Westminster government guidance for English universities - Thu, 7 Jan 2021

The Westminster Government has issued revised guidance for English universities following the 4th January announcement of a further lockdown. This is available here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/950367/ Students_returning_to_and_starting_higher_education_in_Spring_Term_2021.pdf


Key points to note:

  1. It confirms that university library staff can be regarded as critical workers:  “Staff who are required to deliver or to support delivery of teaching or research and the provision of appropriate university facilities (including catering, cleaning and provision of study spaces including laboratories and libraries) are considered critical workers for the purposes of access to education and travelling to work counts as a reasonable excuse for travel, notwithstanding wider travel restrictions in place.”
  2. It places heavy stress on reducing the number of students accessing university buildings and facilities:

“ [Students who have stayed on campus] should be asked to only utilise campus resources when they have to, in order to reduce footfall on campus, but they should be offered testing alongside the first expected returners.”

  1. However it does encourage the provision of library services

HE providers should consider appropriate provision to support access to university facilities to support online learning (e.g. library services or study spaces) and to prevent isolation and mental health issues of students.”            

  1. And it allows for library buildings to be open, placing responsibility for the decision about which facilities to open with individual institutions:

“Providers should consider opening facilities to support the teaching and learning of those who fall into the categories above [see below], but these should be maintained for essential use only wherever possible. Providers should make their own judgement on the facilities that need to be made available, and should complete appropriate risk- assessments to do so, and take any additional measures as required, including limiting access, or numbers accessing facilities as required. Facilities that providers can consider opening include:

  • libraries and specialist collections, for both studying and borrowing materials, on an essential access only basis
  • study spaces and practice areas …
  • facilities required for research activities, including those undertaken by postgraduate research students if the research cannot be reasonably conducted from home, including laboratories, suites and associated offices and specialist collections.”
  1. It recognises that there are groups of students which will be at universities in addition to those attending courses where face to face teaching is allowed:
  • international students who have remained in the UK and those who have arrived and do not have alternative accommodation
  • those who have remained in their university accommodation over the winter break
  • those who have returned to university accommodation in exceptional circumstances, for example because they are without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities in their vacation accommodation
  • those requiring additional support, including those with mental health and wellbeing issues
  • commuter students, on an exceptional basis where they are not in the first tranche of returners, who require access to university facilities to access online learning (for example because they do not have access to appropriate study spaces or facilities in their usual accommodation)
  • researchers and research students who require access to specialist facilities for their work. If research students can work from home, they are encouraged to do so.