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University leader writes open letter as mass Covid-19 testing programme begins ahead of Christmas break

Vice Chancellor Philip Plowden

As we approach Christmas, we know that our communities have questions about the steps universities are taking to support their students, so I wanted to update you on the plans Birmingham City University has put in place to enable a safe end to our term.

After such a disruptive year, it is more important than ever that we enable those of our students who live away from the family home to travel back to their loved ones safely, and with minimal transmission of the virus.

That is why, today (Monday 30 November), we are starting our participation in a mass asymptomatic testing programme for our students who want to make plans to travel elsewhere in the country when in-person teaching finishes on 9 December. Introducing the testing early in December means that any student who does test positive for the virus can observe a period of quarantine and still be able to make it home in time for Christmas.

At BCU, we have seen little or no evidence of on-campus transmission, thanks largely to the stringent safety measures we introduced at the start of the year and the hard work of staff and students in adhering to the rules we have in place. While some 70 per cent of our students live right here in the West Midlands, we also we know many students will want to move around the country and the testing programme will enable them to do that in a way which is safe for them and the communities to which they return. This is the right and responsible thing for us to do, helping students to identify if they have the virus, even without any symptoms.

We have contacted all students that we know will be hoping to travel home for Christmas to allow them to book free tests, which will be carried out on our campuses and which they will be able to easily fit around their studies. The tests will be delivered swiftly by our onsite teams and we will be asking students to take two tests for the maximum certainty and clarity before they travel home.

Testing on this scale will no doubt bring more positive cases to our attention, but this is precisely what the process is designed to do - to ensure students leaving the University and re-joining other communities are not carrying the virus, even where they are displaying no symptoms. And to allow us to provide support to any students who will need our help throughout this process.

When I wrote to our community ahead of the start of term to tell you about our safety measures, I told you that our duty of care towards our staff and students, as well as our city and community, was our priority. This has not changed, and I hope you feel that we have done everything we promised back then. Safeguarding our students’ futures by ensuring their education goes ahead still drives us – in order to ensure that they have the tools at their disposal to go on to support our city and region in its post-Covid recovery. Thankyou for your support so far.

Professor Philip Plowden

Vice-Chancellor

Birmingham City University