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STAFFORDSHIRE: universities return in-person

STAFFORDSHIRE: universities return in-person

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Universities in the county say they are making every effort to welcome students back onto campus as the new academic year gets underway, but cautioned the need to remain flexible in their approach to doing so.

Both Staffordshire University and Keele University say students will return to in-person lectures, but that delivery of teaching may vary – and this could include adopting a mix of in-person and remote learning.

A Staffordshire University spokesperson said: “All full-time undergraduate students can expect three days each week of scheduled on-campus learning and student experience activity.”

They added: “All our students will benefit from an enhanced period of welcome and transition activities and there will be plenty of opportunities for them to make new friends and enjoy Staffordshire University’s social scene.”

All of its facilities – including libraries, sports centre and students’ union, including shops and cafes – will be fully open.

Students are being asked to wear face coverings while moving around buildings and to make use of hand sanitiser.

Keele University says its plans include a return to face-to-face teaching, whilst also making use of digital technology that came to the fore during the pandemic.

A spokesperson told the LDRS the campus will be fully operational, in line with government guidance.

They said: “This offers the clear prospect of a fuller and more ‘normal’ campus experience for our students and staff.

“Of course, we’ll also be flexible and ready to react to any further national restrictions as we have done over the last 18 months or so.”

They added: “In terms of academic arrangements for 2021/22, we have learned a lot over the last year about how some aspects of our education delivery have been enhanced by incorporating more digital elements.”

The National Union of Students is concerned that online learning could form part of a cost-cutting exercise by universities’ and urged to leaders to consider how technology could assist, rather than replace, in-person teaching.

The union said: “Online learning impacts students in different ways.

“Students’ unions and disabled students have campaigned for years for lectures to be captured and provided online, as this improves accessibility.

“We would not want to see this lost as students return to campus and would like to see online learning that enhances and supplements the in-person student experience – but does not replace it entirely.

“Nothing can replace the ability to socialise with and learn from your peers, or to engage with face to face, interactive, teaching and learning and to have a full campus life.

“We are concerned that for some universities online learning is simply a cost-cutting exercise, brought about by universities needing to stay financially afloat in a competitive market.

“We would urge university leaders to welcome students back to campus with the experience they can provide students front and centre of their decision making.”

Keele University is currently under ‘Operation Level 2’ of its five-stage system, which is similar to the government’s alert system.

A reduction on this scale to ‘Operation Level 1’ would mean a full return to normal.

For now, students and staff will be tested twice weekly, in line with guidance from the Department for Health and Social Care.

This will continue until the end of September, when it will be reviewed.

The number of people in lecture theatres, seminar rooms, laboratories and libraries will be limited, and the use of face coverings (or alternative PPE) will be required.

Staffordshire University is continuing to urge students to get vaccinated, and has held several pop-up vaccination clinics on campus.

Its on-site Covid-19 testing will continue, and staff and students are being reminded of the importance of testing at least twice a week.

A spokesperson said: “We are now at the start of welcoming new and returning students onto our campuses for a full student experience.”

“We continue to follow Government guidance as it emerges to enable us to provide our students and staff with the best possible experience.

“The health and wellbeing of our students and whole university community remains a priority.”

Words: Richard Price, Local Democracy Reporter

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