Impact on Universities in September

thejuggler

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Spoke to a friend last week who is responsible for FM at a large organisation.

They are planning now for 2m distancing, but don't expect more than 20% of staff to be accommodated from early 2021. One of their buildings is about 100 years old and currently houses about 600 staff.

A few years ago it was upgraded to meet modern fire standards. This meant installing fire corridors on each floor which has reduced the floorpsace to such an extent large areas of the building can't be used for desks.

Universities using similar aged buildings may be similarly affected.
 
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6862

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Is it me or are universities massively overreacting to what seems to be quite a minor threat.
I agree, but I suspect it is largely to appease the vocal pro-lockdowners, many of whom from what I have seen/heard seem to fit the demographic generally represented in universities, as well as to avoid the media backlash if there was even a couple of cases in a university.

Universities using similar aged buildings may be similarly affected.
The departmental building I worked in before all this kicked off is less than 20 years old and is limited to 20 % capacity, so while your point is probably valid, I think it is much more widely applicable.
 

BJames

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I agree, but I suspect it is largely to appease the vocal pro-lockdowners, many of whom from what I have seen/heard seem to fit the demographic generally represented in universities, as well as to avoid the media backlash if there was even a couple of cases in a university.
This is a really good point. I can just see the headlines now - "[insert uni name here] went against the rest, 10 coronavirus cases identified - ALL STUDENTS at risk!!"

Followed by a comment section split with "what an overreaction" and "how dare they put lives at risk??? They should be closed down permanently!"

I get it - Universities don't want to paint themselves in a poor light. But really, they need to come to a collective consensus and consider that the risk is minimal for the considerable majority of their staff and students.
 

Huntergreed

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I agree, but I suspect it is largely to appease the vocal pro-lockdowners, many of whom from what I have seen/heard seem to fit the demographic generally represented in universities, as well as to avoid the media backlash if there was even a couple of cases in a university
I accept that the “pro-lockdowners” have been very vocal and the government seem to only listen to them because they’re afraid of upsetting them. I do not however accept that alone as a valid reason for me missing out on my university experience, receiving a poorer quality online education, and for mine and thousands of other students mental wellbeing and attainment to fall sharply. It’s all very well the “pro lockdowners” are the most vocal, but they’ve been brainwashed by the fear driven propaganda drip-fed to them by the government, and if we keep listening to them we’re gonna be facing a total economic collapse (which I have no doubt they would blame on the government for not acting against their wishes quick enough)
 
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FelixtheCat

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Is it me or are universities massively overreacting to what seems to be quite a minor threat. Most of the student body will not be affected by the virus, and most of the staff (65 or under, which is almost everyone at mine) also aren’t at high risk, and yet they’re going to have to implement very costly safety measures which are going to severely diminish if not completely destroy the student experience. Is it really, truly necessary to implement all these measures and move so much online when arguably asking students to cross the road to come in is as risky?

I can imagine seeing some university closures if things don’t change and become more sensible. I genuinely am starting to think the UK has lost its mind and is so focused on suppressing the virus that they’re completely ignoring the vast economic damage, huge detriment to wellbeing and excess deaths from literally everything else when most places could be opened with far, far less restrictive measures and still not risk a second peak.
Universities have to plan for the worst case scenario. I remember making the same point a month or so ago: the reason we're getting decisions/reports now is that the universities have to plan for it now. They don't know what the situation will be in 3 months time, and it is a situation largely out of their control. This is because they do not control the response to the virus; they are bound by the restrictions not only from the national government, but also governments in other jurisdictions. It is very likely that international travel will be heavily restricted for many months, even after national governments have lifted most lockdown measures. Universities are acting very appropriately to the situation presented by government-imposed restrictions.

So, it is necessary to implement these measures, mainly because the universities don't know what the situation will be in 3 months time, and their control over it is limited.

Essentially, your claims of overreaction are best directed at government because they control the restrictions. The universities can only really respond to said restrictions.
 

BJames

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Universities have to plan for the worst case scenario. I remember making the same point a month or so ago: the reason we're getting decisions/reports now is that the universities have to plan for it now. They don't know what the situation will be in 3 months time, and it is a situation largely out of their control.
To be fair, this is very true. If restrictions were to be lifted in August, Universities would switch back to the more in-person level of teaching from the first day in the Autumn term. I know from my communuications with those in the know at my institution that they don't want to be caught off-guard by a second wave causing them to not be allowed to do anything in person. So most of next year is being planned around the idea that we may not be able to be on campus, but with a view to doing as much on campus as physically possible. If restrictions are lifted, that would mean everything. If not, we work round it.

I do think assessments will be different for next year though, heard talks are surrounding smaller but more frequent assessments so that we can bank points earlier on in the year and reduce the stress of big exams at the end, while also countering the instance that exams would get cancelled again!

I accept that the “pro-lockdowners” have been very vocal and the government seem to only listen to them because they’re afraid of upsetting them.
A lot of decisions recently in government don't seem to be because they have been thought out carefully and with reason and rationale at the forefront. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that this is any different. Universities could really do with some more direction from the government, even though a lot is far from confirmed.
 

Mainline421

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After being infected with Covid-19 the death rate for those under 25 is thought to be less than <0.01% with < 30 having died (most likely all with pre-existing conditions). This will go down as one of the most colossal overreactions in history.

Not ideal but for first year's surely they could just guarantee the tiny number of students with major pre-existing conditions a place for next year. A bit harder if you're in the middle of a course but they could even offer the option to take a gap year and provide support so they don't fall behind, the risk is minmal.
 

6862

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I accept that the “pro-lockdowners” have been very vocal and the government seem to only listen to them because they’re afraid of upsetting them. I do not however accept that alone as a valid reason for me missing out on my university experience, receiving a poorer quality online education,
You are quite right not to accept it. My point was perhaps not entirely clear - I think universities need to stand up against pro-long term lockdowners as other businesses have.
 

Bikeman78

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This is a really good point. I can just see the headlines now - "[insert uni name here] went against the rest, 10 coronavirus cases identified - ALL STUDENTS at risk!!"

Followed by a comment section split with "what an overreaction" and "how dare they put lives at risk??? They should be closed down permanently!"

I get it - Universities don't want to paint themselves in a poor light. But really, they need to come to a collective consensus and consider that the risk is minimal for the considerable majority of their staff and students.
The chances of it being fatal for 18-22 year olds are tiny. I remember catching a bug at Uni. I was alternately shivering and sweating. All my joints hurt and I didn't sleep for two nights or really move for two days. There were plenty of horrible diseases going around 20 years ago.
 

Huntergreed

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The chances of it being fatal for 18-22 year olds are tiny. I remember catching a bug at Uni. I was alternately shivering and sweating. All my joints hurt and I didn't sleep for two nights or really move for two days. There were plenty of horrible diseases going around 20 years ago.
I take it your uni didn't implement 2m distancing, move most of its learning online, postpone all it's research activity and try to restrict students to small 'social bubbles' to try and prevent the spread of that bug which posed little if no risk to life?

Surprising considering that seems to be exactly what they're doing here. I am aware a very, very small minority of students and staff are more at risk, but this will always be the case even during flu season, and the government continually insisting on universities implementing these measures is like stopping running trains 'just in case' one causes a fatality. The risk is present but it seems society, the media and the government are completely overstating it, and the reasoning behind this is something I'm still puzzled by.
 
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underbank

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I take it your uni didn't implement 2m distancing, move most of its learning online, postpone all it's research activity and try to restrict students to small 'social bubbles' to try and prevent the spread of that bug which posed little if no risk to life?

Surprising considering that seems to be exactly what they're doing here. I am aware a very, very small minority of students and staff are more at risk, but this will always be the case even during flu season, and the government continually insisting on universities implementing these measures is like stopping running trains 'just in case' one causes a fatality. The risk is present but it seems society, the media and the government are completely overstating it, and the reasoning behind this is something I'm still puzzled by.
Did you miss the fact that some hospitals were reporting up to 40% staff absence back in March and that the NHS was close to collapse. That's WHY the lockdown was needed. The virus spreads exponentially. If precautions are lifted too soon, we'll be back where we were and have to do the whole thing again. Infections are only low because of the lockdown. To keep them low, we need to continue with precautions - obviously not a full lockdown, but we need to continue respecting personal space, hand washing, avoiding large gatherings in confined spaces, etc. It would be good if Unis could find a middle ground where their staff are protected, but that's going to be difficult if students are going to ignore social distancing and go to parties/raves etc and then expect to sit within close proximity to staff who may be vulnerable.
 

6862

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Did you miss the fact that some hospitals were reporting up to 40% staff absence back in March and that the NHS was close to collapse. That's WHY the lockdown was needed. The virus spreads exponentially. If precautions are lifted too soon, we'll be back where we were and have to do the whole thing again.
I'm not the OP, but my response to this would be that I can see some justification for the initial lockdown, but it should have been a short term response, which in the context of universities should have meant a short term closure of research facilities (measured in weeks not months), and lectures going online. It should not mean an entire academic year being disrupted, with loss of almost all research output, and the prospect of many institutions collapsing! Of course care needs to be taken when lifting restrictions, but we also need to be aware that we are on the brink of destroying one of this country's most valuable exports (higher education and academic research) and take this into account when weighing reopening against the risk to the NHS.
 

geoffk

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If I was 18 now and had been offered a University place, I'd be going for a year out and starting in September 2021. After all, going to University is about more than studying. Reduced income from students, particularly if overseas students are discouraged from coming, will have a huge impact on viability and we may see some smaller universities closing or merging. Some may say that's not a bad thing.
 

MattA7

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If I was 18 now and had been offered a University place, I'd be going for a year out and starting in September 2021. After all, going to University is about more than studying. Reduced income from students, particularly if overseas students are discouraged from coming, will have a huge impact on viability and we may see some smaller universities closing or merging. Some may say that's not a bad thing.
I was due to be starting the college this year however I’ve decided that I will withdraw from the course and start in aug/sept 2021 due to this situation. Only thing is I’m dreading the reaction by support workers who worked hard to get me into college this year. Tbh I wasn’t sure if it was the course I wanted so perhaps it isn’t a bad decision to make.
 

_toommm_

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Any University students - how well has your institution been communicating with you throughout this crisis? How functional do you think online learning would be come September? I'd be very interested to hear from different institutions. I think we could make ours work for a short time as long as as much learning in person takes place - many need access to labs and University computers for a start.
Mine was pretty awful to be honest. We were told categorically on the day we shut that we were staying open, then that evening we got an email telling us we're closed indefinitely, with the email coming through in dribs and drabs (I think I got mine about half an hour after most people).

Online teaching is extremely difficult for my course (Drama). One of my lecturers practically disappeared when lockdown happened and stopped replying to emails, and I'm still waiting for some marks from her almost a month after her deadline was to give the marks to us!

Saying that, we've had a 'no detriment' policy introduced which is quite nice. I've got 68 (very high 2:1, borderline First) across the board in my first semester though so I'm not really that worried academically. I'm more worried about the plans for next academic year as my course is obviously very physical and requires close contact; but at the same time there's only 13 of us so it's not too too bad.
 

BJames

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Mine was pretty awful to be honest. We were told categorically on the day we shut that we were staying open, then that evening we got an email telling us we're closed indefinitely, with the email coming through in dribs and drabs (I think I got mine about half an hour after most people).

Online teaching is extremely difficult for my course (Drama). One of my lecturers practically disappeared when lockdown happened and stopped replying to emails, and I'm still waiting for some marks from her almost a month after her deadline was to give the marks to us!

Saying that, we've had a 'no detriment' policy introduced which is quite nice. I've got 68 (very high 2:1, borderline First) across the board in my first semester though so I'm not really that worried academically. I'm more worried about the plans for next academic year as my course is obviously very physical and requires close contact; but at the same time there's only 13 of us so it's not too too bad.
We've got a no detriment policy too and it was a very sensible thing indeed. I'm not worried about my grades either, I'm more worried about the prospect of institutions continuing to impose vast distancing measures and struggling to maintain any kind of reasonable quality of teaching online. Drama certainly can't be switched to online with the same quality.

We had drip-fed communications too - everyone pretty well heard from one of the social science schools before all the other departments began to put out statements between an hour and a day later, by which time everyone already knew the plans.
 

Domh245

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What exactly is the “no detriment” policy
It varies from university to university, but the idea of it is to make sure that students aren't negatively impacted by the sudden changes in terms of grades. For me, it took the form of a mark calculated from any modules/work I'd completed this year, and as too small a number of credits had been submitted (I'd submitted 46 credits but they needed 60 - ie 50% of the year) the previous year's work was taken into account. This safety net mark is then used in place of my 'normally' calculated mark if the normal mark is lower (and provided I've passed [40%] each module on it's own)
 

_toommm_

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What exactly is the “no detriment” policy
It’s a recently implemented policy that no one will be adversely affected (in terms of grades) by the current situation. It’s meant to work off your semester one grades, so I gotan average of 67.7 in my first semester, so theoretically the difference in teaching and assessment styles (which is quite drastic in some cases) should not mean I’m at a detriment.
 

Huntergreed

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What exactly is the “no detriment” policy
It’s what is going to lower the standard of education delivered in universities by essentially making assessments easier to pass and is partially the reason why we really need to move back to in person campus learning as soon as possible.

Universities are creating “no detriment” policies because they know the quality of education achievable is not the same as that found in person, and yet my university has multiple times said online tuition “is the same quality as in person teaching” and charged the same fee levels whilst implementing a no detriment policy, essentially contradicting their words and their actions (hmmm where have we heard that recently?).
 

BJames

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It’s what is going to lower the standard of education delivered in universities by essentially making assessments easier to pass and is partially the reason why we really need to move back to in person campus learning as soon as possible.

Universities are creating “no detriment” policies because they know the quality of education achievable is not the same as that found in person, and yet my university has multiple times said online tuition “is the same quality as in person teaching” and charged the same fee levels whilst implementing a no detriment policy, essentially contradicting their words and their actions (hmmm where have we heard that recently?).
I completely agree but even if they're sensible enough to know this, they can't admit it. If an institution admits online teaching is poor, then they'd be in a situation where they have to refund all their fees which they can't afford to do, and which the government is refusing to help in. The fees would have to be refunded as they would be in a breach of their contract with their students regarding teaching and the quality of the substitute being offered. I personally think this situation is applicable anyway but as we have seen throughout this, the government is not exactly following the letter of the law. The issue is that even if this has any legal standing, I suspect the case being fought would be incredibly expensive as the Unis would defend themselves considerably so I have little hope for anyone pursuing this.
 

Roast Veg

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Masters degrees cancelled for many students. Most have already signed housing contracts for their next year of study, and potentially face costly exit fees depending on the sympathies of the letting agency or landlord.
 

6862

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Masters degrees cancelled for many students. Most have already signed housing contracts for their next year of study, and potentially face costly exit fees depending on the sympathies of the letting agency or landlord.
I've not heard anything about this happening, wondering if you know which universities are doing this?
 

Reliablebeam

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I work in an public sector science role that is 'adjacent' to the university sector, but not part of it. Naturally I collaborate with University based researchers a great deal and many of them visit us to use our facilities and conduct their experiments. Needless to say, the situation the universities face is of great interest to us. It seems almost certain a number of universities will go down the pan, but what a few of us fear is early career researchers - junior lecturers and research fellows who will probably get the boot. Some of my collaborators have had the 'suggestion' that they aim to bring in say £1m or so** in research grants / industrial money, or else!! The more senior, professorial staff in our field will easily be able to attract this level of funding, junior academics, less so. I feel for the undergraduates as well, as, for me, going to university was my ticket out of my grim hometown and I would be gutted for others to be denied this opportunity, forced to watch some poorly delivered Zoom lecture - and to be fair my university based friends aren't keen on this either. It should also not escape the government's attention that healthy universities have helped in the regeneration and reinvention of some of our regional cities, so if they value their 'levelling up' agenda they better watch themselves.

At some stage our government is going to have to make some choices about where we go as a country. Clearly 2m of social distancing is impractical and as others have pointed out expecting young people to follow these ludicrous 'social bubble' ideas is a non-starter and is an example of badly made rules and behavioural micromanagement that, frankly, a lot of the population is starting to ignore. What are the government thinking? I suspect they are very in hock to a group of, frankly, weird mathematical modellers (go and read some of their papers) who have some eccentric and unworkable ideas - and we seem much further down this rabbit hole than most of Europe.

At my employer, we are going through considerable 'mental gymnastics' to try and figure out how we 'science' with 2m spacing, lots of shared equipment and a concerned management. I want to bang my head into a wall, repeatedly.

**This is to make up for the loss of the lucrative Chinese student market and the number of home /EU students deferring...
 

6862

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At my employer, we are going through considerable 'mental gymnastics' to try and figure out how we 'science' with 2m spacing, lots of shared equipment and a concerned management. I want to bang my head into a wall, repeatedly.
It is hard to see how anyone will be able to do scientific research in the 'new normal' (how I hate that term). I hope your company manages to adapt and survive, but I fear many won't and neither will many university departments the longer this nonsense continues. You also make a good point about early career researchers who's jobs are on the line, what will happen to these people? Then there are PhD students - as a fully funded PhD student they can't fire me, but I don't expect that I will be able to do any research for the rest of my PhD if this situation continues for years as it seems our government plans for it to. Even in the unlikely situation that people like me are able to finish our PhDs in some way, we won't be fully trained or qualified to do research (and there won't be any jobs anyway). What a mess.
 

6862

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The decisions are not being made at the university level, but at departmental levels.
I see. I haven't heard that my department has made any such decision, although I suppose it's unlikely they would have made it public if they had.
 

Reliablebeam

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It is hard to see how anyone will be able to do scientific research in the 'new normal' (how I hate that term). I hope your company manages to adapt and survive, but I fear many won't and neither will many university departments the longer this nonsense continues. You also make a good point about early career researchers who's jobs are on the line, what will happen to these people? Then there are PhD students - as a fully funded PhD student they can't fire me, but I don't expect that I will be able to do any research for the rest of my PhD if this situation continues for years as it seems our government plans for it to. Even in the unlikely situation that people like me are able to finish our PhDs in some way, we won't be fully trained or qualified to do research (and there won't be any jobs anyway). What a mess.
I have a number of PhD students spread across a few unis up and down the country, good luck and don't lost heart - many unis are trying to get at least some research back and some have started to trickle back but it seems vary variable. We are also offering to extend our students contracts if appropriate to give them more time.

At my employer, we are public sector so we will (hopefully!!) muddle through somehow, but any semblance of productive research output is off until some of the worst 'social distancing' goes bye-bye!
 

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