How are universities going to be social distancing in September?

Right now, it’s hard for students to figure out what their university experience will look like in September. While it will vary across universities and countries, here is a breakdown of how some universities will be implementing social distancing this year

July 2 2020
Cleaning exam hall

The Covid-19 outbreak has changed the way that universities function. Prior to the pandemic, thousands of students from all over the world descended on campuses to learn in lectures, discuss ideas during seminars, socialise with peers and join societies and clubs.

But now universities are going to look slightly different, with many lectures taking place online, seminars being held under social distancing measures and many societies and social events going virtual. As a student it can be tricky to understand just what university will look like when you head back in September.

Here, a few universities around the world share how they have adapted (and are continuing to adapt) to ensure that students stay safe, but also gain the maximum experience from their time at university. These measures will, of course, differ depending on which country you are planning to study in and your university, so if you have any specific concerns it is best to contact your university to clarify these concerns.

All of these measures were correct at the time of publication and may have developed since. 

University of Surrey, UK

The University of Surrey’s Covid Recovery Group is working to establish safe guidelines for students attending the university in September and is continuing to develop these protocols as the pandemic changes.

Teaching and learning

  • Will use a hybrid teaching model, which involves face-to-face teaching wherever possible for most seminars, workshops and practical sessions, supported by online lectures and assessments.
  • Online delivery will be recorded and supported with visual and verbal communication tools.
  • Face-to-face learning will operate with reduced venue capacities to ensure the maintenance of social distancing protocols.

Other social distancing and support measures

  • One-way entrance and exit points from buildings and one-way staircases wherever possible – with a “keep left” default where two-way systems are necessary.
  • “Check and challenge” maximum occupancy policy for lab and workshop spaces.
  • Reduced capacity/density of classrooms and lab spaces – supported by rotas and staggered start times.
  • Consistent signage across campus to clearly communicate instructions and guidance.
  • Enhanced hygiene and cleaning protocols.
  • Perspex screens in locations where face-to-face contact is necessary. 

Loughborough University, UK

Teaching and learning

  • Teaching will be delivered in person where it can be done safely and additional learning will be provided online where required, through a combination of real-time interactive sessions and materials that can be studied in your own time.
  • It is likely that initially some, if not most, large lectures and some larger classes will have to be delivered online. Students will have the opportunity for feedback and questions during online lectures.
  • Smaller group teaching will take place face to face on campus. Every student will have in-person tuition and access to facilities where it can be offered safely.
  • The university will provide guidance to ensure you are able to maximise your learning from all the teaching modes it will be offering, for example, labs, seminars, tutorials and lectures, alongside any enhanced online interaction. The library will be open with social distancing measures in place.
  • Where possible remote learning will be retained, such as off-campus access to computer facilities and specialist software.

Other social distancing and support measures

  • University accommodation will be open and if for any reason lockdown measures are reintroduced, students will not be charged for any weeks that they have to return home while the lockdown is in place.
  • In terms of social activities, the students’ union will be running a programme of activities that will adhere to social distancing rules. There will be a focus on smaller events and the university will endeavour to run as much of the sports programme as possible.
  • The university is also working to ensure that there are extensive health and safety measures on place on campus and considering whether measures such as temperature checking will be required.

Stanford University, USA    

Teaching and learning

  • While in-person classes will be offered on campus, much of the undergraduate teaching at Stanford University will still be carried out online in the 2020-21 year.  
  • It is expected that all classes larger than 50 students will need to be taught online, although the limits could be smaller depending on local health conditions. Class times will probably need to extend from 8am to 9pm to make the best use of classroom spaces. And, since some classes can only be held in person, they may need to be offered multiple times as different populations return to campus throughout the year.
  • The university is also looking at ways to better replicate features of in-person teaching, such as small group interactions, academic support and peer-to-peer learning. 

Other social distancing and support measures

  • It’s likely that students will need to wear face coverings regularly while on campus.
  • Physical distancing protocols will be in place for campus buildings and common spaces with limitations on gatherings. 
  • The university will probably ask students not to travel outside the local area while they are enrolled on campus, or otherwise to self-isolate upon their return. 

University of Toronto, Canada

Teaching and learning

  • Will prioritise in-person classes and on-campus instruction where possible and as conditions allow.  The fall/autumn term will mix smaller, on-campus seminars, labs and experiential learning with larger online and remote courses and lectures. 
  • Decisions about how courses will be delivered, including how students in other time zones are able to access content, are being made by individual faculty and departments and students will be made aware of these in due course.
  • The university is developing a best practice guide to help with connectivity issues and is working to make space available for students who require access to technology or the internet while following public health guidance.     

Other social distancing and support measures 

  • The university has extended the application process for its work-study programme this summer in order to provide students with more work opportunities.
  • There will be increased cleaning of classrooms, libraries and public spaces and increased disinfection of high-touch surfaces. There will be hand sanitisers for high-traffic spaces.
  • All residences have enhanced cleaning protocols and incoming students this semester should be assigned a single room. 
  • Students will continue to have online and phone access to health and wellness services at all three campuses while buildings are closed, including individual and group counselling appointments.
  • International and domestic students will also have access to 24-hour mental health support offered through chat or phone in multiple languages. 
  • In addition to existing services, U of T also recently formed a new partnership that provides students with access to a Covid discussion forum monitored by social workers from Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health who can provide advice and refer students to additional mental health resources.  
  • The university is continuing to provide both international and domestic students with a variety of support, such as workshops on exam preparation and essay writing, including in an online context. Residences remain open for students who were unable to return home, including international students who faced travel restrictions.
  • A best practice guide is being developed to help with connectivity issues and the university is working to make space available for students who require access to technology or the internet while following public health guidance.

University of Melbourne, Australia

Teaching and learning

  • The university will transition to a virtual campus for the upcoming academic year. This means that classes will be delivered remotely and staff will be working from home wherever possible.
  • Any physical attendance requirements for seminars will be waived, but active class participation requirements will remain in place for online delivery.
  • There will be specific arrangements for specialist and practical classes, performances and design studios delivered via the virtual campus.

Other social distancing and support measures

  • The university will deliver a phased, partial return to campus, with a focus on priority areas to avoid large crowds, movement, gatherings and time spent on campus.
  • Students are also advised that they should stay away from campus if they feel unwell and to continue to wash their hands.
  • All student services, including library services, will be be delivered virtually.

Simon Fraser University, Canada

Teaching and learning

  • Most classes will continue to be delivered through remote methods in the fall/autumn term.
  • If allowed by government and health authorities, and provided that personal health and safety can be maintained, selected courses will be open for in-person instructional activities. Examples may include laboratory-based classes, field trips, and graduate student classes where in-person participation is essential. To avoid having an unsafe number of people on campus, the number of in-person courses will be limited.
  • Similarly, and subject to the same health and safety guidelines, some co-curricular and extracurricular programming may proceed on an in-person basis.
  • Students are learning in different time zones and have varying schedules, making synchronous (live) classes challenging to attend. For this reason, instructors have been encouraged to adopt asynchronous learning where possible and when consistent with the learning outcomes of the course. 

Other social distancing and support measures

  • Student services are currently being offered virtually and will continue to be offered remotely into the fall/autumn. 
  • Access to academic advice, financial aid, virtual welcome days, services fairs, tours and University 101 courses are all being offered virtually. 
  • There will be an additional mental health case manager to support students who are struggling during this time. The position will remain in place into the fall/autumn term. SFU counsellors, psychologists, mental health nurses and doctors have also all been made available virtually for students.
  • Students in financial difficulty are encouraged to apply for support through SFU’s extensive bursary programme, which provides funds to both international and Canadian students. Students are encouraged to talk to a financial aid and awards officer to explore other funding options based on their personal circumstances.
  • A website has been created to help students find work and learn about financial aid available to them. SFU also continues to employ students living in residences and on virtual co-op placements. 
  • International students are also being offered financial assistance, food and housing support, and access to mental health and immigration support. A dedicated webpage has been created to help international students navigate the available resources.
  • Before resuming activities that require additional faculty, staff, or students to return to campus, a university-approved safety plan is required for that area. The plan needs to comply with WorkSafe BC requirements and demonstrate that physical distancing, enhanced cleaning, compliance monitoring and training will be in place. 
  • Good hygiene practices, such as hand-washing, will continue to be promoted and appropriate cleaning facilities and/or alternatives such as hand sanitiser will be provided.
  • Cleaning staff will be ensuring SFU premises and high-touch points are appropriately cleaned and maintained to prevent the spread of communicable illnesses.

Read more: Why students should not defer their place at university this year 

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