Student life continues across Hertfordshire during Covid-19

College Lane Campus, University of Hertfordshire. Picture: Pete Stevens.

September is the time when individuals return to college or start university. However, the 2020/2021 academic year will be like no other. Coronavirus has changed the whole landscape of the learning experience for students.

New safeguarding methods have been introduced across all establishments to prevent the virus from spreading. This includes changes to teaching methods as contact hours are reduced in some institutions, with a move towards more online learning. Where classes do occur, numbers are small and social distancing is implemented. Additionally, there has been a reduction in social activities in order to comply with the latest government guidelines.

Yet, this has not stopped people from applying to university or returning to college. In July, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported that the number of applications to higher education institutions, rose during lockdown. 40.5% of 18 year olds within the UK applied by the 30th June 2020 deadline. This meant 281,980 young people submitted applications, up from 275,520 the previous year.

Similarly, a large number of people attend further education colleges. According to the Association of Colleges (AoC), there are 284 colleges in the UK, which on average educate 2.2 million people. They provide both ‘technical and professional’ educational training for young people and adults.

As Hertfordshire students return to college or start university, their learning experience this year will no doubt be different due to Covid-19. However, local colleges and institutions have tried to ensure they continue to receive learning, and normality in these unusual times. The University of Hertfordshire (UoH) which has a student population of 25,000, has been making sure that on-campus safety is a top priority.

A UoH spokesperson said:

“The safety of our staff, students and wider community has been our absolute priority since the start of the pandemic. We have been flexible and have been adapting quickly to the Government’s guidance throughout the pandemic, working closely with Hertfordshire County Council and the NHS.”

They went on to add that students were ‘welcomed back to campus this week,’ and ‘where’ it is ‘safely’ possible will be conducting ‘teaching in person.’ In terms of safety measures the university has ‘adapted’ its learning spaces, along with implementing ‘new signage’ and ‘cleaning routines.’ A ‘two-way navigation’ system is in place, and within accommodation ‘socialising bubbles’ have been formed to ‘keep’ the university’s ‘community safe.’ Students and staff members have been provided with university branded face coverings. Furthermore, ‘academics’ and ‘student facing staff will be provided with face visors,’ and those within laboratories ‘will use full PPE.’

Additionally, the UoH spokesperson acknowledged the importance of social interaction for new students within Freshers’ week:

“We know socialising is a huge part of university life and students will still be able to do that at Herts with other members of their student household, even if that exceeds 6 people, in line with government guidelines. We are working with our Students Union to put on events during Freshers’ week that will be fun but also comply with government guidance.”

Events have included the Student Union establishing an outdoor cinema, activities within halls and ‘inter flat competitions.’ All of which were ‘in line with government guidelines.’ Academic Schools are also organising activities for students studying on their programmes. The university stated they were doing their ‘best with the current restrictions to create a vibrant Freshers’ week experience.’

Local further education institutions also welcomed back their students in September. Oaklands College which has campuses in St Albans, Borehamwood and Welwyn Garden City, has ‘taken a number of steps’ to make sure they ‘can provide a safe learning environment’ for students.

Zoe Hancock, Principal of Oaklands College, said:

“We provided a half-day induction to all of our new students to give them a chance to come into the college, meet their tutors and give them all the tools they needed to begin college life. We have developed a suite of personal development resources to provide information and guidance about our Covid measures, and to provide reassurance about how we are helping them to stay safe. Our excellent student advice, learning support and learning facilitators have been on hand to provide guidance and support for all those students who have needed it. We have really enjoyed welcoming our students into college this academic year and to be able to provide them with some structure and hope for the future in these challenging times.”

Equally, West Herts College has also introduced measures across all their campus to ‘ensure’ they ‘remain Covid-secure.’ Students will stay within social bubbles for all teaching sessions, and are not ‘required to mix’ with others ‘for any aspect of their course.’ In all common areas people must adhere to social distancing, use hand sanitiser and wear face coverings.

Student support services are being offered remotely and on campus. Extra-curricular activities are also available for students individually, or with others. Additionally, the college has launched new ‘on-demand services’ which ‘will provide’ a ‘high quality digital learning experience.’ During this pandemic West Herts are focusing students ‘on their long-term goals,’ and explaining that qualifications can help with future prospects especially during these trying times.  

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