A set of high-level principles and supporting information for universities to consider as they emerge from lockdown has been published today [Wednesday 3 June] by @UniversitiesUK 

The principles provide a framework for individual universities both in the coming weeks and as they develop their plans for the new academic year. While individual universities will tailor their approaches depending on their settings and situations, the publication highlights key considerations to support universities and provide transparency to students on the work underway to give them the full university experience next year. 

The nine principles include prioritising the health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff and those in the wider community; making appropriate changes to layout to adhere to regulations such as social distancing; reviewing flexibility in teaching, learning and assessments; and developing effective processes to welcome international students and staff, including throughout any mandatory self-isolation period.

Emma Hardy 100x100Emma Hardy MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Further Education and Universities, said:

"The coming academic year will be a very different experience for students and staff alike and producing a clear set of principles on which to proceed, with a focus on the wellbeing of staff and students, is exactly what is needed.

"At a time when leadership is called for it is a matter of regret that the Government has so far remained on the sidelines, introducing heavy handed powers to the Office for Students and allowed uncalled-for caps on English student numbers on the devolved regions.

"Labour urges the Government to take this opportunity to work with UUK to ensure all universities are adequately supported through this crisis."

Tim Bradshaw 100x100Dr. Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said:

“We welcome the principles for emerging from lockdown published today by Universities UK on behalf of the sector, setting out key considerations for universities as they work hard to develop plans to reopen safely for students and staff. While our universities will take an individual approach based on their specific situation and needs, all are united by the determination to continue providing the best possible experience for every student. 

“As we emerge from the current crisis, graduates and postgraduates will be at the heart of our economic and social recovery. In uncertain times, one of the most valuable assets individuals can have is a high-quality education, and this is what our universities are focused on delivering.”

Open statement

An open statement on behalf of the universities is set out below from the President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London, Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, and Professor Shearer West, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, who is chairing a specially convened sounding board to coordinate the sector’s recovery work:

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The UK’s universities are united in the view that students should have the opportunity to benefit from a world-class higher education experience that enables them to progress towards their career and life goals. A university education is more relevant and valuable than ever in these uncertain times. UK universities will be open and ready to teach and support students at the start of the new academic year.  

New and returning students can be confident their universities will be providing high-quality, accessible and engaging teaching and learning this autumn; and can look forward to a positive student experience and wide-ranging support. Universities will provide as much in-person learning, teaching, support services and extra-curricular activities as public health advice and government guidance will support. This will include new ways of providing practical sessions in socially distanced forms, innovative approaches to extra-curricular activities such as welcome week programmes, and a continuation of important student services such as mental health and wellbeing support and careers advice. 

These approaches will be supplemented with carefully planned alternatives for students where parts of the university experience may be difficult to deliver in-person – such as large lectures.  

Across the sector, the top priority is to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of students, our staff and the wider community. Universities are harnessing the significant expertise which exists within our sector, and working closely with the UK, devolved and local governments and public health bodies on our approach. While the specifics will rightly vary based on factors such as the location, size and type of institution, universities’ approaches will be informed by a common set of published principles. These include making appropriate changes to university layout and infrastructure and regularly reviewing and adapting hygiene and cleaning protocols in all university spaces in accordance with public health advice; working with civic and local partners wherever appropriate; and reviewing teaching, learning and assessment to ensure that the required flexibility is in place to deliver a high-quality experience and support students. 

We understand that current and prospective students – along with their parents, carers and teachers – want to know much more about what their university experience will look like. Universities are sharing as much as they can now and are working hard to provide more details as soon as they can. The way the world will look by the autumn is not completely clear to any of us yet, but universities are focused on their plans and will regularly update current and prospective students as their strategies for 2020/21 take shape.  

Despite the current uncertainties, we are committed to providing the same world-class experience for which UK higher education is known in the new academic year. We will continue to support students to progress and achieve their learning outcomes, to overcome barriers so they succeed and flourish, to offer a fulfilling and varied learning experience, and to give them skills and hope for the future.

The principles have been informed by input from the Coronavirus Recovery Sounding Board and the UUK Board, both of which are cross-UK groups of vice chancellors with representation from the different mission groups and unaligned universities. 

They have also been shaped via direct discussions with the higher education representative bodies and mission groups - GuildHE, MillionPlus, the Russell Group and the University Alliance, as well as UCEA (the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association) and the NUS.

UUK’s ongoing engagement with sector experts including AHUA (Association of Heads of University Administration), USHA (University Safety and Health Association), CUBO (College and University Business Officers) and AUDE (Association of University Directors of Estates) have also helped to identify priority issues for universities relating to the emergence from lockdown.

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