Face covering policies vary vastly between universities

Crowdsourced data shows that 20 universities in the UK will require students to wear face coverings

At least 20 universities in the UK will require students to wear face coverings in teaching spaces this term, with students at a further 45 either “expected” or “encouraged” to do so, information from a crowdsourced survey of Covid safety policies shows.

A spreadsheet compiled by university staff details the policies of 94 higher education institutions, illustrating the diversity of approaches taken within the sector to the tricky issue of face coverings, which are mandatory in some parts of the UK and optional in others.

The document does not contain entries for every university, but University Business has checked the policies of a further 40 UK universities.

Of the 20 that require face coverings in teaching spaces, 12 are in Scotland, seven in England and two in Northern Ireland.

Twenty-one universities in the UK expect students to wear face coverings in teaching spaces – 20 of these universities are in England. A further 30 universities in England “encourage” or “recommend” students wear face coverings in teaching environments – at most institutions, the guidance is “strongly” advised. An additional 12 universities in Wales and England expect or recommend students wear face coverings in communal spaces and corridors: in some cases, this applies to libraries, study spaces, kitchens and catering outlets, and in others, this applies only in “crowded” places.

Face coverings are entirely optional in England – and the minister for universities, Michelle Donelan, has told vice-chancellors that in-person teaching and learning should go ahead in all cases. Wales requires face coverings in most indoor spaces and public transport, except “where food and drink are consumed” and teaching spaces.

The Scottish government made face coverings mandatory “in most indoor public places and in-door communal spaces”, including workplaces and public transport. “A college or university is considered a workplace,” the guidance adds, including lecture theatres, libraries, laboratories and classrooms. The temporary removal of masks is permissible if “separated from others by a distance of at least 1 metre or by a screen or partition”. Face masks are also mandatory in Northern Ireland, but not in teaching spaces.

The spreadsheet appears to have been started by Andrew Chitty, a senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sussex, and Elizabeth Stoke, a professor of social interaction at Loughborough University, who encourage lecturers to include their employer on the database.

Read more: NHS England and UUK: student vaccinations vital ahead of new term

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