University demands clarity from Gov’t on students’ return next term

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Durham University has today called upon the Government to “provide clarity on plans for the safe resumption of Covid-secure face-to-face teaching” in Easter Term.

The statement follows the Prime Minister’s coronavirus press conference on Monday 5th April, during which the planned liberalisation of Covid-19 restrictions was confirmed for Monday 12th April.

In Durham’s statement, Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Professor Stuart Corbridge, said that the University’s “current working assumption is that Government will announce soon that further in person teaching at English universities cannot recommence until Monday 17th May, at the earliest – but this is not yet confirmed.”

The statement confirmed that assessments will continue to be held online as planned, and that further details on students’ access to wider student experience events and activities, libraries and study spaces during Easter Term will soon be confirmed on the University’s website.

“I can assure our community that the University remains open, in a Covid-secure way, and that student support and other services are available”

Vice-chancellor and warden, Professor stuart corbridge

“As we press the UK Government for further guidance, I can assure our community that the University remains open, in a Covid-secure way, and that student support and other services are available,” Prof. Corbridge said.

With universities not being mentioned during the Prime Minister’s press conference on Monday, Durham’s statement forms part of a wider bid by British higher education providers for clarity on when in-person teaching can be expected to return.

Universities UK (UUK), the principal advocacy organisation for British universities, delivered a letter to the Prime Minister on Tuesday 6th April in which its president, Julia Buckingham CBE, condemned the Government’s “communications vacuum” regarding in-person teaching.

The exclusion of universities from the wide-ranging liberalisation from 12th April, the letter went on to say, meant that it “seems illogical that students are not allowed to return to their self-catering accommodation and resume their studies in Covid-safe university facilities, particularly at this crucial time of the academic year.”

In its statement, Durham University sought to emphasise the steps it has taken to mitigate the risks of Covid-19 transmission on campus, particularly through its Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) programme.

“It seems illogical that students are not allowed to return to their self-catering accommodation and resume their studies in Covid-safe university facilities”

Julia Buckingham CBE, President of Universities UK

A Palatinate investigation in February found that the LFT programme had resulted in just 37 positives from 10,593 tests up until 20th January, with the cost of the programme totalling £330,779 until then.

“Throughout our Epiphany Term, cases on campus remained low despite a number of students returning to their term-time accommodation, as has been seen across the UK.

“We continue to proactively manage University cases with local and national public health experts and advise all students and staff to use our internal reporting systems so we can provide appropriate support during periods of self-isolation.

“In recent weeks, the UK Government has relaxed some of the restrictions in place to help control the spread of Covid-19,” the statement continued. “We urge our community to follow the restrictions that remain in place to help maintain their health and safety.”

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