COVID-19 update

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Message from the University Secretary: Scottish Government update

Dear Colleagues and Students

In response to the new strain of the COVID-19 virus, on Friday 15 January the Scottish Government published further guidance for universities on the resumption of in-person learning and teaching. While the guidance will be kept under review, it will be in place until at least the end of February. 

This email outlines how these new measures impact on undergraduate and postgraduate learning and teaching, as well as the University’s other areas of critical business.

Thank you again for your patience, understanding and support as all of us continually adapt in implementing and following the latest restrictions.

Working and studying from home

The current lockdown restrictions are designed to reduce movement and interaction as much as possible in an effort to stop people catching COVID-19. The safety of our students and staff is our top priority and, for the coming weeks, we must minimise the number of people on campus. Therefore everyone who can work or study from home should do so. Staff and students on the shielding list are advised not to come on to campus at all. A risk assessment is required should any clinically vulnerable person (who may not be on the shielding list) have to make an essential journey to campus for work or study.

I am extremely grateful to those staff who continue to work on campus to provide essential services to our students. The health, safety and wellbeing of our University community is of paramount importance, and I would ask that you continue to follow the guidance and safety measures in place – for staff this includes the completion and updating of workplace risk assessments, where appropriate.

To further protect our community, we are seeking formal approval from Government to offer staff who are carrying out essential roles on campus, ongoing asymptomatic testing at our No Symptoms Test Centre.

Learning and teaching timetable

The semester for undergraduate students has started, as planned, today (Monday 18 January), with the postgraduate semester due to begin, as scheduled, on Monday 1 February.

For the vast majority of undergraduate and postgraduate students, learning and teaching will now be delivered online until at least the end of February – with a strong possibility that this will continue throughout March.

There are a number of recognised exceptions which allow for some limited in-person essential teaching or placement learning to take place – in mainly vocational subjects. Those undergraduate and postgraduate students to whom this applies will be contacted directly by their faculties. Please be assured we are working closely with our professional bodies to ensure relevant course requirements are met and students will be updated as more information becomes available.

As a result of the extended in-person teaching restrictions, timetable changes are being applied and it is critical that students continue to check their timetables – both online and through the University app – for updates. Please do not hesitate to contact ask@stir.ac.uk or go directly to your faculty if you have any questions. 

The health and safety of our students and staff is of paramount importance. Our intention is to return to in-person teaching when we are permitted to do so legally and safely. However, I want to stress that students who wish to complete this spring semester fully online will be able to do so.

I am extremely grateful to our lecturers, tutors and professional support services for responding so rapidly to what is a constantly evolving situation, ensuring we continue to provide a high-quality education for our students. We also appreciate the patience and understanding of our students as we continue to implement new ways of working and teaching to support you in your studies – thank you.

Returning to term-time accommodation

I want to reiterate that students currently living on campus will continue to be fully supported and again my thanks goes to all those colleagues who are continuing to deliver essential services and facilities for our residents.

Under the latest guidance, students who have not yet returned to their term-time accommodation should remain within their current household until at least the end of February, if they are able to do so. In exceptional circumstances, where students have to return to their term-time accommodation – for example, where a student has to return for critical attendance, an essential placement, or for serious wellbeing reasons – this is permitted and you will be supported by the University to do so in a safe and managed way (see booking your arrival slot below).

Students travelling from overseas to Scotland

Under the current restrictions, students are asked not to travel to Scotland until at least the end of February – therefore, if it is possible for you to delay your arrival, please do so. You will be able to continue your studies online, and should only return once restrictions are lifted and you’re advised by the University or your faculty to do so.

However, we understand that many returning international students will have already arrived or have booked travel to return to their term-time accommodation. If this applies to you, and your arrangements cannot be changed, then you are permitted to return to your term-time accommodation on your scheduled travel date.

Please note, the Government has made it a public health requirement for anyone travelling to Scotland from overseas to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, taken a maximum of 72 hours before travel. Please check the Government’s website for full details on the type of test required. Before travelling, you are advised to check with your airline or other passenger carrier to ensure you have the correct paperwork. 

From 18 January there are no longer ‘travel corridors’ in place for travellers arriving in the UK – this means that anyone arriving from overseas will be required to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival, regardless of their country of origin and their pre-departure test result. 

The latest travel guidance is available on the Scottish Government website.

Booking your accommodation arrival slot and no-symptoms COVID-19 test

As stated above, most students should not plan to travel back to term-time accommodation at this time. Students in exceptional circumstances, as defined above, who require to return to University-managed accommodation are permitted to do so, provided this happens in a safe and managed way. To facilitate this limited return, students must book their accommodation arrival slot and their COVID-19 asymptomatic tests at our No Symptoms Test Centre. Given the extended restrictions resulting in fewer students on campus over the next few weeks, the Test Centre will be operating reduced opening hours (9am – 1pm every Monday and Friday) until at least mid-February.

Students who have been unable to return to their University-managed accommodation during this latest lockdown period will be eligible for an accommodation credit for each day they have been unable to return. Further information has been shared directly with student tenants.

Campus services

The University campus remains open, however, the availability of some catering services has been impacted by the tightening of Scottish Government restrictions. From today, 18 January, click-and-collect food orders for Refresh will be available for pick-up at the entrance to Willow Court and at the Link Bridge Atrium entrance for orders from Scran. For more information and to find out how to order food for collection or delivery, see our catering webpages.

The library also remains open, with reduced opening hours and robust safety measures in place to protect library users and staff – this includes a click-and-collect service and supervised study space which must be booked in advance. For more information, please visit the library webpages.

Research and postgraduate research students

It remains the case that only essential research work may be undertaken in laboratories and other research facilities, as outlined by Scottish Government. Researchers and postgraduate research students should continue to follow the protocols and guidance, for both laboratory and fieldwork, provided by faculties during the previous Level 4 restriction period. This includes working with line managers to ensure risk assessments are completed and kept up-to-date. 

Supporting each other

The current situation may be causing you feelings of anxiety and stress as your personal circumstances are impacted. Please be assured we will continue to update you as circumstances change and the University is doing everything possible to ensure you have access to the appropriate support.

Students can contact our Student Support Services team, and also access the anonymous online wellbeing platform togetherall. Please also remember that the University has a wide range of interactive social, educational and support activities available via the Be Connected programme.

Staff are able to use togetherall and the University’s Employee Assistance Programme, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

We must keep in focus however the significant progress of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, which is now underway in Scotland and which brings us closer to the day when we can all be together on our beautiful University campus. In the meantime, while we do our best under these incredibly challenging circumstances, we can try to show each other understanding, flexibility and kindness in our interactions.

Above all, continue to follow the Government guidance and look after yourself, your families and those around you.

Eileen Schofield

University Secretary and Chief Operating Officer

COVID-19 Response Lead

 

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