We're prepare for safe arrival of students say Sheffield's university vice-chancellors

This column has been jointly written by Prof Sir Chris Husbands, Sheffield Hallam University vice-chancellor, and Prof Koen Lamberts, The University of Sheffield vice-chancellor.

Wednesday, 9th September 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th September 2020, 10:44 am
Students wear face masks around campus at The University of York in York, North Yorkshire - 1st February 2020 . See SWNS story SWLEcorona. A student from York is one of the two people infected with coronavirus. University of York bosses said they understand the development "will cause concern and anxiety". Bosses at the university said the risk of infection was "low" and the student did not come into contact with anybody on campus while they had symptoms. A spokesperson for the University of York said: "Public Health England (PHE) have informed us that one of the two individuals to have tested positive for coronavirus is a student at the University of York.

Starting university is a momentous event. For many young people it will be their first time away from home - a chance to meet new friends, live in a new city and experience new things.

In this unprecedented year, as students return to the city and look forward to the start of a new academic year, we have to be open and honest about how different that experience will be – and what is expected of them to help keep themselves and the Sheffield community safe.

As vice-chancellors of the city’s two universities, we take seriously our responsibility for the welfare of our students, staff and local communities and are committed to doing all we can to minimise risks and make the return of students as safe as possible for everyone.

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We have spent months preparing our campuses and have put a variety of innovative measures in place to ensure our university communities can feel safe and welcome – both in person and via virtual learning and events.

These measures are wide-ranging, but include things like hand sanitising stations at building entrances, one-way systems with clear signage to maintain social distancing, reducing the number of people on our campuses at any one time and regular cleaning of touch points.

Our focus now is on guiding our new and returning students through these new safety measures with compassion and support as we all continue to adjust to this new normal.

Traditional Welcome and Intro Week events for new students will look very different this year, with many activities being hosted online and a significant part of our ongoing communication with both new and returning students is focused on the importance of staying safe and being considerate members of the local community.

We are both running campaigns to provide clear guidance about how students can keep themselves and others safe and be good, respectful neighbours.

We are also providing our students with free reusable face masks and encouraging them to follow guidelines about wearing face coverings in our buildings, as well in shops and on public transport.

We know arrivals week can be a busy time, with students and their families travelling to Sheffield to move into student accommodation.

To make this process as safe as possible, we have planned for staggered arrivals over the space of a week, with allocated time slots and limits on the number of family members who can accompany students.

For students arriving from overseas, both universities are providing free accommodation and support for the duration of any quarantine period they need to complete.

Students bring a huge amount to our city.

It is a less vibrant place without them, but we understand it can sometimes pose challenges for residents in areas with high student populations.

That’s why we have been clear with our students that we want them to enjoy their university experience but that we expect them to do so responsibly and considerately.

We will continue to work closely with Sheffield Council and South Yorkshire Police, and listen to the advice of the UK Government, NHS, World Health Organization and our own academic experts, to review our approach and introduce any further necessary measures to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

We know the measures we have put in place cannot completely eradicate all risks, so we are also working to ensure students understand how and where to get tested for Covid-19 if they have symptoms, and preparing robust processes to track and trace contacts on our campuses.

Both universities are committed to working together and alongside our partners across Sheffield to take the necessary steps to ensure that we play our part and keep our communities and the city safe.

*The University of Sheffield developed from three local institutions: the Sheffield School of Medicine, Firth College and the Sheffield Technical School. The School of Medicine, founded 1828, was by far the oldest.

Sheffield Hallam University can trace its roots back to 1843 when the Sheffield School of Design was founded to provide skilled designers to support Britain's industry.