Globally, new national health board directions are opening opportunities to reintroduce limited face-to-face teaching at universities, with some institutions looking at the possibility of working with hotels to ensure efficient self-isolation measures for students as needed.
“We have taken the decision to conduct all lectures for semester one online”
The UK’s Covid-19 recovery strategy features border restrictions – to be rolled out “as soon as possible” – and will require international arrivals to self-isolate in accommodation for 14 days on arrival into the country.
For travellers unable to self-isolate, the government will arrange accommodation, it said.
Institutions “hope” to be open for face-to-face teaching come September, but the crisis continues to cause much uncertainty.
“As we anticipate social distancing measures will be in place for some time, we have taken the decision to conduct all lectures for semester one online,” a spokesperson from the University of Manchester said.
“However, we are keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can.
“The timescales of this will be determined by the latest government guidance,” they added.
In the US, California State University – with around 482,000 students spread over 23 campuses – has said it will start its fall semester virtually.
“Limited” in-person experiential learning in courses such as healthcare, energy and biosciences, performing and creative arts, engineering, architecture and agriculture, and maritime, may be potential exceptions, CSU chancellor Timothy P. White conceded in a statement.
President of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Alan Cramb, emphasised in a webinar that clarifying to students what institutions are doing to ensure their safety would be a “continuing issue”, particularly for universities in cities.
“I think our biggest issue right now is making sure that all of our international students understand what we’re going to do going forward, how we’re going to keep them safe and how we’re going to ensure that they graduate on time,” he said.
“I think continuous communication with everyone about what we’re doing and what we will do going forward is probably the most difficult task right now. There’s so much uncertainty.
“Everyone wants to know immediately what’s happening after anything is announced,” he added.
Australia recently announced it was considering July entry for international students if strict quarantine rules are observed; a move former UK universities minister Chris Skidmore described as “sensible”.
“The UK should put in place a clear and coherent strategy for international students, ensuring that they are prioritised for incoming flights when travel restrictions are lifted,” he said.
Timing for re-introducing students back onto campus is a matter for the government, said Vicki Thomson, chief executive of Australia’s The Group of Eight.
“Australia’s success in containing the spread of the virus means that we are now able to start planning how we might safely re-introduce students back onto campus,” she said.
However, any re-introduction of international students will only be conducted with the consent and approval of public health officials.
Any protocols will need to encompass a range of factors, Thomson explained, including arrangements for students pre-departure; their safe passage into the country; testing; isolation and/or quarantine protocols and the safe introduction onto campus – which are yet to open.
“The exact details of how this will operate on the ground will vary between states and territories and individual universities, depending on their individual circumstances and requirements,” she told The PIE News.
“Many jurisdictions have already managed the successful quarantining of returned Australians who were overseas at the time of the pandemic, so are likely to use these tried and tested facilities,” she said.
The geography of Australia and New Zealand – being island nations – has certainly helped us in these circumstances, Thomson continued.
“We are confident that we will be able to use evidence-based procedures to re-open our international education sector while protecting the health and safety of everyone in our nation.”
She said the Go8 will cooperate with stakeholders to “develop a national framework that encompasses all of these requirements but still remains flexible enough that it can be adapted to different needs and circumstances”.
“The exact timing will be determined by federal, state and territory governments, but we are hoping to run a pilot program later in 2020,” Thomson added.
In Canada, provinces including Alberta and British Columbia have revealed similar restart plans.
Following advice from BC’s Provincial Government, Vancouver’s Langara College has said that courses that can effectively be taught remotely will continue in fall.
Echoing CSU’s sentiments in the US, courses that require some degree of face-to-face instruction may be delivered if it is possible to do so safely.
In Alberta, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology has said it will “take the time needed to ensure the necessary procedures and protections are in place for any reopening of campus”.
And in Ontario, Conestoga’s president John Tibbits has explained that Covid-19 represents the “biggest challenge” in the institution’s history, warning the “primarily remote format” will potentially continue for the next few semesters, or until an effective vaccine becomes widely available.
“In the arrival plan for all new incoming students, the college has arranged for hotel rooms”
The release of British Columbia’s phased restart on May 6 allows for “some more flexibility for our education operations”, a spokesperson from Camosun College in Victoria BC told The PIE, including opening up possibilities for students to “access labs, clinics, shops or other face-to-face delivery” in fall.
“In the arrival plan for all new incoming students the college has arranged for hotel rooms with Kitchenettes, as well as grocery delivery services and restaurant delivery menus,” they explained.
“The hotels we are working with are partners in the isolation plans to ensure the health and safety of the student and hotel staff.”