Medical students will be given priority for face-to-face teaching

Medical students will be prioritised for face-to-face teaching amid local coronavirus outbreaks, the Government revealed yesterday.

Universities should only retain in-person provision for ‘priority courses’ if there is an upsurge in the disease with online learning increased in other subjects.

And students must not return to their family home if stricter measures become necessary to curb the spread of the virus.

The updated guidance – published yesterday – comes as thousands prepare to return to campus for the start of term.

Jo Grady, of the University and College Union, called the advice, which included using outdoor space during teaching, ‘confusing, expensive and, at times, silly’.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said safety ‘is our priority’.

Currently, universities should identify an ‘appropriate’ mix of online and face-to-face teaching for each subject, reflecting what will maximise learning and mimimise transmission risks.

Universities should only retain in-person provision for ‘priority courses’ if there is an upsurge in the disease with online learning increased in other subjects

Vice chancellors should ensure ‘good ventilation’ in classes and ‘increase the supply of fresh air, for example, by opening windows and doors’.

The document also highlights ‘utilising outdoor space’, which could involve tutorials being held in the grounds of campuses.

It says: ‘You might consider whether some tuition in certain subjects can be conducted outside.’

Universities should consider ‘segmentation’ of students, for example by course, year group and accommodation to help ‘reduce the potential size of outbreaks’.

‘Use of segments also mean that certain classes or student households could be quarantined instead of wider groups, minimising wider disruption,’ the guidance says.

Students should be kept two metres apart from people they do not live with, ‘where possible’.

When this is not possible, ‘a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place’.

Smaller teaching groups should be used, where it is not possible to maintain social distancing.

This could involve ‘reducing the size of casts in drama, the size of orchestras, or the number of students involved in movement sessions’.

Where social distancing cannot be adhered to, the university could ‘consider using booths, barriers or screens between individuals who are not part of a teaching group, between teaching groups and others, and between performers and any staff or students not participating at that moment’.

Face masks should be worn ‘where social distancing is difficult to maintain outside of teaching situations, such as in corridors and communal areas’.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said safety 'is our priority'

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said safety ‘is our priority’

They can be used in workshops, labs, offices, libraries and teaching rooms which suffer ventilation and social distancing challenges as long as they do not ‘interfere with teaching and learning’.

In addition, coverings are ‘likely to be appropriate in many social settings, including any events hosted by student clubs and societies’.

Staff and other students can watch performing arts rehearsals and shows but should ‘avoid cheering or shouting’.

Universities ‘might consider mitigating actions, such as the use of screens to protect audience members where necessary or the use of face coverings’.

Institutions should also consider changing timetables so arrivals and departures on campus are staggered and discourage students from using public transport.

The advice adds that universities should base their plans for local outbreaks on a four-tier system of restrictions.

Blended learning – a mix of face-to-face tuition and online lessons – has been recommended as the ‘default position’ when campuses reopen this month.

Tier two – described as the ‘fallback’ position – advises that universities should move to an increased level of online learning where possible.

Tier three – where stricter measures are needed – calls for institutions only to retain face-to-face provision for priority courses such as clinical and medical courses and ‘in as limited number of situations as possible’.

At this stage, it says students should not return to their family home to ‘reduce the risk of transmitting the virus through travel’.

The last resort would be for university buildings to close to everyone except key workers and for the majority of provision to shift online.

It comes after Government scientific advisers warned that significant outbreaks of coronavirus linked to universities are ‘highly likely’ and they risk amplifying the transmission of the disease across the country.

A paper by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), published on Friday, warned such outbreaks could coincide with Christmas and pose ‘a significant risk; to extended families.