From lockdown in a student bedroom to shifting all their learning online, students have had a tough year.
Many first-year students moved to a new city, trying to make new friends with the backdrop of COVID-19 restrictions and periods of lockdown. Others needed to adapt to a very new style of learning, with most teaching moving online. Some designated courses such as medicine have continued on-campus teaching, but with strict restrictions to make it safe.
Student wellbeing has been central throughout and has provided the foundation to all student contact. The University has organised activities to help students connect and make friends, amended the criteria for the Student Support Fund to ensure it is more accessible to those who need it and provided a hybrid approach and enhanced its careers offer to further support new and recently graduated students.
Despite a challenging year, we are proud of the resilience shown by all of our students, and are delighted to be welcoming them back onto campus.
Supporting students during lockdown and beyond
The University continues to work with partners including the NHS and charitable organisations to provide support for students who need it, and whenever possible and safe we have continued delivery of in-person support through our locally run drop-in Pause service.
The online presence has diversified and has been increased to include a Coping with COVID-19 online course, virtual self-help and signposting, and a range of YouTube videos on topics including breathing techniques, mindfulness and challenging negative thoughts.
Throughout this period there has been an increase in student engagement. Online wellbeing workshops have been well attended, with up to 150 students per workshop. Virtual support has been very popular, and should continue alongside in-person services going forward.
Campus support for students self-isolating
Students who have needed to self-isolate were automatically given a box of food for the whole flat to get them through the first two to three days while they arranged further deliveries. During the autumn 2020 term, the University provided almost 900 of these complimentary self-isolation grocery boxes. Additionally, an online hub was set up to make it easy to access practical, emotional and medical advice.
Teaching and learning
Laboratory practical experience is an essential part of STEM degrees, and a strong motivator for students taking these subjects. The new Collaborative Teaching Laboratory and other COVID-19 safe labs, have allowed students to continue to take part in practical labs in-person by making significant changes to guard against virus transmission, and maintaining existing safety precautions.
The principle is that experiments should be available to every student, regardless of their personal circumstances. For shielding students and International Students unable to travel this has enabled them to continue to take part in the practical side of their degree.
Multiple cameras, video feeds and live measurements of experiments have been set up inside the labs, so that (for example) one student can carry out an experiment in the lab whilst working collaboratively with others learning remotely.
Remote experiments have been created that can be posted to students at home, and pre- and post-lab videos have been created, so that students can make the most of their reduced contact time.
Fun activities for students
There has also been an opportunity for much needed fun, and the chance to connect virtually, and in person when restrictions allowed, with other students. Working with partners, free craft packs were sent out and a video produced exploring students' lockdown experiences through spoken word poetry. The UoBe Festival in January provided a range of virtual cooking, wellbeing, poetry and sporting events and Spring into Summer, helping students reintegrate into campus life as restrictions lift, has everything from in-person events including an outdoor cinema, bread-making and ping pong, to virtual study hangouts and origami.
Financial help for students
The University provided accommodation fee rebates to several thousand students who were not permitted to return to campus due to government guidance. The 100% rebate scheme also applies to students in nominated partner accommodation, ensuring parity for all. The Student Support Fund, which all current students an apply to if they are struggling to meet their basic costs, has revised its criteria to recognise the additional financial difficulties the pandemic has created, and increased its value to £1 million.
This is in addition to other support funds such as the Chamberlain Award which 4,500 students will benefit from this academic year – sharing more than £8.5 million between them. This supports some of our most financially disadvantaged students including those from low income households, under-represented groups and care leavers.
Testing sites to keep students safe
To help keep students staff and the community safe, the University has a COVID-19 testing facility on South Gate Car Park and in the Great Hall. More recently, an additional walk-through testing centre at the student bar at the Vale Village has been set up, to support the local and national effort in its roadmap to recovery from the pandemic.
To support students facing ongoing hardship as a result of COVID-19, and find out about our research on better COVID-19 diagnosis, treatment, and wide-ranging impact visit Birmingham In This Together.