Thu 7 May 20
On Monday 16 March, Essex was one of the first universities in the UK to suspend all face-to-face delivery of teaching and supervision as part of our strategy to protect our community.
Our Vice-Chancellor had made the announcement to start moving to alternative approaches to teaching and assessment three days earlier. Others followed our lead very quickly as the threat of COVID-19 became clearer and clearer.
There had been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on our campuses, but we were ready to take pre-emptive steps to protect members of our community and their families from the risk of infection.
We prioritised speedily introducing a range of health and safety measures; supporting mental health and wellbeing; and maintaining a safe “home” for more than 1,500 students who remained on our campuses.
We were able to take that quick action because we had been planning our phased approach to protecting our community for several weeks. When the UK’s Chief Medical Officers raised the risk level in the UK from Moderate to High our Vice-Chancellor immediately announced we were implementing our enhanced protection measures and would escalate these when necessary.
As our Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Forster said: "We are absolutely committed to doing all that we can to safeguard the health and well-being of staff and students."
The safety and wellbeing of our students will always be at the heart of any decisions we take as a University. These are unprecedented times, but we have prioritised our students at every stage and will continue to do so.
We are incredibly grateful to our staff who have continued to come onto our campuses to deliver essential services to students who have remained in our accommodation during lockdown. From our cleaning staff and patrol teams to our staff in our shop, central stores and post room everyone has risen to the challenge – making a real difference to our students on the ground.
At the same other staff have quickly adapted to working remotely to deliver the additional support our students need and value.
Under enhanced protection measures we focused on keeping our campuses as clean and hygienic as possible while keeping as many services operating as possible. This included increased cleaning regimes in high footfall areas, targeting specific risk issues such as door handles and encouraging our community to follow the latest public health guidelines including good hand hygiene and social distancing.
When the UK Prime Minister announced stringent restrictions on movement from 23 March we moved to our advanced protection measures. Staff working on our campuses are now focusing all their energies on supporting residential and essential operational services – supported by staff working remotely delivering support for wellbeing through to library services and IT plus of course our Residence Life team. At the same time our academics have been taking on the challenge of delivering our courses online.
All the time we’ve kept focused on our students, so when we were able to we moved all our students into en suite accommodation to ensure they can isolate effectively if they need to.
While strictly observing social distancing guidance and focusing on keeping our campuses as clean as possible we’ve worked with the SU to keep the on-campus shop open, continued to offer a takeaway service from Canteen and made sure computer labs are available.
Of course we were also keen to act quickly to reassure students who have left our accommodation and will be learning online for the rest of the academic year by releasing them from their university accommodation contract from 1 April.
Ensuring our alternative approach to assessment balanced the needs of students against the need to maintain academic standards meant we took time to consult and listen to students and the Students’ Union.
This led to a comprehensive ‘no detriment’ approach to ensure COVID-19 did not unfairly affect the academic performance of our students. This included a number of ‘safety nets’ including expanded opportunities for reassessment; a streamlined approach to extenuating circumstances and examination absence; more flexibility in management of marking; and monitoring module cohorts against the previous three years to ensure they are in line with previous achievement.