Staying safe at University

Last updated: 20th October
By Rowan Foster

Key Messages

Remember – ‘hands, face, space’.

a government advert for keeping safe in the pandemic. Three vertical rectangles are shown in a line. The first is blue with the online of a running tap, it reads: wash hands. The second is yellow with a line drawing of someone wearing a medical mask, it reads: cover face. the third is pink with the outline of two people looking at each other across a distance, it reads: make space. The NHS logo is shown in the top right and the HM Government logo in the top left.
A government advert for keeping safe during the pandemic: wash hands, cover face, make space
  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Wear a face covering, where rules apply
  • Keep a 2m distance
  • Socialise only with your household, or a maximum of 6 people
  • Get a test and self-isolate if you develop symptoms
  • Keep an eye on the local alert level, and make changes based on this
  • Use the NHS Test and Trace app

Be prepared for a different university experience!

Whether you’re a fresher, returning student, or a postgrad, you’re likely to have a few concerns about the upcoming academic year. This year’s going to be different in a lot of ways, especially in terms of student life. We want to remind you that you can still have a fulfilling and positive university experience even under these regulations; but we urge you to be responsible and follow guidance as much as you can. We know it’s not easy, but every person can make a difference and help keep the virus contained. We’ve put together this blog post, detailing the changes you’re likely to see, and the guidance you need to bear in mind – we hope you find it useful.

Local COVID Alert Levels (The Three Tier System)

The ‘three tiers’ system determines the individual lockdown measures that local areas need to follow. At the moment, nowhere is below ‘medium/tier 1’. The higher your area’s tier, the more strict lockdown measures will be.

Medium/Tier 1

Most of the country is at this tier. At this tier, you must follow the national lockdown measures – maintain social distancing, follow the ‘rule of six’, and remember hospitality venues will close at 10pm. Remember not to host anyone in your house who lives in an area with a higher tier.

High/Tier 2

Areas of the country with higher infections will be at this tier. You should not be meeting with anyone outside your household/support bubble indoors, however you may meet with people outside as long as you follow the ‘rule of six’. Universities should still remain open, although there may be a shift towards more online learning.

Under Tier 2, you shouldn’t move back and forth between your permanent home and your term-time address (if these are different) during term time, subject to a few exemptions.

Very High/Tier 3

The areas of the country with the highest and most concerning infection rates will be at this tier. You should not be meeting with anyone outside your household/support bubble, whether in a public place or at home. On top of the restrictions of Tier 2, pubs and bars will close unless they can act as a restaurant, and non-essential travel should be reduced. You should avoid leaving or entering a Tier 3 area aside from for work, education, caring responsibilities, accessing services, or if you are in transit.

This is the baseline for Tier 3 measures, but the local authorities may put extra restrictions in place, so make sure you keep an eye on updates at gov.uk/coronavirus.

Student Accommodation

There are no rules against moving house, and anybody in England who wishes to move house can do so. This includes forming new households, and moving into shared student accommodation or houses in multiple occupation (HMOs). However, if you’re moving into a different town, city, or country, check to see if the area you’re moving to has additional restrictions in place. If you’re a returning international student, make sure you provide your journey and contact details before you travel to the UK, and find out whether you need to self-isolate when you arrive. Please remember that restrictions can change quickly, and without much warning, so you should keep checking for any changes in the latest guidance.

Your accommodation provider decides what household you’re in (as it depends on the property’s layout, and the amount of people living there). If you are living in halls, a household is normally considered to be students living in the same flat or floor, and who share a kitchen and/or bathroom, rather than an entire block. If you’re living in a student house, your household is usually everyone you live with. Your accommodation provider should tell you who is in your household. If a student has coronavirus symptoms, everyone else in their household will need to self-isolate for 14 days. This should be discussed with your education provider, and with the manager or landlord of your residence.

Travel

If you can, you should walk or cycle as much as possible, as it keeps public transport less crowded. If you do need to use public transport, check for changes to the services and allow plenty of time to get there; try to avoid travelling on the busiest routes, or at busy times like rush hour. Remember to wear a face covering on public transport, unless you are exempt, and to follow social distancing rules.

If you’re travelling by car, try to avoid sharing or carpooling. If you do need to share with people from another household, then wear a face covering for the duration of the journey (unless exempt), keep windows open for ventilation, and consider leaving some seats free to maximise distance between people in the vehicle.

Lectures and social distancing

We’ve learnt more about keeping places of education safer. Universities have introduced measures to keep their students, staff and their families as safe as possible. These measures are based on Government guidelines and are appropriate to each individual university, its community and environment. Any public health risks, and measures that need to be taken to reduce these, will be kept under constant review.

You can expect to follow usual public health measures in university. This means that outside of lectures, you should continue to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser regularly, maintain social distancing of 2 metres and wear a face covering where this is difficult – like in corridors and communal areas.

Social gatherings

You are still expected to keep 2 metres between yourself and anybody who isn’t in your household or support bubble. From the 14th of September, any gathering of more than six people either inside or outside is illegal – unless it meets specific criteria set out by the Government. The controlled environment in university means different rules apply there, but you must remember to follow the rule outside of university. The guidelines on social distancing are likely to change depending on the current circumstances, so ensure you check regularly on gov.uk/coronavirus for any updates.

In the event of an outbreak, or if you have symptoms

If you or anyone in your household has symptoms of coronavirus, including a new, continuous cough, high fever or change in sense of taste and smell, that person needs to stay at home, self-isolate for 10 days and follow the guidance at gov.uk/coronavirus. Everyone else in the household must self-isolate for 14 days and follow the same guidance.

You will also need to self-isolate if you have tested positive for coronavirus, or if you have been advised to do so by the NHS Test-and-Trace service. If you need to self-isolate, inform your university and accommodation provider as soon as you can. This is important to help keep other students safe, for the NHS Test-and-Trace service to be effective, and to help you with continuing your learning at home.

If there’s an outbreak in your local area or at your university, then the university should put protective measures in place to help reduce the risk to students and staff. This will usually include an increase in online learning. You should also follow any additional restrictions that are put in place for your local area. Unless you are told otherwise, you should remain in your current accommodation and not return to the family home, as this risks spreading the infection further.

Mental health and wellbeing support

It’s completely normal to be anxious or worried about attending university. If you are worried about your mental health or your general wellbeing, please seek support from people around you that you trust. Your university may also offer counselling or student support services. Listed below are some services that you may also find useful.

  • The Mind website (www.mind.org.uk): Provides information about mental health, coping techniques, and support.
  • SHOUT (www.giveusashout.org): A 24/7, confidential and free text line where you can share your worries and access support. The number to text is 85258.
  • Heads Together (http://www.ymcaeastsurrey.org.uk/our-services/youth/heads-together-counselling/): Provides free and confidential counselling in areas of Surrey for anyone aged 14-24.
  • The Mix (www.themix.org.uk / 08088084994): A support service for under 25s providing counselling, a helpline, and an online community.
  • Student Minds (www.studentminds.org.uk): The student mental health charity, offering peer support among other things.
  • Nightline (www.nightline.ac.uk): A listening service, available at night, that is run by students for students – available at certain universities. You can check if your university has a Nightline at http://www.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk/
  • SANE (http://www.sane.org.uk): A charity providing emotional support, guidance and information to anyone affected by mental illness. They also have an out-of-hours helpline, SANEline, for anybody in mental health crisis.

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