Over the last couple of months in lockdown I have written various blog posts about the challenges that universities and colleges have faced with their emergency response to dealing with the coronavirus lockdown and planning for a new academic year amidst, translation and transformation, hybrid curriculum, social distanced campuses and a huge helping of uncertainty.
That uncertainty is certainly a big challenge and in the last few days we have seen the government make big changes to the lockdown restrictions in place, and have planned further easing of lockdown.
We are expecting to see over the next few weeks changes to the covid-19 guidelines. The government currently think there is not a high risk of a second wave. In the same timeframe, health officials have said that we must prepare for a second wave of covid-19.
Health leaders are calling for an urgent review to determine whether the UK is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of coronavirus.
The government have said that “caution will remain our watchword and every stage is conditional and reversable”. The 2m social distancing guidance will be reduced to 1m from 4th July and people should remain at least one metre apart.
This has implications for university campuses, which have already made major efforts to ensure that the 2m social distancing guidelines could be enforced with one way corridors, removal of furniture from rooms and moving some high density learning activities online. Reducing the social distance to 1m means that in theory you can then fit more people into a single learning space (or office). Though as noted by health officials, reducing the distance to 1m, doesn’t double your risk of catching the coronavirus, it actually makes it ten times more likely. As a result some people will still want to be at least 2m apart. This does ask the question how you can manage this on a university campus.
The government have also said, the fewer social contacts you have, the safer you will be. This means that universities will still need to ensure freshers’ week activities are conducted safely (probably online) and that cohorts of students would need to remain within a bubble to reduce the risk of infection across the university population.
We have seen with schools that trying to maintain social distancing even with smaller groups of pupils has been challenging, but we also see that schools in England will be reopening in September for primary and secondary school pupils in full. This has implications for Further Education colleges as well.
Outside the guidance remains that people can meet in groups of up to 6. Nice when it is sunny for outside learning, less so when it rains!
From 4th July libraries would be permitted to open if they are Covid secure, this means we could see university libraries allowed to function as library spaces, as well as providing services online as they have been.
There is still quite a list of locations which would remain closed by law and this has implications on that student experience in the autumn.
Nightclubs would be closed, well that makes freshers’ week a little more locked down than in previous years.
Indoor fitness and dance studios, and indoor gyms and sports facilities, as well as swimming pools would remain closed. This has implications for student sports as well as sports courses and performing arts courses which make use of dance and drama studios.
It also looks like most conferences will be online for the foreseeable future, as Exhibition or Conference Centres – where they are to be used for exhibitions or conferences also have to remain closed by law. This has implications for those universities who rely on conference income over the summer holidays or have specialised conference facilities.
Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.
What we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.