In his most recent message, the Vice-Chancellor gave an update on some important issues for students in the light of the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday.
We know that the current situation is extremely challenging, and the pace of change is difficult when so many of you are trying to meet deadlines, prepare for assessments or just deal with everyday issues relating to lockdown. Please be assured that we are listening, and that our whole Newcastle University community is doing everything we can to support you.
We don’t yet have all the answers, but we are working hard on those issues that we can control. The Department for Education have told us to expect more guidance this week, and as soon as we receive it and digest the implications for our students, we will communicate with you.
This message provides a more detailed update on other issues that we know are a concern for you right now:
- Students who can return from 4 January 2021
- Mental health support for students
- Other facilities open in Newcastle during lockdown
- Covid testing arrangements
- Operation Oak and Covid Marshals.
Students who can return from 4 January 2021
In last week’s message, I said that further advice on which groups of students would be able to return to campus from January 2021 would be provided. We are waiting for a final list of subject areas from Government and as soon as we have one, will add it to our FAQs and let you know.
If, once the list comes out, you are studying on one of the programmes listed, you are still permitted to return to campus despite the introduction of the latest restrictions, and you should make arrangements to do so, including for testing (see below). If you are studying on one of these programmes and you are not in a position to return at this time, you can request remote study by completing an absence request form via the Student Self Service Portal (S3P).
Due to the professional regulators involved, the Schools of Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry have already been in touch with students studying with them to give specific detailed instructions on the return procedures and this bespoke School information should be followed.
In the latest guidance for students, the Government has said that students who do not have access to appropriate, alternative accommodation, facilities or study space in their current location, or who decide it is better for their mental health and wellbeing, may return to university earlier.
The guidance also states that students must not move back and forth between their term time address and their permanent home.
A number of students have been in contact about the University’s approach to what has been termed a ‘safety net’. Please note that we provided information before the holidays about the new and existing mechanisms we have in place to safeguard students and ensure that assessment outcomes are appropriate and fair in the context of the pandemic.
There are a number of additional elements that are being considered with input from student representatives in light of the recent lockdown announcement. We will review these to ensure they are fair to students, feasible to implement and that they protect academic standards and the value of our degrees.
Mental health support for students
We recognise the impact that lockdown is having for the wellbeing of many of our students.
The Student Health and Wellbeing Teams are here to support you during this time, whether or not you are in Newcastle. We are able to offer remote 1:1 counselling via telephone or Microsoft Teams, have extended our workshop provision and have brought in the 24/7 mental health support platform Talk Campus.
In addition to this, students with ongoing mental health disabilities can continue to access support from their adviser or firstname.lastname@example.org and anyone with concerns about a Newcastle University student can contact email@example.com or call 0191 208 3333.
Further information and useful resources can be found on our website.
Other facilities open on campus during lockdown
Key student facilities and support, including study spaces, are available to students who are required to be on campus from 4 January or for those who do not have appropriate study spaces in their accommodation.
Research students who can work from home are encouraged to do so but those who require specialist facilities will be able to access them, in consultation with their supervisors.
For the week beginning 11 January 2021, the Library opening hours and service delivery will be as follows:
- Marjorie Robinson Library Room: Monday to Sunday - 08.30-20.00 – for bookable study spaces only. N.B. You will need your smartcard to gain entry.
- Philip Robinson Library: Monday to Friday 10.00-18.00 for click and collect only.
- Walton Library: Monday to Friday 10.00-18.00 – for click and collect and some bookable study spaces
Please keep checking the library webpages for updates, as these arrangements may be subject to change.
In order to manage footfall on campus, students are also encouraged to use the generic study spaces in the Lindisfarne Room, Hadrian Building, rather than in their respective schools. The Study Spaces Finder will be updated in real time with the latest information on availability and we will keep the situation with facilities under constant review, adapting our provision in response to student demand and in line with any new guidance from the Government. As has been the case from the outset, the safety of staff and users is of paramount concern.
Covid testing arrangements on campus
Covid testing will be available to all students on their return to University and you should get tested as soon as you can when you return to campus or access University facilities. Testing everyone will be a key tool to reduce the risk of transmission and outbreaks of Covid-19 within our community. If
you do not get tested, you should self-isolate for 10 days, to reduce the risk of transmission between home and University. The University’s Covid testing centre is now open and you can book your tests via this link.
Students who are returning should arrange to take two Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests on your return. You should book your first test for as soon as possible following your arrival in Newcastle and arrange a second test 3 days later. Between the two tests you should minimise social contact and you should not access University facilities until you have received two negative test results.
If you remained in Newcastle over the winter break and have been in contact with others you should also make arrangements to book two LFD tests 3 days apart before accessing University facilities.
If you have received a positive Covid test and/or you are self-isolating you must let us know, even if you are not in Newcastle. Please inform us by completing the self-isolation form.
Operation Oak and Covid Marshals
We have been made aware of confusion and complaints relating to Operation Oak and the employment of Covid Marshals, so I hope the following explanation helps.
Operation Oak is a long-standing partnership between Newcastle’s two universities and Northumbria Police and has been running for more than a decade. It is partially funded by the Universities and was set up to deal with issues around anti-social behaviour, as well as providing wellbeing support, safeguarding, education and engagement for our students while they are living out in the community. This partnership has been extremely successful and both Students’ Unions have been involved throughout.
This past few months have been particularly difficult for everyone. The rise in Covid cases that was seen in most university cities, associated with the student population caused a great deal of anxiety in the local community – both among permanent residents and students. To help keep everyone safe, we increased our funding for Operation Oak so that support could be provided every night of the week in areas such as Jesmond, Heaton, Ouseburn and Sandyford.
Separate from this, Newcastle City Council employed Covid Marshals through a private security firm. The Covid Marshals were employed to help prevent the spread of Coronavirus by identifying any breaches of the Covid regulations. Their role was to support the work of the police – in every area of the city where the resource is needed – but they are not part of Operation Oak.
While we work in close partnership with Newcastle City Council, we don’t fund Covid Marshals. However, we are aware that their presence has caused confusion and concerns for some of our students. Having raised these concerns with Newcastle City Council on a number of occasions, we have a meeting with the City Council and Northumbria Police on 13 January to agree a more positive way forward for the new term. If students experience issues with the Covid Marshals, they are asked to contact the Council at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, while the latest restrictions present different challenges depending on your personal circumstances and location, please remember we are here to support you. I will write to you next week with further details of the additional support we are putting in place for our students.
I will of course be in touch before then if we receive more guidance - please look out for further updates from me.
With thanks and best wishes,
Lucy Backhurst - Academic Registrar