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University to remain online for most until after Easter break

An email to students this morning confirms all teaching will continue online except for students on exempt courses until the start of the Spring break on 29 March.

By Filiz Emily Gurer, News Editor

An email to students this morning confirms all teaching will continue online except for students on exempt courses until the start of the Spring break on 29 March.

The University-wide email addressing students states that the University of Bristol is ‘considering the possibility of a limited return to in-person activity/teaching from 8 March for any additional subjects/disciplines that specifically require in-person teaching in line with the latest Department for Education guidance’, and confirms that ‘schools have already been contacted to establish which particular programmes or cohorts this may include’.

The email from Bristol University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Experience, Professor Sarah Purdy, states that the University aims ‘to confirm this to those students affected this Friday 26 February’.

However, the email explains that ‘it is expected that blended learning will not restart for the majority of programmes until after the spring vacation (April 19)’, and that this will be subject to further Government and local PHE guidance and restrictions and will likely see a staggered return for programmes’.

Bristol University has said that students will receive specific updates from their Schools in the coming weeks and that it will confirm ‘in detail, as soon as [it] can [its] commitment to re-open student facilities such as sports facilities, catering, further study spaces and additional library spaces at the earliest opportunity permitted by Government and local public health advice’, but that in light of the Government’s ‘roadmap’, this be may at the start of the summer term.

In its email, the University reminded students of the need to continue to follow the ‘hands-face-space’ safety messages, to help efforts to ‘try and bring the spread of the virus under control’.

The email from the University comes in response to updated guidance for students from the government, issued on Monday, after the Prime Minister set out a four-step ‘roadmap to exit lockdown’,

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, Boris Johnson announced that schools and further education settings would be the first to reopen from Monday 8 March, in the first step of the plan.

The Government’s updated guidance confirms that all students on practical and practice-based courses who require access to specialist equipment or facilities can return to universities from 8 March 2021.

All other courses will for the time being continue to be taught online, with the Government stating it ‘will review, by the end of the Easter holidays, the options for timing of the return of remaining students’.

Whilst face-to-face teaching for university students on practical courses resumed in January, all other students have been waiting for updates as to when, if at all, in-person teaching for 2020-21 academic year will start back.

The government has advised that ‘students and providers will be given a week’s notice ahead of any further return’ and that universities ‘should not offer in-person teaching before ‘the end of the Easter holidays’ , or later if further guidance to this effect is issued, and should encourage students to remain at their current accommodation until the resumption of their in-person teaching, wherever possible’.

Bristol University’s Spring vacation (Easter holidays) runs from 29 March - 16 April 2021.

The newly issued update regarding universities has drawn a mixed reaction from different groups.

Chief Executive of the Russell Group, Dr Tim Bradshaw welcomed the news, stating that: ‘Our members have worked hard to make campuses Covid-secure, with twice-weekly testing and very low overall infection rates this year – even with students from high-priority courses already back on campus’.

Acknowledging the ‘importance of easing lockdown in a cautious and controlled way to ensure further tightening of measures are not required’, Dr Bradshaw did however ‘urge the Government to consider whether more students can return to in-person teaching at the Roadmap’s first review point in early April’, stating that  ‘an earlier return will be particularly beneficial for the mental health and well-being of students’.

Universities UK echoed the view of the Russell Group, with its President, Professor Julia Buckingham, commenting ‘this announcement is a long-awaited boost for students in England on practical and practice-based subjects’.

Recognising that the news ‘is positive for some students’, Professor Buckingham stated ‘it will be disappointing for others that had hoped the government would have allowed them to return’.

Professor Buckingham said that ‘University staff will continue working hard to keep all students motivated, supported, and progressing towards their qualifications, adding that ‘there will also need to be a further focus on supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing in the weeks ahead’.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents academics and lecturers has deemed that ‘any wider reopening of college and university campuses from 8 March is irresponsible and risks undoing the country’s hard work to get Covid-19 rates down’.

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The Union has called on employers ‘to use common sense’ and ‘keep teaching online wherever possible to reduce the risk of further Covid-19 outbreaks’, stating that for ‘many courses this would mean there should be no return to on-campus activity this academic year’.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady stressed that employers ‘must work with us to protect staff and student safety. If our members feel that their health and safety is being put at risk, then we will support them to protect themselves, including through balloting for industrial action where necessary’.

Featured Image: Epigram / Cameron Scheijde

The University of Bristol's email highlights the message that if students are struggling financially, they should remember to contact the Student Funding Office for help, including to access the Covid Impact Fund, for support through the pandemic.

How do you feel about the government’s ‘roadmap out of lockdown’ and the University’s update to university students?