
  • Sport and Health Sciences

We will work with Directors of Education in these subject areas and Public Health officials to determine what activity will restart on campus, as part of a blended education delivery.  Timetables will be updated by the end of next week to reflect these changes.  For activity that will be offered in-person from 8 March, the event description will change to ‘This activity will be on campus from 8 March to the end of term’.  The location of the activity will be visible to students and staff on the Friday evening in the week before the activity is due to take place.

Please look out for further communications and updated FAQs with more detail on the resumption of in-person teaching, and please see below for remote study options.

If you are returning for in-person teaching, you must get a test as soon as possible after you arrive back, and again 3 days later, then we expect you to take a test twice every week. Details of how to access tests are below.

When will other students be able to return?

A decision on when all remaining students may be able to return to universities will be made by the UK Government as part of the next phase of lockdown easing. Yesterday the Prime Minister suggested that this decision would be made “by the end of the Easter holidays”; however, we are hopeful that we may have clarity on the next steps by the week beginning 5 April.

Please remember that those students who require additional support, including those with mental health issues, may return to university sooner in order to access study spaces and support.

The Government has made it clear that progressing to subsequent phases of lockdown easing, including allowing all university students to return, is dependent on meeting specific conditions, including:

  • the continued success of the coronavirus vaccination programme
  • further evidence that vaccines are reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths and hospitalisations
  • infection rates which do not risk a surge in hospital admissions
  • new variants of the virus not changing the risks associated with lifting restrictions

It is therefore imperative that we continue to observe the existing COVID-19 restrictions, engage fully with testing programmes and maintain vigilance in COVID-19 hygiene measures, most notably observing social distancing, wearing face coverings and washing hands thoroughly and regularly.

You can find all the information you need on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 on our dedicated web pages.

Remote study

We all hoped that more of this academic year would be spent on campus than has been possible, but we also anticipated that there might be periods during which we would have to move our teaching fully online.  In preparing for that eventuality, we worked hard to make sure that students would be able to achieve their Intended Learning Outcomes, even if on-campus teaching was not possible. 

With this in mind, it will be possible for undergraduate students currently studying remotely to continue to do so for the remainder of this term, should they need to – this is true even for those students invited to resume in-person teaching after 8 March. 

For Postgraduate Taught students who started their studies in January, and who were already approved for remote study, you will be contacted directly by the Remote Study team very shortly to confirm your remote study status for the Summer term. Please look out for this email from the Remote Study team which will be sent by the end of this week.

If you are a Postgraduate Taught student who has not already been on remote study and would like to apply, please check the remote study FAQ page for how to apply.

Accommodation fees

Since 4 January 2021, when the Government asked students not to return to university campuses, we have operated a policy that students who have University or FX Plus accommodation, or whose accommodation contracts were arranged through the University with a nominated partner, need only pay for their room from the time they returned to live in their accommodation. We are committing to extending this accommodation fee waiver policy, even though some elements of the national lockdown will begin to be eased from 8 March.

For clarity, for the period from 4 January to 19 June 2021, students will only be required to pay their accommodation fees from the point when they return to their accommodation. 

Our FAQ pages will be updated shortly to reflect this.

Sports facilities

The Prime Minister announced that some outdoor sports facilities may be able to open from 29 March. We await further guidance from the national governing bodies as to what may be possible and we will update you in the next few weeks.

We will aim to open the outdoor swimming pool on Streatham Campus from 3 April and, if the second phase of lockdown easing is permitted, we will aim to open University gyms from 12 April.

Social gatherings

There has been no easing of the restrictions on social gatherings by the Government. We must all avoid mixing of households and be very aware of how having multiple bubbles can increase everyone’s potential exposure to COVID-19.  The rules remain the same and police will issue an £800 fine to each person who attends a house party or social gathering, including in halls of residence, of more than 15 people from outside their household.   These fines will double for each repeat offence to a maximum level of £6,400.

COVID-19 Case numbers

The overall rate of positive results on our campuses remains low however this week we have been managing a small cluster of cases in one particular hall of residence. Thank you to the students in this affected area for acting responsively.

The daily numbers of confirmed positive cases for students and staff can be found on our COVID-19 statistics web page. Data is available up to 21 February when the 7 day rolling daily average of positive cases was 3.6.

Book your free twice weekly tests

We expect everyone who is taking part in in-person activities or using facilities on our campuses to book free twice-weekly tests. If you are coming onto the campus irregularly, please get a test each time you come. As well as the major test site at the Streatham Sports Hall we now have a daily testing site at St Luke’s sports hall and a weekly pop-up site at Cornwall House so it should be easy to get a test wherever you are. In Penryn, twice-weekly testing is carried out in the sports hall.

Visit the student COVID-19 testing webpages for further information and booking forms.

Our community’s continued engagement with regular testing will be an important factor in any Government decision to open campuses further.

Play your part: Get regular tests and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

IF YOU HAVE SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19 THE TEST YOU NEED IS DIFFERENT  

Remember, if you develop COVID-19 symptoms, such as a high temperature, new continuous cough or a loss of taste/smell, you must self-isolate and request a HALO PCR test through our Rapid Response Hub.

Your wellbeing

Remember that our wellbeing services are available to support you whenever and wherever you need it. You can find all the details on our COVID-19 wellbeing web pages.

For students in Cornwall, remember that the President Elections are still open until midday tomorrow. Get engaged and make your vote count. It’s also the last chance for Exeter students to nominate in the Students’ Guild elections. Nominations close tomorrow at 16.00.

The Students’ Guild in Exeter continue to host a wide range of Get Connected events, and if you don’t see the one you want, why not apply for a Get Connected Grant and organise it yourself! Grants of up to £500 are available to fund events that provide students with the opportunity to make connections with others. The Students’ Union events are all accessible online too. Please join in if you can.

Best wishes

Mike

 

Mike Shore-Nye
Registrar and Secretary