Minister calls for universities to keep staffing levels low to stop spread of coronavirus
Universities minister Michelle Donelan has urged vice-chancellors to keep the number of workers on site to “an absolute minimum” while asking them to “think creatively” about how to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to university leaders on 26 March, Donelan said the number of workers on site must be kept “to an absolute minimum” despite admitting that extra staff would be needed to keep catering, cleaning and other services running for students in isolation. Any students who have not yet returned home, including care leavers or estranged students, must stay inside their university hall or privately rented accommodation while the nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus remains in place.
Asking students to stay “inevitably places more pressure on your institution’s student accommodation and support services,” Donelan told vice-chancellors, as she urged leaders to adapt mental health and welfare services to help students in isolation.
She also told leaders to “communicate clearly with residential students on rents for this period” and to “administer accommodation provision in a fair manner” for students who have to stay. Many universities and private accommodation providers have already agreed to let students cancel their contracts for the rest of the academic year, but some have hesitated over their policies.
Elsewhere, Donelan told universities to use their “tradition of civic responsibility” to help the country through the pandemic. “The pressures are great, but I am asking you all to think creatively about the different ways in which you can support the effort more widely,” she said. “I know you will respond to this call for assistance with your tradition of civic responsibility and expertise.”
On 27 March the UPP Foundation, a charity that supports universities’ civic role, revealed details of its Civic University Network that will coordinate universities’ response to the coronavirus.
Donelan also confirmed universities’ current Teaching Excellence Framework awards will be extended until summer 2021 to help “alleviate some of the burdens” on institutions, while the government “considers and responds to Dame Shirley Pearce’s independent review of TEF”. Pearce’s TEF review was originally due to be published in 2019.
Universities will soon be given advice on how to maintain teaching standards and quality for students during the coronavirus pandemic. Donelan said it was “important that you support students and enable them to leave with qualifications that have real value and that reflect their hard work and allow them to progress”, despite difficulties with switching to online assessment and teaching.