The university has announced today that, with a few exceptions, students will not be returning at all for Lent term, going beyond current government guidance. This means that students will be learning online for the entire term.
Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope explained to students in an email that the university ‘have taken the difficult decision to move all teaching and learning for undergraduate and postgraduate students online for the entirety of the Lent term.’
‘Undergraduate and postgraduate taught students should remain where they are currently staying.’
This decision by the university was not necessary under current government guidance. Following the introduction of a national lockdown, the government detailed, on 4th January, that students ‘should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least mid-February’.
Toope stated that this decision had been made ‘to avoid uncertainty and disruption in the middle of term.’
He explained that this decision will not apply to all students, with exceptions being made for ‘clinical Medical, clinical Veterinary and PGCE students; students without access to appropriate study spaces or facilities; and students who need to be in Cambridge for specific reasons, including health or safety reasons.’
‘Students in these categories must contact their college directly to discuss their circumstances, and to be given guidance about access to testing.’
While the University Library ‘will close for in-person visits and study’, students will still be able to utilise the ‘Click and Collect and Scan and Deliver services’ which ‘have restarted’.
It was further outlined that ‘the Colleges have agreed that rent will only be charged by Colleges to students if they are living in their College accommodation during the national lockdown period instigated by government.’
‘Colleges will not charge students who are not able to return to Cambridge as a result of the current government legislation and guidance.’
Toope said that ‘international students who are able to change their travel plans should do so’ and that ‘students who travel to Cambridge will have to stay in Cambridge for the duration of the national lockdown.’
It was explained that ‘postgraduate research students who are able to work from their out-of-term address should do so’, but that those ‘who consider Cambridge to be their primary place of residence can return to Cambridge if they have not already done so.’
‘Those postgraduate research students who need to be in Cambridge for their research projects can return provided this has been discussed and agreed with their College and Department, and that appropriate risk assessments have been conducted.’
‘I realise that many students have remained in residence over the winter break. Those students who are currently in Cambridge are being asked to remain in Cambridge, where they can expect to be supported by the University and Colleges.’
Addressing staff, the Vice-Chancellor detailed that ‘the government’s emphatic guidance is that everyone who can work from home should do so.’ He stated that he realised ‘this is likely to increase the burden on colleagues, including on those who now face childcare and schooling duties following the closure of schools.’
Toope encouraged university staff ‘to approach your role with added flexibility to enable you to deal with caring responsibilities, or to take some time out during the day to manage your health and wellbeing.’
‘I am confident that all our colleagues will make best efforts to fulfil the expectations of their roles. But please be reassured that we are not expecting anyone to do more than is reasonable in the current circumstances, and in light of our overlapping commitments.’
It was explained that ‘most of the University’s research facilities will remain open, as allowed by Government guidance, and COVID-secure protocols will be updated to take account of the heightened risk of transmission for the new COVID variant.’
‘I must reiterate, however, the Government’s request that only people who absolutely cannot work from home can go into their normal places of work.’
‘Let me blunt: you must work from home if at all possible,’ Toope continued.
The Vice-Chancellor said that he was ‘pleased to report that the Cambridge University Botanic Garden remains open to anyone who enjoys a bracing winter walk in a place of rare beauty.’
Yesterday Toope told students, by email, that ‘they should not return to Cambridge unless they fall within one of the categories specified in earlier communications’, but did not suggest that most students would not be returning at all for Lent term.
This follows news that yesterday there were over 60,000 new coronavirus cases confirmed across the UK, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.