Nigel Wright, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, and Alex Favier, Director of Global and Political Affairs at University of Nottingham, spoke about the work taking place to mitigate the risks of outbreaks in the two universities in the City and to manage an outbreak if it occurs. They highlighted the following information:
a) Nottingham Trent University and the University of Nottingham are working closely together on these issues.
b) In order to mitigate the risk of an outbreak occurring, the universities have been looking at their arrangements including timetabling, staggering start times and encouraging walking and cycling to reduce pressure on public transport, reconfiguring physical space, taking a blended approach to teaching and learning with more online, introducing one way systems on campus and using student ambassadors to act as role models and advise and guide students.
c) The universities have incident management plans in place and these are updated in response to Government guidance.
d) The universities have been continuing their communication with existing students during the lockdown period but there has been less time to communicate with new students about what to expect as a result of delays to confirmation of A Level results and subsequent offer of university places. Communication with students has covered issues including engaging with local retail and hospitality venues and housing.
e) There is expanded support from the universities for community protection work in local communities and security staff will be going off campus to observe and report any issues. Some issues involving existing students have occurred and where appropriate disciplinary action has been taken.
f) The universities have been liaising with other stakeholders, for example as part of the LRF.
g) Testing for Covid-19 amongst students is reliant on the national testing system, which is currently facing challenges. The University of Nottingham has academic expertise in this area and is looking at developing an asymptomatic testing service to try and reduce asymptomatic spread. Other universities are exploring similar ideas but there is no consistent national policy picture so organisations are approaching things differently and will be focused on working with their local systems. The University is also asking for local testing solutions for symptomatic students and staff. It is intended to use local structures for tracing students and staff, and wifi networks could be used to trace contacts; and then to provide isolation support so that individuals do not breach isolation guidance. There are a number of detailed complexities but the ambition is to cover both universities. It is anticipated that arrangements will be confirmed shortly.
During the subsequent discussion the following points were raised:
h) Arrangements for asymptomatic testing will be reassuring for local residents.
i) There will be some students coming to the university from areas with high rates of Covid-19 and/or in local lockdown. It won’t be possible to screen all new students and there is a risk that testing all arriving students would give a false sense of security as the test is only accurate for the moment in time that it is taken. The proposals are for high frequency and targeted testing of students and staff based on risk.
j) The universities have been, and continue to communicate with their students about Government guidance and legal requirements in relation to social distancing, wearing of face masks and gatherings indoors and outdoors. Incidents are monitored and where appropriate action will be taken against students. This action can lead to serious consequences for students including fines and ultimately suspension from or termination of their course.
k) The University of Nottingham is aware of a recent party in Lenton involving its students. This is being investigated and will then progress through the disciplinary process. The University is also supportive of the Police who can issue fines of up to £10,000.
l) The universities will have no tolerance for students not following Covid-related guidance and requirements, and are working together on communication campaigns to remind students of their responsibilities to their university and as members of society.