What will university be like when the new term starts?

student wearing backpack and holding notebooks

Answers to some of the questions you might have about how social distancing will affect your time at university in 2020/21

It’s that time of year again – summer’s drawing to a close and the new academic year is just around the corner.

Social distancing measures are still very much in place throughout the UK, though, and you might be wondering how they could affect your studies and social life this year.

Every university will have its own plans – which it will probably either have already published or be publishing shortly – but there are some shared approaches that lots of unis will be taking. Here are answers to some of the questions you might have about what university could be like this term.

university students sitting outside with face masks on

Will students have to wear face masks in class?

There isn’t an official rule about this for university students, but lots of unis will have started sending out their own guidance around face masks.

It’s likely that many universities will require students to wear face masks in shared spaces, such as corridors and communal toilets. The University of Leeds, for example, has said that “staff and students must wear a face mask or covering in all indoor communal areas,” and that “while it is not mandatory, we encourage the use of face coverings outdoors where social distancing of at least two metres cannot be maintained”.

Others, like Oxford University, have asked students to wear face coverings “during in-person teaching” as well as when they’re using indoor communal areas.

You can check your university’s website to find out whereabouts on campus you’re going to be expected to wear a face mask.

How might lectures and seminars work?

The details of this will vary depending on your university, but lots of unis have said they’re planning on taking a blended approach.

This kind of approach would involve a mixture of online learning and in-person teaching – larger classes such as lectures would likely be virtual, while smaller seminar groups could be face-to-face.

We spoke to some university students back in June and they told us about their experiences with learning in lockdown, including a few benefits of online teaching. You can find the article here

university student in halls working on laptop

What kind of safety measures might universities be taking?

In June, Universities UK published a set of proposals that universities could consider following this autumn.

These proposals included adjusting layouts, with the possibility of using set entrances and exits, clear signage and floor markings to encourage social distancing.

Some universities have also said that they plan to keep students in protective ‘bubbles’ by grouping students on courses with each other in the same accommodation.

Your university might also be offering in-house testing for Covid-19, available to anyone who suspects they might be infected.

Universities will also likely have strict hygiene and cleaning measures in place.

Will there be any social events happening?

Yes – they just might look a little different to previous years.

Most universities will be offering a host of virtual events as part of this year’s Freshers Week, although some are running a few in-person events, too.

Societies will still be happening too, just with a few tweaks to make them safer. This could mean that activities are moved online or that events are held in smaller, socially distanced groups. Here are a few reasons why it’s worth joining societies at uni.

And when it comes to the off-campus social stuff, nightclubs may still be closed but cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs are all allowed to open. Bear in mind that you may have to book timeslots in advance, and there will probably be limits to the size of group you can book for.

More like this: what to expect when you don’t drink at university

students in their flat together

What will happen with accommodation and housemates?

Your student flat or house will count as a household under coronavirus guidelines, meaning that you don’t have to follow social distancing guidelines around your flatmates.

You will need to follow social distancing guidelines when it comes to spending time with people who aren’t in your household though, and this includes how many people you are able to meet up with.

These guidelines change fairly often, but you can find the government’s regularly updated FAQs on coronavirus restrictions in England here. Here are the guidelines for Scotland, the guidelines for Wales and the guidelines for Northern Ireland.

Will students be able to use the university library?

The Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance to help universities reopen safely, and as part of that it said that libraries would be allowed to open “in a Covid-secure way”.

This could include measures such as asking visitors to the library to wash their hands on entering and leaving the library, moving shelves further apart, having one-way traffic flows through the library or limiting the number of people who can come in at any one time.

Will all the other usual facilities be open on campus?

It’s worth checking whether all the usual facilities will be open and, if they are, whether they’ll be opening at reduced hours. These could include bars, gyms, sports centres and on-campus shops.

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