An open letter to the people of Birmingham from
Professor Philip Plowden
The Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham City University has written an open letter to the people of Birmingham as students prepare to return to campus for the new academic year.
This September is like no other we have ever experienced. At BCU, as we prepare to welcome back our students, we wanted to let you know what we are doing to keep everyone safe.
At BCU the vast majority of our students already live in the West Midlands. They are part of the communities in our city and in our region. As students come back onto our university campuses we have put in place a package of measures to make this as safe as possible, for them, for our staff, and for the entire community of Birmingham and the West Midlands.
We have been able to assure our students that they will still have the majority of their teaching face-to-face and on campus. But in order to do this we will be taking measures to make sure we keep everyone safe. So what steps are we taking?
We need to ensure social distancing on our campuses in order to reduce the risk of transmission. In order to reduce the footfall in our buildings, we are aiming to reduce the numbers on campus at any one time by at least 50%. This means that most of our students will be on campus every other week, with online classes and study every alternate week as well. Many of our staff will continue to work from home where this is possible. Reducing the number of people on campus not only helps to ensure social distancing, it reduces the risks from daily travel
Students will be taught in bubbles. This reduces the risk of transmission, but also makes it easier for a group to isolate if one person in that group displays symptoms
Wearing of face coverings is mandatory on our campuses. Every student and staff member will be issued with face coverings and will be required to wear them while moving around our facilities. We will also be supplying all students and staff with hygiene equipment, and our teaching staff will be issued with protective visors and personal microphones so that we can keep the classrooms safe
The classrooms and general spaces in all of our buildings has been set up to ensure social distancing. There are clear one way systems and other guidance to ensure safe movement
Students and staff will undertake a self-assessment prior to return to establish whether they are high-risk, with any student not able to return or begin for health reasons being fully supported to study online
We will put in place a clear behaviour policy for all our students, so that they know what is expected of them, and how they can keep others safe.
The university has remained open during the pandemic, in particular continuing to support our NHS workforce. We were pleased to reopen some of our facilities earlier this year to returning NHS staff bolstering the workforce. And we were immensely proud of our healthcare students who entered the frontline early, adding to the numbers of healthcare professionals serving the city and region at the peak of the pandemic.
We also partially reopened some buildings from mid-June to a restricted group of students in order to enable them to continue their studies where this required access to specialist facilities, or where it was not possible for them to study from home. This has meant that we had the opportunity to roll out these new ways of using our campus in a safe way and to make sure that they will be effective for larger groups of students.
Our students are the reason we exist, and our duty of care towards them is one we take very seriously indeed. Their safety, along with that of our staff and the people of our city, is our absolute priority. That is why the safety measures we have put in place have been designed to protect not just the people who step through the doors of our buildings, but also the communities where some 70 per cent of our students have lived most of their lives.
It is important for our students and for our city that universities such as BCU are open. Education has the power to transform lives, and it is important for our students’ futures and the future of this region that they get back to studying in a safe and secure environment. The future teachers, nurses, midwives, artists, building professionals, engineers, business people (and many other professions) of our city will be essential to the post-Covid recovery and we must support our students into these vital careers. The steps that we are taking for the coming year will help to ensure that we operate in a way that minimises the risk from COVID, while helping our students to progress with their studies.
Everyone at BCU would like to pay tribute to all of our key workers, residents and businesses who have done so much to help us through these difficult times. You have supported us, and we will continue to support you.
Professor Philip Plowden
Birmingham City University