University of Portsmouth reveals reopening plans to protect against coronavirus

TEMPERATURE checks, protective screens, face masks and testing of students and staff are just some of the measures being introduced to mitigate the risks of coronavirus transmission as the city’s university plans to welcome students back on October 5.

Friday, 3rd July 2020, 11:00 am
Updated Friday, 3rd July 2020, 12:36 pm

The revelations come as the University of Portsmouth’s vice-chancellor, professor Graham Galbraith, described dealing with the pandemic as the ‘most profound challenge’ in the university's history.

After already delaying the start of term by three weeks, staff at the university have been working to create a Covid-secure environment in the university’s buildings and halls of residence while also continuing to develop remote learning.

Professor Galbraith said: ‘I’ve been told that the measures we are putting in place at the university are more stringent than non-Covid hospital wards. We will be conducting temperature checks on people entering all our buildings and we will arrange for a test for anyone displaying symptoms.

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Dr Pattanathu Rahman from the University of Portsmouth has been leading research into testing sewage to identify coronavirus hotspots. This is just one of the ways the university has been supporting the fight against the pandemic.

‘There will be social distancing in place with masks and visors worn by staff and students where necessary and hand sanitising points throughout the university buildings.’

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While Prof Galbraith does have some reservations over private student accommodation he confirmed the university has put in place a range of measures in the university's halls of residence.

‘There will be protective screens where necessary and a cashless payment system. As is currently happening in schools, the students will be operating in a family bubble to limit potential infection.’ said professor Galbraith.

The University of Portsmouth's vice-chancellor , professor Graham Galbraith, has revealed the different measures being put in place to mitigate the risks of the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Ongoing concerns over social distancing will also lead to changes to how courses have traditionally been run with more emphasis on ‘blended learning’ – a combination of direct teaching time and remote learning.

Prof Galbraith said: ‘With all this we are being guided by government guidelines and as such, at least during the first semester, we are planning for no gatherings in large lectures. I anticipate students will get between five and six hours of face-to-face small group tutorial time which will be supplemented with digital learning through online seminars and lectures using Webex and Google Meet.

‘Sometimes large lectures aren't the best way of teaching anyway and some students have already said they really enjoyed a focus on more digital learning.’

The University of Portsmouth is to carryout temperatures checks on people entering university buildings. Photo by DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images.

While accepting certain aspects of university life will ’undoubtedly be different’, Prof Galbraith feels that students can still have a fulfilling experience despite the restrictions brought about by the pandemic.

‘The Students’ Union is still planning on running a socially distanced freshers fair and many of our clubs and facilities will still run in accordance with government guidelines,’ he said.

The university leader also hopes that young people aren’t deterred from enrolling at the university as a result of the pandemic.

‘I understand why some students may be anxious about coming in October but we are putting all these measures in place to reassure them on safety,’ he said. ‘We never really know our full course uptake until the start of the first semester but I would hope that young people wouldn’t defer going to university as a result of the pandemic.

‘I would urge people not to make a rash decision. It would be a risk to have a year out with the current employment situation and there is no guarantee of getting a place next year when they will be competing with more A-level students. Hopefully by January things may also have improved considerably.’

Fees and finance

Despite the increased costs of mitigating the risks of coronavirus, Prof Galbraith has confirmed that university fees will remain the same.

‘Putting all these measures in place is expensive and if students decide not to come then this will obviously affect us financially. We are in a strong position to get through this but the reality is we are having to dip into our cash reserves which had been earmarked for other things,’ he said.

One of the biggest areas of concern is the uptake of course places by overseas students which make up 15 per cent of the university's population.

‘With travel restrictions and the fact some students may be coming from countries with lower infection rates than ourselves, it’s a concern that some may decide not to come. International students provide £50 million of our income and we are currently expecting around 30 to 40 per cent of our normal uptake of overseas students,' said Prof Galbraith.

The university leader’s financial concerns extend to the higher education sector as a whole.

Prof Galbraith said: ‘The financial situation for some universities who are not as well prepared is going to be very difficult. I’m passionate about the life-changing experience higher education provides and it would be a tragedy if the sector is damaged.’

Fears of infection spike

While wanting to focus on the positives, Prof Galbraith said the situation in Leicester showed the risks of a second wave and the potential impacts of a local lockdown.

‘What I’m most concerned about is a spike in infections which would result in people deciding not to come to the university,’ he said. ‘It worries me seeing the scenes around the city of people becoming quite cavalier in their attitude, particularly when the virus has not gone away.’

It’s one of the reasons why the university is doing all it can to support the national effort to monitor infection rates and develop a better understanding of its genetic structure.

Professor Galbraith said: ‘Our scientists are continuing to look at the sequencing of the virus which can help develop better testing and potential treatments.’

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