I am writing to provide a brief update on the measures we have adopted at Cardiff Metropolitan University as we seek to protect the health and wellbeing of our new and returning students, our staff and our wider community at this time of great anxiety resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic.
I wish to reassure you that we have taken all possible steps to protect our university and wider community. However, I appreciate that with incidences of Covid-19 rising again you may have questions about how the University will operate this coming year. This briefing is intended to answer most frequently asked questions but I and my senior colleagues will be very happy to answer any further queries you might have. Details of how to contact me directly are included at the end of this briefing.
A measured return
As a values-driven University, we have prioritised the health and wellbeing of our staff, students and community during the pandemic, providing all the assurances that we could from the outset, and this focus will continue to be our priority as we start the new academic year. We will begin welcoming students from 21st September, ahead of term starting on the 5th October.
Those familiar with our campuses will see a great deal of change resulting from the work we have undertaken to ensure that we do all that we can to keep our One Cardiff Met community safe by aligning with current Welsh Government guidance.
Throughout the summer our Environment and Estates team has been busy adapting our indoor and outdoor spaces to minimise risk from Covid-19.
Adaptations have included:
- establishing and signposting one-way systems
- adapting high contact items such as doors and taps into ‘touch-free’ applications
- constructing covered spaces and seating areas outdoors where students and staff can meet and socialise undercover with good ventilation
- installing contactless collection points at food outlets which have been trialled over the summer months
- revising room occupancies to accommodate social distancing
- establishing over 2,000 information points across our campuses
- installing 100 hand sanitizer stations and washbasins in our buildings
- constructing safety screens at customer-facing receptions
- implementing ‘crowd control’ measures for peak occupancy periods
We have also implemented a mandatory non-medical face coverings policy for areas such as corridors where social distancing cannot be guaranteed. In addition, enhanced cleaning regimes using specialist anti-viral cleaning chemicals were established prior to lockdown and have been further improved for use across our sites, and new ‘Safety Marshalls’ on campus will provide information and advice to support everyone who visits, studies or works at our university and uses our facilities.
Safety for our students
As a result of Welsh Government guidance on post-16 and higher education provision, Term 1 will see students accessing a combination of online and face-to-face teaching – a style we're calling ‘flexible learning’. Adopting this model will enable our students to have greater control over the timing and location of their learning, safeguarding their access to their course should a second wave of Covid-19 bring further disruptions.
While social distancing remains necessary, we will not teach in lecture theatres and teaching for our larger programmes will continue online; a process we established prior to the Spring lockdown. Subject to approval following detailed risk assessments, face-to-face interaction for smaller groups will take place where possible. Where close proximity is unavoidable PPE and mobile screens will be used.
Our student residences accommodation teams are assisting students on campus with these new measures and students will be required to remain in accommodation ‘bubbles’. A reimagined residential social programme, designed in partnership with the Students’ Union and including a range of online activities, will help students make new friends at a safe distance. There has also been further investment in the nextbike scheme to encourage students to cycle rather than use public transport.
Accommodation for EU and International students will be provided for those who need to self-isolate on arrival in the UK. These students will be offered free fully equipped single-occupancy accommodation, food packages and pastoral care to help them manage the quarantine period safely.
International students are being encouraged to arrive through Heathrow and Cardiff International Airports, from where we have organised free airport transfers to safe accommodation, minimising the risk and protecting both our students and wider community.
Any student who is identified as self-isolating as a result of Covid-19 at any point during the term will be offered a complete package of care ensuring they have access to food and welfare support and that they can continue to access their studies safely through flexible learning.
New and returning students can keep up to date with the latest developments using the new ‘What to expect’ pages on our website, and all of our Student Services are now fully digital meaning that students can access all wellbeing, advice and career support online.
Safety for our staff
The vast majority of staff will continue to spend the majority of their time working from home so that we can manage the number of people and the risks on our campuses. Where staff do come into our buildings, a risk assessment is completed in advance and office space has being adapted to ensure staff adhere to social distancing. We have installed screens between desks and minimised the number of people in shared offices by operating rota systems.
Although we have faced many challenges over the last six months staff have adapted well to our new ways of working and morale is generally good. Our spirits have been lifted by our strong year-end finances and a rise of 41 places in The Guardian Good University Guide league table announced last week. Since March I have sought to keep our university community up-to-date and together with a Weekly Update informed by my ongoing liaison with UK and Welsh Government and a range of sector bodies in education and health. I’m conscious, that with Covid-19 remaining a concern for our wider community, I now need to do more to communicate regularly with our friends, neighbours and supporters.
Safety for our community
As we plan for students returning to Cardiff, we are working with Cardiff Council, Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and the city’s other universities to ensure we have appropriate plans in place. Colleagues have also been talking to the local groups and we will ensure we keep in contact with the people of Cardiff who live near our campuses as the new academic year progresses.
While the start of the new academic year will not be a ‘normal’ one for any of us, I am encouraged by the many positive messages I continue to receive from our students and staff about our approach throughout this crisis; it is vital that our actions continue to maintain your confidence in us.
Although uncertainties still lie ahead, I am confident that our University community has prepared as best as we can to minimise the risks to our students, staff and wider community while continuing to provide a safe, enriching and enjoyable education for all.
Thank you for your continuing support of Cardiff Metropolitan University and please do not hesitate to email me if you have any questions or concerns.
With very best wishes,
Professor Cara Aitchison
President and Vice-Chancellor