Following on from the update from Wyn Morgan, Vice-President for Education, we wanted to give you further details about return to campus and the University Executive Board’s decision to commit to a blended teaching delivery for the coming academic year. We also want to reassure you about the measures that are being put in place to ensure the safety of our staff and students.
For context, the University’s commitment to students is that each student will receive an element of face-to-face teaching to complement synchronous and asynchronous online teaching. Didactic content will be online, with face-to-face provision taking the form of small group seminar teaching. For many of our students in MDH, the on campus teaching will involve clinical skills training and lab-based activities.
Our commitment to this blended approach for the 2020/21 academic year will enable us to:
- Provide the best possible student experience to our students in the circumstances while balancing concerns around student and staff safety.
- Provide the most attractive proposition possible to prospective students.
- Fulfil our contractual commitments to our students.
We appreciate that as a Faculty, we have demonstrated that we can indeed provide the highest quality teaching online and we would like to thank you personally for your efforts to adapt to digital delivery with such agility. The provision of excellent face-to-face teaching is fundamental to this University’s mission and purpose and something we should seek to fulfil where at all possible. Our aim since the start of lockdown has always been to return to some form of on-campus provision, with an element of face-to-face teaching, as soon as safely possible. We are also aware that many of our students have reported isolation as their main concern during the lockdown and we feel that the approach proposed will help in part to address that.
As many of you will be aware, within MDH we already have a number of programmes that have returned to campus for clinical skills teaching and assessments. To date, this includes students from the School of Dentistry, AUME and Nursing and Midwifery.
We do, of course, recognise that staff and students will have concerns over safety and the following (non-exhaustive) measures are being put in place across the institution:
- Reducing capacity in teaching spaces to allow for social distancing of 1.5 metres.
- Clear protocols for entry and exit from teaching spaces and around buildings with clear signage and floor-markings.
- Provision of multiple hand sanitiser stations across campus.
- Providing two reusable face coverings for all students and staff that attend campus and mandating their use in all University buildings.
- Limiting the number of people on campus by only requiring staff to attend work on site where absolutely necessary (i.e. for provision of teaching, to undertake research and to support our facilities).
- Establishing clear protocols to manage any instances of Covid-19 on campus, either staff or student cases – working closely with the local authority and Director of Public Health.
- Delaying the start of term for international students to allow them a period of quarantine before coming on to campus.
- Ensuring that staff in at risk groups are only required to attend work if their role (or elements of their role) cannot be undertaken at home and, if this isn’t possible, that adjustments to their role are made to make it as safe as possible.
The planning for the blended learning offer is complicated and there are a number of interrelated dependencies, such as the amount of available teaching space, its capacity, timetabling, and the face-to-face teaching proposed by departments. Across the organisation, the plans for the safe return to campus for learning and teaching are being overseen by the Learning and Teaching Strategy Group, which includes all Faculty Directors of Learning and Teaching and the Return to Campus Group, comprising Faculty Directors of Operations as well as representatives from all relevant professional services departments. Frequent meetings of both groups ensure that this work progresses at pace, but crucially is guided by feedback from departments on practicality and operability. Within MDH, Department Managers continue to work closely with Kevin Corke to ensure that all the necessary risk assessments and preparations are in place.
We have considered the question of whether we should provide an online-only offering for our face to face courses to international students, given the potential difficulties they face in travelling to the UK. While we will support those students who cannot attend campus due to travel restrictions or health reasons, but still wish to register and study, it is not our intention to advertise this as an option to prospective students – i.e. we will not be marketing the University as an online-only provider for our on-campus programmes. We do not consider an online-only offer to be a viable option, as the opportunity to attend University in person in a different country and culture is a key factor in the decision overseas students make to study at the University.
Our aim is to make our offer as attractive as possible to students, while ensuring we are doing everything we can to maintain their safety and the safety of our staff. We consider the blended learning approach with access to campus and the facilities that can safely be opened to be the best offer.
We hope that this addresses some of the concerns that have been raised. We will share further details that will be in place for the start of term in the coming weeks.
With many thanks for your continued support,
Chris and Vanessa