Keele University has made six commitments to students ahead of the next academic year and published a five-stage plan to resume teaching and research onsite.
A spokesperson for Keele said it would only reopen its campus “on government guidance” but added that the university hoped to resume some operations in time for the next academic year.
So long as it is safe to do so, Keele has promised to offer students “small group, seminar, laboratory, practical and placement activities on campus” alongside online lectures.
The university has also offered assurances that seminar rooms, practice environments and teaching laboratories will be “Covid secure” if campus can be re-opened.
Keele will gradually lift its lockdown measures in five stages in line with the government’s own five-level Covid-alert system. The university’s 2020/21 plan, which explains the level of campus operability at different stages of lockdown, has been made available to staff and students.
Level five represents total lockdown. Level one represents ‘business as usual’ and will only be reached once the government reduces its Covid warning to the lowest threat level.
The university recently moved to level four, so although all teaching remains online, critical research has restarted and some post-graduate research (PGR) students have returned to campus. Accommodation is currently reserved for those that cannot return home and nearly all campus services have ceased.
The university hopes to have moved to level three by the start of the academic year, which would allow face-to-face socially distanced teaching and lab sessions to restart and a phased return to research. Some students would be allowed to live in halls at this point, but households will have no more than eight occupants and will not run at full capacity.
During the next academic year, Keele hopes to progress to level two, which would allow large teaching groups to restart, all students to return to halls and research to recommence in all areas. Social distancing and protective Covid measures will still be in place at this point.
The chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS) told MPs on 18 May that universities should offer “absolute clarity” about the amount of on-site learning they will offer students before applicants make a choice about where to study next year.
OfS chief Nicola Dandridge added universities should not promise “campus experiences” if it was not realistic to do so.
Keele’s six commitments to students:
We will deliver lectures online from the start of the 2020/21 academic year, until restrictions allow otherwise.
We are committed to a hybrid delivery model; complementing our online delivery with small group, seminar, laboratory, practical and placement activities taking place on campus where it is safe to do so (and off campus in the case of field-based practical activity), and in the NHS.
Seminar rooms, practice environments and teaching laboratories will be adapted to be ‘Covid secure’.
University accommodation will be available to Keele students, across all years of study. Rooms and facilities in Halls of Residence will form small households of up to 8, allowing students to observe prevailing requirements for social distancing, but still enjoy an on-campus experience.
Whether students are on or off campus for teaching, we will maximise the student experience, even if at a social distance, building on our unrivalled record for student experience in the National Student Survey.
We will keep reviewing and moving through the changing level of restrictions over the next 12 months, with the aim of delivering as close to normal business-as-usual, as soon as the lifting of restrictions allow.
Vice-chancellor Prof Trevor McMillan said the university was committed to “providing an excellent student experience within a close-knit community”, whether teaching was on or offline.
“Our approach details a five-level system which demonstrates how we will enable our campus operations to respond to the national guidelines. Set against the context of the national position, the provision of safe and high-quality educational delivery in the 2020/21 academic year for all our students is our key priority,” Prof McMillan said.
“The approach allows us to adapt to changing advice from the Government and we will constantly review our delivery to be in line with official guidelines.”
Keele joins a growing list of universities to announce their plans for the 2020/21 academic. So far, Bolton, Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham Trent, Sheffield Hallam and Swansea universities have confirmed plans to reopen campuses, with all favouring some form of blended learning.