Firstly, let me say hello and a warm welcome to both our new starters and those resuming their studies at the University of York.
As I write this, term has just started, new friendships are being formed and courses are underway.
It goes without saying this new term will be like no other. The situation we have all found ourselves in during this global pandemic means we are all living our lives in ways that are far from normal.
But I am sure this will, nonetheless, be a stimulating, rewarding and enjoyable year.
The experience you have as students is at the heart of everything we do but we all have our part to play, individually and collectively, to make this term a success.
We have been preparing for the start of term in detail for months, implementing and, at times, going beyond government guidance.
We are determined to deliver teaching that is as safe as possible. That has meant moving some of our learning to a digital space in order to allow for social distancing in our physical classrooms and labs.
Our digital learning is being led by the same world-class academic experts as our on-campus classes – students will have opportunities to share ideas and participate in intellectually challenging discussions with their peers just as they would in the physical classroom.
While some social activities are online, we’ve constructed covered areas across campus, to give students opportunities for recreational activity in a safe environment – we’d rather you socialise in those managed settings than elsewhere.
We know from experience in the US, and in recent weeks in the UK, that Covid transmission on campus has been driven by activity in student social settings, not teaching settings.
My message to you is very clear: if we do not all play our part and follow the guidelines, there is a risk that Covid rates will rise and restrictions could be increased.
This could then impact on elements of your experience, such as the amount of face-to-face teaching we can deliver, sport, campus-based events and socialising.
We know the vast majority of our students are responsible, supportive, and are playing their part. This is a central theme in our “Stay smart, supportive and safe” campaign, our online induction module for students, and our new Covid-19 Charter, so that everyone understands and appreciates the importance of working together to keep each other safe.
But we are also working with our student unions to ensure that students are aware of the consequences within the University and in law – including penalties, such as police fines – of not following Covid restrictions.
As you may know, we have a new walk-in Covid testing facility – available on an appointment-only basis, and this forms an important part of our efforts to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
We know that some students will need to self-isolate in the coming weeks, either because they have Covid symptoms and are awaiting a test, or have tested positive themselves or someone in their household has. We recognise this will be an additional challenge, and have put arrangements in place for those self-isolating to make sure they can get essential provisions and support. Self-isolation is a community-spirited act intended to safeguard others, not a punishment, and we are committed to taking a supportive and compassionate approach.
Finally, I want to thank you for your patience and tolerance. By working together to ensure that we comply with the new restrictions, we are well-placed to do all that we can to make sure York remains a safe place to live, study and enjoy.