University of Bolton announces plans to reopen, but Cambridge cancels face-to-face lectures until summer 2021
The University of Bolton is planning protective screens, full-length temperature scanners and a bike loan scheme to make sure students can come to campus in September, while the University of Cambridge has confirmed that all lectures will be online in 2020-21.
The institutions are among the first to outline what teaching will look like in the next academic year, with the higher education regulator calling on universities to let students know what to expect.
Airport-style temperature scanners will greet students starting the autumn term at Bolton, as part of its ”ambitious and innovative plan” to create a “Covid secure” campus.
In a statement to students on 19 May, Bolton vice-chancellor George Holmes said that the “widespread innovative changes on campus” included a bike loan scheme to stop students crowding onto public transport, compulsory face masks and specific time slots to come to campus.
“From September you will be pleased to hear that we will provide a ‘Covid secure’ working and learning environment for you,” Holmes said, stressing that the changes meant students would “have access to a fully operational university campus” and would be able to “study and engage in person regularly with other students and staff”.
Classrooms will be restricted to five students at a time to make sure “socially distanced face-to-face tutorials” can take place, while protective screens will split lecturers from students and “learning zones” will involve plastic screens being used to divide study groups.
Laboratories and studios will be adapted over the summer to make sure students and staff can use them while keeping their distance from each other, and hand sanitiser will be available throughout campus.
However, Martyn Moss, University and College Union regional official for north west England, said Bolton’s decision to reopen its campus in September was “out of step” with other universities’ decisions and was “an irresponsible promise".
"Unfortunately, this is exactly the sort of thing we warned would happen without government support for higher education,” he added, claiming universities “are worried about loss of income and students being poached by other universities”.
The University of Cambridge, in contrast, has decided to cancel face-to-face lectures for the 2020-21 academic year. “Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year,” a spokesman for the university said.
While lectures will be online only, the spokesman said it “may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements”. The decision to cancel in-person lectures was taken “to facilitate planning” for the next year, but it will be reviewed if the government’s advice on the coronavirus changes.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme on 20 May, Office for Students chief executive Nicola Dandridge repeated calls for universities to tell students how they would be taught in the autumn.
“What we are saying is that it’s really important that universities let students know what they should expect,” she said, adding that it was “looking increasingly likely” there would be a “sophisticated blend” of online and face-to-face teaching from September.
Zamzam Ibrahim, president of the National Union of Students, said it was important for universities to prioritise student safety during the pandemic but agreed “students need clarity as to what they can expect from the next academic year in order for them to make informed choices”.
Ibrahim added that government “work with the higher education sector to ensure that all students are able to receive quality education next year and have the resources they need to engage with online learning”.