End of face-to-face teaching, student travel window and other updates re spring term

Dear all

I am a bit behind with keeping you all up-to-date. I know you will all have read the information that was sent to all staff last week re the end of face-to-face teaching and asymptomatic testing, but just to remind you can read exactly what students have been told on the Essentials – University Updates page in the message on ‘Christmas break and travel’. In addition a further communication went to international students yesterday. This further clarifies specifics questions relevant to international travel and indeed arrival into the UK (as there is a steady trickle still arriving). There is also a new section on Essentials called ‘end of term and Christmas advice’.

Further information will be disseminated later this week re rapid asymptomatic testing on campus. I believe the plan is to begin testing on the 1st Dec and we will be launching a booking system later this week. Students will be sent a further message with the details. You may get questions from international students re testing for travel – this is covered in the message to international students. Students are being asked to take a test before they leave reading but ultimately this is voluntary. There is nothing the University or government can do to enforce students (or anyone else for that matter) to take a test. In reality we have very little idea of how many will choose to do so, but we are hopefully that most students will do the right thing.

How these decisions impact Student Services

Face to face teaching will conclude at the end of the 9th Dec, but term will continue until the end of 11th Dec. Some teams will already be busy re-arranging things for those last 2 days of term. The number of students on campus will fall rapidly from the 3rd of Dec, and I actually expect we will start to see a drop off from next Monday. However numbers of campus does not necessarily equate directly with our workloads these days so as usual we will continue to work as normal up until the closure period which begins on Tue 22nd Dec. The vast majority of our activity is happening virtually at the moment with most staff working from home most of the time. Whatever your current mode of working is now will continue until the end of the 21st Dec, except for the Support Centre front desks. Across the University most building will become card access only from the end of the 9th Dec, however I have requested that JJT, EM and Agric stay open until 5pm on the 11th (ie. The end of term) and then revert to card access only, there will therefore be no need to staff the Support Centre front desks. I haven’t bottomed out the requirements at LR and Fox Hill yet, so TBC. The Carrington Building will remain open access and the Student Services Reception will remain operational until 1pm on Mon 21st Dec.

The University reopens on Mon 4th Jan when we will revert immediately to the current level of face-to-face provision.

Student Support 9th Dec – 4th Jan

The Student Support and Welfare sub group of the Major Recovery Team has been stood up again (chaired by myself and Matt White – Campus commerce) and we are fairly far advanced in our planning to ensure any students who do need to stay on campus over Christmas have access to appropriate support and that those who arrive over the closure period can access what they need too. This is particularly important given the end of the Brexit Transition period falls on the 31st Dec and some EU students may want/need to arrive in the UK for the Spring term before that date. Katie Robertson and Matt Daley ably assisted by Debbie Hobbs are also working with several other teams across the university to reinstate a mini ‘enrolment’ period for any new students arriving for the Spring term. All in all we are working to ensure all of the following areas are covered from the 9th Dec through to the 4th Jan:

  • Arrival into halls over the closure period
  • Enrolment processes for Jan starters and for autumn starters newly arriving for Jan
  • Pre-arrival communications re what to do and what to expect on arrival
  • Catering availability over the closure period, including a fully catered package that students can buy into on a weekly basis over the vacation period, free bookable Christmas lunch and working with Catering re a surprise Christmas treats bag for any students here on Christmas day
  • Welfare Support arrangements via the halls welfare team, UPP Halls Hotline and Security who will be on-call 24×7 throughout
  • Entertainment – a difficult area under the likely ongoing restrictions – focus on virtual events via the Halls at Home programme and the new Get Together Diary including Chill & Chat. Do let the Student Comms team know if you are aware of events/opportunities that should be added to this
  • Christmas on campus Network – a mechanism to allow students who are staying in Reading to connect with each other over the period (in development)
  • Keeping healthy – we have launched the ‘Couch to Christmas challenge’ for students (and staff!) to keep active and healthy in these times of restrictions leading up to and over Christmas

Looking ahead

The Spring term will look very like the autumn term – teaching and student support will continue to be blended. We hope that more students will be joining us on campus in January but we will need to wait to see if this materialises. I see the government said yesterday that those who can work from home should continue to do so until April so this strongly suggests we will be continuing our current arrangements. On Thursday we will all discover what tiers we will emerge from the lockdown in. Numbers are comparative low in Reading so I would say it is most likely we will emerge in tier1 or 2 but assuming that the exceptions remain in place for education I cannot (at the moment) see that this will mean any change to our current working arrangements. If we are in tier 2 it will mean that some aspects of the University may have to continue restrictions to their operations e.g. cafes, but in reality due to the very low footfall in our catering outlets the university has already planned to cut back the number of outlets that will be open anyway. Regardless of tiers post 2nd Dec Sportspark and University bars will remain closed until after Christmas. This is an important part of the strategy to encourage students to leave the University during the student travel window.

The government is saying that it is working with Universities re the return of students in January, however we have not yet heard anything specific on this. We are therefore keeping a watching brief in case we need to do anything specific to respond. This is also the case with issues such as vaccination programmes, mass asymptomatic testing, testing for arrivals into the UK, shortening isolation times etc, but none of this is certain at the moment. As and when they become clearer I will let you know about any impacts.

As always do let me know if you have any questions that I haven’t addressed here that you and you colleagues are concerned about.

Best wishes


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