A set of high-level principles and supporting information for universities to consider as they emerge from lockdown has been published today by Universities UK.
The principles provide a framework for individual universities both in the coming weeks and as they develop their plans for the new academic year. While individual universities will tailor their approaches depending on their settings and situations, the publication highlights key considerations to support universities and provide transparency to students on the work underway to give them the full university experience next year.
An open statement on behalf of the universities is set out below from the President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, and Professor Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, who is chairing a specially convened sounding board to coordinate the sector’s recovery work.
The UK’s universities are united in the view that students should have the opportunity to benefit from a world-class higher education experience that enables them to progress towards their career and life goals. A university education is more relevant and valuable than ever in these uncertain times. UK universities will be open and ready to teach and support students at the start of the new academic year.
New and returning students can be confident their universities will be providing high-quality, accessible and engaging teaching and learning this autumn; and can look forward to a positive student experience and wide-ranging support. Universities will provide as much in-person learning, teaching, support services and extra-curricular activities as public health advice and government guidance will support. This will include new ways of providing practical sessions in socially distanced forms, innovative approaches to extra-curricular activities such as welcome week programmes, and a continuation of important student services such as mental health and wellbeing support and careers advice.
These approaches will be supplemented with carefully planned alternatives for students where parts of the university experience may be difficult to deliver in-person – such as large lectures.
Across the sector, the top priority is to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of students, our staff and the wider community. Universities are harnessing the significant expertise which exists within our sector, and working closely with the UK, devolved and local governments and public health bodies on our approach. While the specifics will rightly vary based on factors such as the location, size and type of institution, universities’ approaches will be informed by a common set of published principles. These include making appropriate changes to university layout and infrastructure and regularly reviewing and adapting hygiene and cleaning protocols in all university spaces in accordance with public health advice; working with civic and local partners wherever appropriate; and reviewing teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that the required flexibility is in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students.
We understand that current and prospective students – along with their parents, carers and teachers – want to know much more about what their university experience will look like. Universities are sharing as much as they can now and are working hard to provide more details as soon as they can. The way the world will look by the autumn is not completely clear to any of us yet, but universities are focused on their plans and will regularly update current and prospective students as their strategies for 2020/21 take shape.
Despite the current uncertainties, we are committed to providing the same world-class experience for which UK higher education is known in the new academic year. We will continue to support students to progress and achieve their learning outcomes, to overcome barriers so they succeed and flourish, to offer a fulfilling and varied learning experience, and to give them skills and hope for the future.