Independent SAGE urges UK universities to go online as default

Empty library shelves
  • Report by Independent SAGE says universities must use online teaching as ‘default option’
  • Warns government grading scandal has led to higher numbers of students & therefore higher risk
  • Steps must be taken to avoid ‘disastrous’ consequences of needing to close campuses if infection goes up
  • Advises regular testing of all students & staff
  • Reduction of in person student social activities recommended including Freshers’ Week
  • Call for universities to work with students to agree a contract committing everybody to act responsibly on and off campus
  • Masks required for any face-to-face classroom teaching
  • Students to form ‘residential bubbles’

Universities are urged to make online teaching the ‘default option’ by Independent SAGE, as higher than usual numbers of students are expected following the A-level grading scandal. 

The report published today sets out a list of recommendations for universities and warns institutions of the dangers of opening and closing campuses as infection rates go up. Online classes should be used exclusively for first two weeks of term, it says, and recommends that students’ social activities are also reduced. 

It points to the example of the US where two universities, the University of North Caroline and Notre Dame, have been forced to shut down on-campus teaching soon after students returned. In at least one case, this was due to lack of infection control at social events.

The report says a huge expansion of testing is required with regular tests for all students and staff, for face-to-face teaching to be avoided where possible and for students to be involved in creating a ‘conduct charter’. 

Co-author of the report, Professor Liz Stokoe said: ‘‘It’s hugely important that universities are re-opened but students will be travelling from all over the country and the world, that will create risks of infection transmission, and so it is essential to put detailed procedures in place so as to guarantee a safe return. This is essential for the welfare of students, of staff and the wider community.

‘It would be disastrous if universities were forced to close as we’ve seen happen in the US so we are urging them to play safe and work with students to mitigate the risks.’

Independent SAGE-Behaviour Group Consultation Statement on Universities in the context of SARS-CoV-2

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