Covid and caution: how we can use universities safely

Steps to take to ensure the safety of those who may be arriving back on campuses around the world in 2021

For everyone at university, whether they’re staff or a student, the future looks uncertain. Universities across the world are transitioning to work through the ‘new normal’ of the world. This involves trying to work out how they can allow students to study safely. In the UK, a big problem has been funding, with many institutions relying too much on fees from international students and now facing the prospect of going bust.


Many universities have been given the freedom to put their own regulations in place. This has resulted in a lot of big decisions happening in a short period of time before students were welcomed back for the autumn term. Some universities were still offering students a full year of teaching, whether the plan was to use a combination of online and face-to-face learning, or in some cases just online. Cambridge University announced that all of its learning would be done online until summer 2021. In India, only one state has allowed its universities to open as the recorded numbers of Covid-19 cases in the country have continued to rise.

Universities have been making the effort to bring students back in the safest way. However, in some cases, it has not been easy to maintain the necessary social distance standards. Masks are mandatory but how safe can they be when the lecture hall is packed, and many late arrivals have to sit on the floor. Students in France have been using the hashtag #Balancetafac (‘call out your uni’) to post photos of their overcrowded learning rooms. Since French universities reopened there has been a dozen clusters of Covid-19 cases.

In the UK, where restrictions are being heavily enforced, many students are upset about what their first-year experience has turned into. One first-year student at the University of Glasgow told the Guardian: ‘Moving up from London, living away from home for the first time, was scary enough without people now saying that we may not be able to home for Christmas. That’s made me really upset and I did have a little sob last night.’


If universities want to welcome students and staff back as safely as possible, they need to follow their own government’s rules and regulations. Here are some key rules that universities need to implement before having large levels of staff and students coming back on campus.

1. Social distancing

Limiting the amount of staff and students on the campus entirely is something that needs to be looked at, as well as considering those who may need to shield. assess how many staff and students are vulnerable, and conduct risk assessments. Use floor stickers and signs to make social distancing easy to follow across the whole campus.

2. Welcome international students safely

The total amount of students from other countries may be lower this year, but there will still be many heading to countries outside their own to study. Many will have a mandatory period of self-isolation, or other requirements, to perform when they arrive in their country of study. Ensure your international students are aware of this and that they have the support they need to get through any self-isolation period, such as ensuring they can receive basic food supplies and providing them with books and materials needed for their studies.

3. PPE

Giving students PPE (personal protective equipment) is not something universities need to do, but it should be considered. Knowing all have students face masks and hand sanitiser as they arrive back at campus gives peace of mind and allows students to concentrate on their learning without worrying about where they can get a mask, or where they can next wash their hands.

Of course, this would come at a cost. If every student and member of staff in the UK is provided with a face mask, it will cost around £4,229,933 GBP, assuming that the number of staff and students are at the same level as the previous academic year (2.38 million students and 439,955 staff members) according to data collected by Where The Trade Buys. For hand sanitiser, for each student and staff member to use two squirts of hand sanitiser an hour, the cost would be £355,314 GBP per day. These costs may sound a lot, but it could be a price worth paying to make sure your staff and students feels safe.

4. Online learning

A lot of universities were already recording lectures so students could watch them back, but streaming lectures is an option in full force this year. It allows students to decide whether they feel safe enough to attend a lecture in person. If they don’t, they won’t feel like they are missing out because they can watch the lecture at home. This will also allow people who have to isolate to do that without worrying they are missing valuable learning time too.

There are a lot of unknowns about this academic year, but if universities want to carry on offering education to those paying, following the steps outlined above could be a must. It’s a positive that many universities are trying to get back to face-to-face learning, but this must be followed with the strictest of regulations to make sure it can be done as safely as possible.

Rachel Gray is is a copywriter based in Newcastle Upon Tyne that writes across a variety of sectors such as healthcare, wellness and lifestyle.

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