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University of Leicester to offer weekly student housing contracts

Image: NotFromUtrecht [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

East Midlands institution seeks to reassure applicants amid coronavirus outbreak

The University of Leicester has said it will allow students to sign weekly rolling accommodation contracts in order to reassure them they will not have to keep paying rent if the Covid-19 outbreak means they are unable to attend campus.

It comes as the Office for Students publishes a briefing note on how universities should support prospective students during the pandemic. A separate briefing note, on supporting postgraduate research students, has also been published by England’s regulator.

Vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah (pictured) told Research Professional News that anyone in University of Leicester accommodation for the 2020-21 academic year would be able to choose from “weekly, monthly, termly or annual” contracts in order to ensure students “don’t have to pay up front without knowing how long they are going to be on campus”.

“We have created a flexible accommodation package for our students, and hopefully that will reassure them they won’t have to spend a lot of money,” Canagarajah said, adding that the university had seen the number of students saying they want to come to Leicester “going up as a result”.

“I think the students feel very supported, but it also allows me to manage any kind of uncertainty in future government guidance”—particularly in the event of a “second wave of lockdown”. 

The OfS guidelines, published on 11 June, look at how universities are supporting higher education applicants as they decide whether to take up university places this autumn at a time when the face-to-face educational and social activities may be unavailable. Earlier this week, England’s regulator instructed universities to issue clear guidance to students on what their courses will look like when they commence in September.

The OfS has also published guidance on student and consumer protection during the coronavirus outbreak.

“The biggest challenge for vice-chancellors right now is the uncertainty,” Canagarajah said. “How do we prepare to come out of a major pandemic with unprecedented impacts on our activity?”

This situation is “very, very complex and constantly moving”, he says. “In terms of our obligations to the staff and students, we are dealing with different expectations. Some of them want to be on campus as soon as possible, but some of them feel nervous and anxious. Some of them may be in the vulnerable groups and don’t want to come back.

“So I think the biggest challenge is the uncertainty, and also trying to see how you can come up with a plan that is truly inclusive and takes into account the diverse needs of our staff and students.”

He says the University of Leicester plans to implement a “flexible blended learning approach” to be called “Ignite”, which will include online lectures and—where possible—face-to-face seminars and laboratory work. The university has taken the decision that two buildings cannot be made “Covid-secure”, so they will be taken out of use.