The University of Sussex prepares for the 2020-21 academic year with heightened social distancing measures and practices.
Words by Miranda Dunne
The first semester of the 2020-21 academic year at Sussex will commence with the university’s ‘blended learning’ approach – a combination of in-person and online lessons.
The next academic year begins Monday 21 September with teaching starting the consecutive week from 28 September. There was an abrupt end to in-person teaching in March 2020, when classroom-based learning was quickly converted to online teaching methods due to enhanced safety precautions in light of the escalating COVID-19 global pandemic.
Kelly Coate, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Education and Students at Sussex, confirmed in May that the blended learning approach would consist of: “a mix of campus-based learning experiences and remote approaches, […] some on-campus classroom and laboratory-based learning, including small group work, seminars and tutorials, and […] plenty of space to adhere to social distancing rules.”
The University of Sussex has stated that students can expect a minimum of 11 hours of ‘live interactive learning’ per module, either in the classroom or online, though is prepared for a situation where teaching would have to be moved entirely online.
Students currently living in countries with travel restrictions and unable to attend the campus in September can request to study their course exclusively online until January 2021. However, if you think you may be unable to attend scheduled in-person classes, please contact the university directly to discuss your situation, as this is being considered on a case by case basis. The situation is changing all the time, and attendance requirements will vary across courses.
Over the summer, the library has provided a click-and-collect service for books and other materials. This service will continue into the new academic term, with the Library working closely alongside academic staff to ensure that essential readings on module reading lists will be available in digital form (ebook and digitised chapters), where possible.
Students were also able to book available individual study spaces online by adding them to their basket using the ‘Library Search’ feature, which can be accessed through logging into the Library’s website using your Sussex account details. This system will continue on into the academic term with scheduled plans in place.
Exclusively speaking on the Library’s facilities and developments with The Badger, Jane Harvell, Director of Library Services at Sussex, says:
“We recognise that the booking software we have been working with over summer isn’t the easiest to navigate. We made a decision in June to go with a solution we already had which allowed us to safely and quickly open the study spaces.
“We are now implementing new booking software – that will also be used across campus – for students to book socially distanced study space in computer clusters and other areas.”
Speaking on this new study space booking system, Suzanne Tatham, Associate Director at the Library, adds:
“These spaces will include desks both with and without computers. They will be bookable in two-hour slots. We will allow up to five bookings per week. We won’t place any restrictions on how students choose to use those five slots – they could use them all in one day or spread them over the week.
“Students will be able to book up to a fortnight in advance. Spaces in Shawcross and Bramber House will also be bookable.”
Asked whether this booking software will guarantee fair and equal access for all students, Jane Harvell stated:
“We will be placing limits on the number of bookings that our users can make which should help with equality of access. We will be keeping a close eye on fairness, working with our users and adjusting the system to ensure as many people as is safely possible to get access to the library space this year so I’d really encourage any feedback.”
More information on how the Library is operating – including software and IT support, printing, returning books and requesting ebooks and student support can be found on their website. As the Library is also regularly updating their procedures in line with scientific, government and university guidance, students should also check the Sussex app and the Student Hub for additional information.
Sussex will be implementing its social distancing policy via the use of new one-way corridor systems and smaller groups for face-to-face teaching. It has also stated that the campus will be kept as safe as possible with the use of face masks and hand sanitiser stations.
As it is still a legal requirement to wear face coverings where social distancing cannot be observed, such as on public transport or in shops, including those on campus, the university has followed suit in enforcing it as an on-campus health and safety requirement.
Coverings must now be worn – unless medically exempt – in all communal indoor spaces such as cafés when taking away food or drinks, public bathrooms, the Library, corridors, foyers, lifts and offices. This includes spaces where two-metre social distancing cannot be achieved, such as teaching and computer rooms.
Additionally, social areas including the Falmer House common room, have also been addressed to remain closed until further notice.
Wellbeing and healthcare
The walk-in clinic at the health centre remains closed for face to face appointments, allowing telephone consultations only. The University Pharmacy remains closed; with the pharmacy closest to campus being the Coldean Pharmacy.
The Student Life Centre will also be offering a “mix of online, telephone and face-to-face services.” The counselling service is also offering a remote service for initial consultations and counselling sessions.
The Sussex Student website has compiled a list of resources on how to maintain your mental wellbeing and where to go if you need to support.
As of releasing this article, it is currently a legal requirement to wear facemasks when travelling on public transport. Brighton and Hove Buses have decreased their capacity to aid with social distancing and have provided information on how they will help disabled passengers with social distancing while travelling.
The company has stated they will continue to monitor passenger numbers and will potentially duplicate journeys to ensure as many people as possible can travel. Further information on this is offered on the official Brighton & Hove Buses website.
Wanting to gather some initial student perspective on these practices, The Badger spoke with a number of students concerning these changes:
“We shouldn’t be going back for unnecessary seminars which could be done online. I feel we’re not getting proper use of university learning facilities, and that we should get a reduced tuition fee.” – Josh, third-year Politics student
“Whilst it’s fair enough that the University is still figuring everything out, it’s a bit confusing as the university hasn’t been very communicative. For example, they haven’t said how big the seminars are going to be and whether or not my housemates on the same course will be exempt from social distancing in seminars.” – Heidi, third-year Psychology student
“From my perspective, the uni hasn’t been communicating with international students very well. It would help if they provided clear guidance for us. Some countries might close their borders, meaning the student [living in that country] wouldn’t be able to come back.” – William, Politics student from Thailand.
Disclaimer: As always, the nature of COVID-19 is constantly evolving with new updates to guidelines and policies being offered on a regular basis. As well as checking your student email for updates from Sussex, follow the official government advice of your country and healthcare system on social distancing, travel and general health and safety.
For further guidance, support and resources, see the links below.
GOV.UK: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
NHS: Social distancing, what you need to do
University of Sussex: Responding to Covid-19
University of Sussex Students’ Union: Covid-19BBC News: Coronavirus pandemic