The University of Bolton is famous for our student satisfaction and our teaching quality.
Even though the Government’s scientific advice says we cannot meet together in the same way during the ‘social distancing’ phase of the coronavirus epidemic, we will continue to provide our degrees and ensure students can graduate safely.
Following the announcement by the Government about the partial closure of schools and colleges, and as the number of suspected COVID 19 cases increases nationally, I wanted to provide a detailed update for students.
The advice from the Chief Medical Officer, that individuals with any symptoms whatsoever should self-isolate, is beginning to impact on our operational efficiency as a University.
As fewer students attend campus and staffing levels become significantly affected by individuals taking proper precautions, in the light of the Secretary of State’s latest decisions, I have reviewed the operations of the University going forward.
We therefore need to move to a method of delivering our programmes to students so that they can continue their education throughout the academic year without the need for classes to meet on campus.
I must stress at the outset that the University of Bolton is NOT closing.
The University will adopt the following arrangements:
From 5pm on Friday 20 March 2020, the Easter vacation will begin early for students and they will no longer be expected to be on campus except for use of the Library on a drop-in and take away basis.
This will NOT include those students and apprentices who are in work placement with employers as an integral part of their Degree course (e.g. Nursing, Midwifery, Degree Apprentices, Teacher Education etc.). The respective Faculties and Schools will coordinate continuity of such placements and teaching.
Almost all staff, except a small number providing essential on-campus services, will work remotely at home.
Teaching will recommence for students on Monday 20 April 2020. However, all classes will be mediated and facilitated using video conferencing technology and will not take place on campus.
The reason for the extended student vacation is to give all teaching staff the time to become familiar with the use of virtual technologies and enable them to individually put in place arrangements with every student to enable them to dial in to normal scheduled class times remotely. Teaching staff will use their normal scheduled teaching slots each week to run a virtual class.
All teaching staff (with the exception of those associated with students in nursing or teacher education) will be working off-campus from Monday March 23.
Effectively, from March 23 2020 to April 20 2020, will be used to ensure that we create an effective virtual technology-based University operation.
This will allow us to very efficiently deliver our courses to students, augmented by our range of learning technologies which make learning materials accessible.
Clearly, engineering workshops and clinical practice sessions will be impossible, but the proposed method of engagement between staff and students should enable significant learning to continue.
Accordingly the University, throughout the remainder of the coronavirus epidemic, will remain very much open for business, but not for the majority of students on campus.
This approach will provide for the safety and isolation of staff and provide gainful employment and professional interaction which will be much needed by those who would otherwise be isolated at home or in family units.
Clearly this is not a perfect solution but it does provide the opportunity to continue, in some form, our degree programmes.
We plan to convene virtual assessment boards to enable us to effectively and efficiently make progression decisions for students and to award degrees.
The fact that the majority of staff will be working remotely and flexibly off campus should assist those with urgent childcare requirements because of the Government decision to close schools.
I am very conscious of the huge effort and strain this national situation has placed upon colleagues.
To provide respite and in the interest of staff well-being, I am asking all staff to take the week beginning 13 April 2020 as officially a holiday week when the institution will effectively be closed in a similar manner to Christmas. All staff, with the exception of security staff will be on compulsory leave to ensure that they rest and recuperate as best they can.
The University will continue its full blown operations off-campus at the start of the Summer Term on Monday 20 April 2020 without the requirement for most staff to attend campus.
These arrangements will continue until the UK’s Chief Medical Officer confirms that the epidemic is subsiding and normal working patterns become appropriate.
Students will be discouraged from working in the Library to avoid social contact, whilst being able to access its facilities either remotely or on a drop-in basis to take away resources.
The lockdown will not end until we are instructed by the Chief Medical Officer that it is safe to return to normal working.
Graduation in July will not go ahead. However, students will receive their degrees in a timely manner to ensure that they are able to proceed to employment. Staff will implement new assessment methods to avoid exams taking place in the traditional way, but appropriate knowledge will be tested.
All students graduating will of course have the opportunity to attend a degree ceremony once things have returned to normal. Nobody will miss out on their opportunity to attend these great occasions with their family.
I can confirm that I have separately communicated the plans going forward to all University staff.
I would finally like to thank all students and staff for their co-operation during this unprecedented situation and urge them to take the best care.