Important update for all students: January return

At the same time as we would like to wish you all a Happy New Year we must also recognise that the start of this year is going to be challenging. The circumstances of the ongoing global Coronavirus pandemic continue to change around the world, including here in the UK, and we wanted to provide this update following the Prime Ministerial announcement on 4 January that England is again subject to a national lockdown.

We have been waiting for the confirmed guidance from the Department for Education about how these restrictions affect universities and different types of student. It is also important to note that the advice we are providing today may change again – if there are any further changes announced by the UK Government.

We understand and appreciate that this news will present a number of challenges for many of you and we have set out below, in this extended message, the latest advice and recommendations based on the Government guidance, and further details about support that is currently available with more information to follow.
You can also read the latest letter from the Universities Minister here.

Universities operating under national lockdown in England

Following the rise in Coronavirus (Covid-19) cases across parts of England the Government has required all universities to restrict and delay the anticipated return of students in January, to reduce the potential transmission of the virus across different parts of the country.

For the majority of (taught) students, on-campus teaching was not due to start until 1 February when the second semester begins. Ahead of that date we are planning for the online assessment period (between 9 – 23 January) to continue as scheduled and the UoBe Festival (week commencing 25 January) will be delivered virtually.

The Government has identified a small group of taught subject areas that can return to campus study and placement activity from 4 January and where in-person teaching can continue, including: Medicine & Dentistry, subjects allied to medicine and health (including all branches of nursing and physiotherapy), Education (initial teacher training) and Social Work. If you are on one of these programmes your School will have confirmed this.

We are awaiting further clarification on the position for Research Students. Our current understanding is that PGR students can continue to access specialist facilities on campus, where these facilities are essential to your research, but where you are able to continue your research activity from home you should do so. We will provide further information as soon as more detailed guidance becomes available.

There is also very clear guidance about the steps necessary to ensure the safe return of students, including the completion of two asymptomatic COVID tests, at least three days apart, in advance of any return to on-campus activity.

So what does the latest Government announcement mean

The Government has updated its guidance to universities about the timing of resuming face-to-face teaching with the expectation that, apart from the small number of exempt programmes noted above, teaching will be online only until mid-February.

Course teams are preparing to resume Semester 2 teaching online in the first instance and we will provide further information as soon as more detailed guidance becomes available.

On returning to campus, the Government has also identified where there may be exceptions to the delayed return advice, including:

  • Students without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities in their vacation accommodation.
  • Students who have remained in their university accommodation over the vacation period.
  • Students who may require additional support – including for mental health and wellbeing.
  • Students on placements where these can continue, based on the local restrictions and where the placement provider has Covid-secure measures in place.
  • International Students who have remained in the UK or have already arrived in the UK.

We would ask that you follow the most up-to-date Government guidance at all times. When you are permitted to return, consider carefully and plan your return to campus activities in line with this advice and the latest Government guidance on testing to return before accessing campus facilities as detailed at the end of this message.

Further advice

For all students: We are very aware that many of you will be working on assessments and preparing for examinations in conditions and circumstances that may be different to those you originally envisaged. We do understand this and we have good experience of supporting students successfully through challenging times in the lockdown last academic year. We were able to graduate our students on time while also ensuring the academic integrity of their degrees for employment and further study. We have put in place further safeguards as a result of our experience last year, and we are currently updating our FAQs to reflect the latest situation. We want everyone to be able to do their best – even in these unusual circumstances - and we will continue to be flexible and understanding if you encounter difficulties (such as access to reliable Wi-Fi). We expect our on-campus facilities, including study spaces, libraries, and catering to remain open for students, operating under our established Covid-safe measures.

Support that is available: Support for your wellbeing is always available and we are continuing to provide a range of resources and expert contacts that are accessible wherever you are. Our Wellbeing Services are open from this week in your Schools and Colleges and from our Mental Health and Wellbeing Team.

We understand the continuing impact of these restrictions on all of our daily lives, and, in particular the added financial difficulties that many of you will be facing. We have therefore established an Enhanced Student Support Fund – which will be available to all students so that targeted financial support can be provided for those in need. In addition to a substantial increase in the hardship funds available we have also made changes to the criteria so that all students who need additional support will be able to access this. We will provide more information about the Enhanced Student Support Fund and how you can apply later on this week.

For International Students: If you are planning to travel to the UK you should consider delaying your arrival if your travel plans can be rearranged without additional costs. If you are arriving/returning to the UK please follow the most up-to-date advice available for international travellers which is available here. The University is supporting all international students (including EU citizens) with the additional costs of the Test to Release scheme – further information available here. We have also asked that all international students update their study location plans for semester 2 – which you can do here.

For commuter students who live locally: In accordance with government guidance, you should continue to study from home and not access campus facilities – unless you fall into one of the exempt categories as detailed above. In planning your return to on-campus activities we are recommending that all students should take two rapid LFD tests before using on campus facilities and in advance of any in-person teaching and learning.

For students with an outward study abroad programme: Study Abroad & Exchange students considering their study or work options for Semester Two should follow the University’s guidance emailed on 8 December. As the situation remains dynamic, it is essential for students who are requesting permission to travel to their host country to meet all conditions identified in the University’s guidance in advance of making any travel arrangements: approved risk assessment, availability of the placement confirmed by the receiving organisation, and the host country’s entry rules allowing arrival from the UK/home country. Many countries have temporarily closed their borders, and may restrict movements or bring in new quarantine requirements at short notice. You can check the current advice for travel and entry to your host country here.

For students in University of Birmingham accommodation: If you need to self-isolate on your return then please let us know, by contacting Accommodation Services via the portal, so that we can support you. Our support includes regular wellbeing check-ins and the provision of essential supplies to keep you going. You can also access support to keep you active, connected and engaged via our webpages here.

How do I get a test so I can return to campus?

  1. We are continuing to participate in the national programme to offer all students rapid, asymptomatic Covid tests to support your return to campus. The latest UK Government guidance states that all students should book two rapid asymptomatic Covid tests (at least three days apart) and you should plan to do this before you begin to use any on-campus facilities. In between your two tests you should restrict your social contacts as much as possible and not attend any on campus activity. You can book your test dates here.

    The rapid, asymptomatic Covid tests are recommended by the UK Government, for use by universities, as a proactive way of detecting potentially infectious, but asymptomatic individuals. These Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests, are not as sensitive as the other commonly used PCR tests available for people with symptoms but they are now used across the UK – and taking two tests provides additional confidence in identifying those individuals who don’t have symptoms but have high levels of infection.
  2. Alternatively, students returning to campus, or to your Birmingham-based accommodation, may choose to self-isolate for ten days before commencing any learning activities on campus – following the advice here.
  3. The only other exception, is if you have had a positive PCR test result within the last 90 days and have fully completed your period of self-isolation.
  4. If community-based rapid testing is available where you live then you should consider taking an initial test before you travel. These will be operated locally and you can search online for 'rapid covid testing near me.'
  5. At any time, if you receive a positive test result you should self-isolate immediately and please let us know using this link.
  6. At all times and in all settings we should all continue to follow the important Hands, Face, Space guidance and any local restrictions where you are living.

Finally, after all of this advice… We do want to wish you all a very Happy New Year! Yet again we are facing an unusual start to the New Year and we are keeping all of the changing advice under constant review. Please continue to check your email inbox regularly for updates from us.

Stay safe and well – with all best wishes from all of us at the University of Birmingham


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