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COVID-19 update: end of term and student travel for winter break

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The following message was sent to all colleagues from Professors Julian Park and Dominik Zaum, co-Chairs of the COVID-19 Major Recovery Team.

Dear colleagues 

This communication provides an update of the University position to the end of term, having taken into account the guidance we received last week. 

The government has asked for any students planning to travel for the Christmas break to do so after the current lockdown (scheduled to finish on 2 December) during a ‘student travel window' from 3 to 9 December. Having now reviewed the government guidance on the end of term thoroughly, we would like to update you on plans here at Reading, in particular so that students who plan to travel for the Christmas break can do so safely. 

An update email is being sent to students today, which you can read on Essentials. We will be writing with additional advice later this week to our international students and PGR students. We are also awaiting some clarification on placements and will communicate separately with those who are due to be on placements before the end of term. 

End of autumn term face-to-face teaching by 9 December 

The autumn term will still end on 11 December and the University will be officially closed from 22 December to 4 January. 

However, to support students to travel in a safe and orderly way during the student travel window, we will finish all face-to-face teaching of undergraduate and PGT students by 9 December. The government requires all in-person teaching to finish by this date as it allows enough time for students to complete self-isolation before Christmas should they develop symptoms that day or be identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive. We will share further guidance regarding PGR supervision later in the week. 

Universities have been instructed to stagger the end of face-to-face teaching to support those who are travelling over this period and to reduce the pressure on transport networks. This could be done in several ways - by School or department, by module or by year group, for example. However, we are concerned to avoid any unnecessary confusion or complexity.  

As in-person teaching is already reduced this term and only a small number of students have identical teaching timetables, students will naturally finish their face-to-face classes on different days during the travel window. So we consider that following our existing timetable for face-to-face teaching until 9 December achieves this staggered finish naturally. 

If you are involved in delivering face-to-face teaching, this will end with your last scheduled session on or before 9 December, and for the short period until the end of December, all remaining teaching will be online only. 

We are very grateful to all colleagues for continuing to provide our blended approach to learning and ask you to continue to do so until 9 December. We appreciate that attendance at some face-to-face teaching sessions has dropped off since week 6 and that this may be a source of frustration, given that it takes time to prepare and deliver these sessions. However, we must bear in mind the clear value that our students place on face-to-face teaching for their learning experience, as well as the government expectation that we continue with a blended model. It is also important to remember that some of our students, particularly international students, will not be travelling over the Christmas break and we do not believe it is fair that they have reduced in-person delivery simply because many other students are able to travel. 

University facilities after the planned end of the lockdown restriction on 2 December 

From 3 December until the start of the University closure period on 22 December, the same arrangements that have been in place for our on-campus facilities during lockdown will continue, subject to any additional guidance or regulations that may be introduced. This includes our catering facilities operating on a takeaway-only basis for everyone other than catered students. The government has told us that we must not re-start any in-person social and extra-curricular activity so all our University and RUSU bars and the SportsPark will remain closed. 

One difference from current arrangements relates to study space. Once all face-to-face teaching has finished on 9 December, bookable study space in the Library and non-bookable study space in halls, the URS building and The Study at RUSU will remain available until the Christmas closure period. All other study space across campus will be closed from 9 December. 

Our facilities will re-open for the Spring Term on 4 January in line with any government requirements and restrictions in place at that time. As we do yet know exactly what these will be for Reading, we will update you closer to the start of term. 

COVID-19 testing for our University community 

To provide our University community with some reassurance that they can travel safely and minimise the risk of transmitting COVID-19, the University is investigating several options to provide rapid COVID-19 testing prior to the winter break. We hope to be able to offer this to colleagues who have been working on campus as well as to students and hope to have more information from government to share with you on testing later this week, so please continue to check your email regularly. 

Finally, just a quick reminder about the two additional closure days this year on 22 and 23 December. Given the extra demands on all colleagues this year to keep our University running, it is particularly important that we take the opportunity to rest and relax over the holiday season in advance of what will no doubt be another busy term. We fully understand that some colleagues will be working over this period to support those students who remain on campus or to prepare for the new term. Please, though, do ensure you talk to your line manager about taking a break when you can.  

If you have any questions, our COVID-19 support line remains available on 0118 214 7813 between 9am and 5pm on weekdays and 11am and 4pm on weekends. 

Best wishes, 

Julian and Dominik 

 

Professor Julian Park (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Education and Student Experience) and Professor Dominik Zaum (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation) 

Co-Chairs, University of Reading Major Recovery Team 

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