Universities are planning to group students in protective course bubbles for social distancing

They’re also drawing up plans to hold Freshers’ events virtually

Students going to uni in september might only be able to mix with a small number of people in a “bubble”, as unis consider how to implement social distancing.

Under new plans being drawn up by unis, this might even include students in halls living exclusively with people in their lectures and seminars.

Freshers’ Week may also move online, with virtual events being considered as an alternative to the classic club nights and pub crawls for first years.

The briefing outlined by Universities UK has suggested that students may end up in small groups and made to share accommodation with people studying the same course. This builds on the bubble model  which has been brought in across primary schools in England to implement social distancing.

These proposals assume that the numbers in student accommodation would be reduced. This is to ensure that social distancing is implemented in the kitchens and bathrooms in student accommodation.

Professor Shearer West, Nottingham’s Vice Chancellor, said: “We’re considering how we can make ‘welcome week’ work within communities of halls of residence and specific localities within the university, rather than the all singing all dancing all across the university thing that we used to do before”.

Liz Barnes, Vice Chancellor of Staffordshire University, said she had been discussing the idea of protective bubbles with other universities – with her university expecting to have eight people per bubble. She commented: “the more that we can keep them into a small group of regular interaction the better in current circumstances.”

In the report, online teaching was proposed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Cambridge has already confirmed that all of its teaching will be moved online during the 2020-21 academic year so that social distancing can be implemented. According to a survey from the University and College Union, 71 per cent of students say they would prefer to delay the start of term with virtual lectures replacing face-to-face ones until it safer.

Criticisms of these proposals outlined by Universities UK have already been raised, including by a researcher from the University of Manchester who said it would be “impossible to keep [students] to the same bubble”.

Maurice Naginton highlighted that “most students live outside of university halls after year one. Universities have no way of keeping them in ‘bubbles’. Also, many university halls won’t be in neat little eight person bubbles. Overlap is so inevitable as to make it largely ineffective.”

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