The new normal: Students prepare for freshers week at socially-distanced universities

Freshers week, parties, meeting new people and socialising are all important elements of the university experience, alongside studies and exams.

Harper Adams University
Harper Adams University

However, students starting university during the time of coronavirus will have a very different welcome experience as the rule of six and social distancing guidelines remain in place.

Universities across Shropshire have been working hard to ensure students, both new and returning, enjoy their time and stay safe as the new term starts this month.

Harper Adams University, in Edgmond near Newport, has had virtual meetings with the local council, police force and parish council to explain plans and the approach they are taking to welcoming back students.

Dr David Llewellyn, vice-chancellor at Harper Adams University, said they are looking forward to meeting new students but are aware of local residents' concerns.

"We have been working hard on our planning to meet Government expectations for a Covid-secure environment," he said.

"Our Students’ Union’s plans for welcome week later this month, and their social programme, will see a greater emphasis on online events, and encouragement to use a socially distanced campus bar that will operate in the same way as local pubs.

Harper Adams University

"Our ‘Harper Herds’ approach to creating units of students who will live together, on campus or in the local area, will enable social distancing to be applied in student accommodation and will limit the mixing of these groups while the pandemic is with us. It will all be very different for our students, but we hope our range of measures will reassure the local community that, in the coming months, we are placing health protection at the heart of our work."

The university, which specialises in farming and agriculture, has introduced a Covid-19 responsibility agreement – setting out expected standards of behaviour for its students.

Dr Llewellyn added: "Whilst universities are not in a position to monitor the day-to-day actions of every student, we will be continuing to work hard to ensure that our students living in the community are respectful of those around them and that they understand changes to government guidance and legislation.

"If there are occasions when this guidance is not being adhered to, our Student Services team, working closely with the local police and landlords, are on hand to liaise with students, and their neighbours, to resolve issues of concern."

For many students, online lectures and seminars will become a regular occurrence. This will be the case at The University of Wolverhampton, which has a campus in Priorslee, Telford.

Tim Steele, pro vice chancellor (international) at the university, said: "We're really looking forward to welcoming students back to campus and our WLV Welcome. The university has been incredibly busy over the last few months making sure everything is ready for the new academic year.

"Our online induction includes advice and guidance on engaging with blended learning and information on how to access support services. The University and Students’ Union have planned an extensive range of virtual welcome events scheduled to take place online for new and returning students from next week.

The University of Wolverhampton's Telford Campus

"They are currently planning for some daytime face-to-face activities for students across at the Wolverhampton, Walsall and Telford campuses to take place from next week. All of these events will adhere to Government guidelines including numbers of participants and students will have to pre-book and will be kept under constant review in case of any policy changes."

Social distancing measures throughout the campuses have been introduced, including new signage, one-way systems, reduced room capacities, enhanced cleaning systems, hand sanitiser stations, and new screens and face coverings, where appropriate. The university will be using a blended-learning approach: a combination of online learning and on-campus teaching in small groups.

University Centre Shrewsbury, established by Shropshire Council and the University of Chester, is also looking forward to welcoming students this week and they have a number of systems in place to ensure Covid-safety.

Professor Paul Johnson, head of University Centre Shrewsbury, said: “We have been planning for this week since March. We have worked with local partners, including Shropshire Council, to put in place strict procedures to ensure that the risk of spreading Covid-19 is minimised in the student population and beyond.”

University Centre Shrewsbury

All students, new and returning, will have to undertake an online course before arrival, which includes details about the changes on campus and sets out what is expected of them.

Students living in the community and student accommodation are warned not to mix households and the student's union has also launched a 'Keep Your Distance' campaign to promote the rule of six guidelines.

Professor Eunice Simmons, vice-chancellor of the University of Chester, added: “This academic year will be very different, but we have been working very hard with our Students’ Union and our invaluable local health teams to ensure students, as Shrewsbury residents, are benefiting from the latest local and national guidance and to make 2020/21 memorable for everyone for the right reasons."

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