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Durham University

Covid-19 Response

Position statements

This page provides our latest position on various matters relating to Covid-19 planning.

Covid-19 local restrictions

Statement published Friday 27 November 2020.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: The health, safety and wellbeing our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority.

"We continue to communicate regularly with our staff and students and urge our entire community to continue to adhere to the local restrictions in place from Wednesday 2 November.

"We are enormously grateful to our community for their continued compliance with Government restrictions. Were pleased that the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 on campus have fallen significantly in recent weeks and remain low. To date, we have seen no evidence of transmission from students to staff in classroom settings.

“We’ve also had an encouraging start to the Lateral Flow Test (LFT) pilot. Over 3,000 students have taken the test and mass testing for staff will be available for staff from Tuesday 1 December.

“All students and staff who participated have done so voluntarily and we are proud and grateful that they have done so, acting in the interests of our University community, our local communities and the national effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “We know that many of our students very much want to spend the winter break at home, while others will choose or need to remain in Durham. All of our students will have our full support.

“The Government’s guidance on how students at English universities can travel safely for the winter break is linked to students having been tested for the Covid-19 virus. We are proud to have been pioneering asymptomatic testing at Durham through our Lateral Flow Test (LFT) pilot since late October. Hundreds of students and members of staff at three of our 17 Colleges – Van Mildert, Stephenson and University Colleges – have already taken an LFT.

“The University’s governing body, Council, has today endorsed our plans to scale up testing across the University. Testing will be offered to students ‘living in’ and staff working on-site at more of our Colleges and also to students ‘living out’ via three central testing sites: Durham University Sports and Wellbeing Park, Palace Green and Durham Racecourse. We also hope to develop procedures to offer testing to all University staff.

“We continue to work very closely with local and national partners, including the Department for Health and Social Care, Department for Education, University of Oxford, Public Health England and Durham County Council on this testing programme and are grateful for their support.

“We are proud to be at the cutting edge of mass testing and to be making a significant contribution to the local and national effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19. We believe that by our students and staff participating in this testing programme, everyone’s chances of enjoying a safe and healthy winter vacation will be increased.”

Notes

  • Durham University operates a Collegiate system with 17 College communities. All students are a member of one of the Colleges. Some students ‘live in’ at their College, while others ‘live out’ in private accommodation.
  • Further College-based testing for students ‘living in’ and staff working on-site will be rolled out from this week, potentially continuing as late as Tuesday 15 December.
  • All three central testing sites will operate from Tuesday 24 November. Testing at Palace Green and the Racecourse sites will cease after Thursday 3 December. Testing at the Sports and Wellbeing Park will continue until at least Monday 14 December, later if required.
  • Durham University’s Term ends on Friday 11 December.
  • For more information on Durham University’s teaching model for the remainder of Term 1, the Government’s preferred “student travel window” of December 3 to 9 and how the University will support students who remain in Durham during the winter vacation, please see: https://www.dur.ac.uk/coronavirus/notices

Update on planning for the end of Term

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “We welcome the Government’s guidance on how students at English universities can travel home safely for Christmas. We are aware that many of our students will very much want to travel home for Christmas, while others will choose to, or have to, remain in Durham. All of our students will have our full support.

“We are reminding our students that under current national restrictions, in place until Wednesday 2 December, travel home is not permitted. Following that date, we want to support our students to make informed decisions regarding their travel and will be providing information, advice and support in coming weeks.

“For those who remain in Durham, the Bill Bryson Library and the Sports and Wellbeing Park will continue to operate, in varying forms, throughout most of the vacation period, and a range of wider student experience activities will continue in various formats. Cleaning in Colleges will continue and students will have access to catering, either via a pantry or self-catered kitchen or, dependent on viability, a central College catering facility where meals could be purchased.

“We share the Government’s commitment to ensuring that students can access high quality education in various forms. That is why, having seen new Covid-19 case numbers among our community fall very significantly in recent weeks and having seen no evidence of transmission in classroom settings, we are continuing with prioritised face to face teaching, as well as with a wide range of in person student enrichment activities.

“The Government has stipulated that English universities should move to a fully online teaching model by Thursday 10 December. Most of our Departments will move to online teaching only after Friday 4 December. There will be exceptions, including where laboratory-based teaching or practicals in the week commencing Monday 7 December are required. In all cases, teaching will be online only from Thursday 10 December.

“We intend to resume a blended model of face to face teaching and online learning for Term 2, which commences on Monday 11 January.

“The Government has indicated its support for a preferred “student travel window” of December 3 to 9. They have linked this nationally to students having been tested for Covid-19. We are proud to be pioneering asymptomatic testing at Durham through our Lateral Flow Test (LFT) pilot. We aim to scale this up and hope to share more details with our staff, students and the community next week.”

Student communication - latest Government guidance

The UK Government has today published guidance on how students at English universities can safely travel home for Christmas. The Government wants to enable students to make informed decisions regarding travelling home at the end of term, and so do we.

We know you will have questions about this. We are still working through the details, but want to keep you updated as quickly and fully as possible with current plans:

  • The Government is supportive of students travelling home between December 3 and 9 once they have: observed the current national restrictions in place until Wednesday 2 December and had access to Covid-19 testing (even for students with no symptoms).
  • We support the Government’s desire that students should access high quality education, and we are committed to continuing a blend of face-to-face and online teaching.
  • Face-to-face teaching will end across our degree programmes in a staggered way, in line with government guidance, with all term 1 teaching from Thursday 10 December being delivered online. We shall provide you with further details about this next week.
  • We will continue to support students who are studying wholly online. If you have not already done so, please make sure you inform your academic department you are studying online so we can continue to support you with your studies.
  • We will support students to make an informed decision about their travel, study and other arrangements. We recognise that some students will choose or will need to remain in Durham over the vacation period, and they will have our full support.
  • Durham University is already involved in a Covid-19 testing pilot, currently open to ‘livers in’ at Van Mildert and Stephenson Colleges.
  • From this week we are expanding testing to ‘livers in’ and staff at University College, and hope to go further in future.
  • We are talking with the Government about its testing plans and how we can help, and will communicate further over the coming weeks.
  • If/when you are eligible for a test under our pilot scheme, please do participate. You would be making an important contribution to the local and national effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

Over the next few weeks we will be sending round more detailed information about arrangements for the end of term. In the meantime, please keep yourself and your fellow students safe by continuing to follow all Government and University guidance.

Planning for the end of Term

Professor Stuart Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, said: “We share the Government’s desire that students can continue to access high quality education in multiple modalities. That is why, having seen new Covid-19 case numbers among our community fall very significantly in recent weeks and having seen no evidence of transmission in classroom settings, we are continuing with prioritised face to face teaching activity on some degree programmes up to Wednesday 9 December - with others moving to online only teaching before that in a staggered way, in line with government guidance.

“We also share the Government’s desire that students are enabled to make informed decisions regarding their return home for Christmas and, as we have said, we will do everything we can to support this. We recognise that there are a range of degree requirements, as well as of home and residential circumstances, and that some students will choose to, or have to, remain in Durham, just as we recognise that not all students should be encouraged to exit Durham on the same day. The Government is asking us to manage a staggered exit of students. All of our students will have our full support.

“We welcome the Government’s guidance on planning for the end of Term, including Covid-19 testing for asymptomatic students, and we are proud to have been piloting this testing regime on a self-administered basis in Durham since late October.

“We have worked closely with the Department for Health and Social Care, the University of Oxford, Public Health England and local partners including Durham County Council, to enable hundreds of students and staff at two of our 17 Colleges* to successfully self-test using a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) and receive their result in 30 minutes.

“All students and staff who participated have done so on a voluntary basis and we are proud and grateful that they have done so, acting in the interests of our University community, our local communities and the national effort to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“While we are still in the early stages of the pilot, the results so far are very encouraging: students and staff have learned how to self-test quickly and fewer than five students – and zero staff – returned positive results.

“We plan to offer further testing at the two Colleges involved so far, Van Mildert and Stephenson, on Wednesday 11 November and extend the pilot to a third College, University College, on Thursday 12 November and Friday 13 November. We would encourage all students ‘living in’ at these Colleges, and staff working on-site at the three Colleges, to participate where possible.

“The University Executive will be proposing to Council next Monday (16 November) that we should aim to scale up this testing further and we will be saying more on when and how we can do this shortly.

“Participating in the LFD pilot is one of many ways we are contributing to the local, national and international effort against Covid-19. Our bioscientists are working with the London School of Tropical Medicine and Medical Detection Dogs to establish whether sniffer dogs can be trained to spot Covid-19, our particle physicists and cosmologists are part of a United Nations project using maths and big data to model the spread of the virus and an interdisciplinary team including statisticians and social scientists has been helping local NHS trusts model hospital demand since the beginning of the first lockdown. Our business experts are providing free advice to local businesses and our students have raised huge amounts for charities working in various ways to combat the pandemic.

“We continue to have detailed discussions with the Government and other partners on asymptomatic testing and look forward to continuing to play our part in this important national initiative.”

*Durham University operates a Collegiate system with 17 College communities. All students are a member of one of the Colleges. Some students ‘live in’ at their College, while others ‘live out’ in private accommodation.

Questions and Answers

The pilot Durham University previously referred to a Lateral Flow Test (LFT). Is a Lateral Flow Device (LFD) different?
No. The LFT and LFD refer to the same Covid-19 testing technology – a clinically validated swab antigen test that does not require a laboratory for processing and can turnaround results within an hour at the location of the test.

What does the LFD test for?
It indicates whether an individual has high enough levels of the Covid-19 virus to make them infectious to others. It will identify those at most risk of spreading Covid-19 – those who are infectious, but not aware of this (asymptomatic); enabling them to alter their behaviour accordingly.

How do students/staff use an LFD?
Self-administration follows a short training session and quiz to check understanding. A swab is applied to the tonsils and nostrils, then processed using a solution. A result is available in 30 minutes.

What happens if students/staff test positive on the LFD?
Students and staff who test positive on the LFD are encouraged to take a confirmatory PCR test in accordance with current public health guidance. We have PCR tests readily available for this purpose.

They are also required to self-isolate and follow Government and University guidance.

What happens if students/staff test negative on the LFD?
They can continue as normal unless a member of their household tests positive. In this case, the whole household** would be required to self-isolate and follow Government and University guidance.

**For the 2020/21 academic year, students ‘living in’ in a Durham University College are part of a College household of up to 18 students, with very few exceptions for operational reasons. This maximum household size aims to both support student health and wellbeing and minimise the risk of infection and was agreed with Durham County Council’s Public Health Team.

Statement from the Vice-Chancellor on University Operations

Throughout the past seven months, we have been proactively managing the effects of the pandemic on our University activities, informed by guidance from the UK government and professional bodies, and working closely with national and local partners. We are committed to a blended approach to our teaching and learning and wider student experience activities and our priority is, as always, the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff, students and community.

The delivery of face-to-face teaching for our students is a key matter that the University Executive keeps under review. At present our view is that we should continue with our current plans for face-to-face teaching, as well as with student-facing activities undertaken by our professional services staff.

In re-affirming this policy, we took considered account of discussion at Senate (the University's governing body in all academic matters) last week, as well as advice received from public health experts at Durham County Council. Our current arrangements to address individual circumstances will remain in place, which includes an entirely online offer, which has been taken up by around 2,000 students this term.

We understand that this is a time of anxiety for our staff and student members, as it is across the UK and around the world. At the same time, we have taken all reasonable steps to provide for Covid-19-safety on campus, working helpfully with the recognised campus Trade Unions and the Students’ Union, and by taking on board many of their suggestions.

We remain committed to reviewing our policy on face-to-face teaching and all our other activities on a very regular basis, as new evidence presents itself and as we listen to our community. We will continue to communicate frequently with our staff, students and our wider community.

Cases on campus

We have a number of Covid-19 cases within our student community.

The University and our Colleges remain open. We are working closely with Durham County Council and Public Health England and those affected are following NHS advice and self-isolating. They are receiving our full support.

We continue to urge our entire community to follow local and national restrictions and play close attention to guidelines on campus, including practising good hand sanitisation, maintaining 2m social distancing where possible and wearing face coverings inside University buildings.

We are publishing our coronavirus case numbers online here.

Student Welfare

Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) said:

“The health, safety and wellbeing our students, staff and the wider community is always our first priority

“We remain extremely mindful of the impact that Covid-19 restrictions, which are necessary to limit the spread of the virus, have on our University community, and we are committed to supporting those affected through it.

“All students living in Colleges and who are in self-isolation will receive ongoing welfare support including support with essential services and supplies, and continued access to their education online. Students in catered Colleges will also receive access to hot, healthy and regular meals, while those in self-catered accommodation have the option of being provided with food boxes to supplement their existing food supplies.

“We are also expanding our support to students who live out of College accommodation and who are self-isolating.

“Students have access to a range of pastoral support through their colleges and central services such as our counselling team, by accessing Covid-secure face-to-face or online services. Our advisers are also trained to signpost to telephone or digital services including those used by the NHS.

“Our University chaplaincy, where a wide range of faiths are represented, continues to offer spiritual support and guidance to students. Our multi-faith spaces, including some chapels and the Muslim prayer room at Grey College, are also continuing to operate, in line with Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing measures.

“In addition, a laptop loan scheme is available to those who might not have access to the necessary equipment to ensure all of our students are able to access to their online learning and teaching and wider student experience activities.

“Our students and staff receive regular updates from both the University and their College where they are urged to follow Government and University regulations and guidelines to reduce the transmission and impact of Covid-19, as well as information on where they can access a wide range of support services, including testing.”

Covid-19 disciplinary procedures

The vast majority of our students have responded to the local and national Covid-19 restrictions as responsible citizens and we are proud of them for doing so. However, where behaviour falls below the standard we would expect, we will take swift and decisive action.

In the first instance of a suspected Covid-19 breach, we will seek to speak with those involved to explain the risks of their behaviour, encourage them to observe Covid-19 legislation and guidance and remind them of their commitment to themselves, their peers and the wider community made under our Student Pledge.

If serious and intentional breaches are identified and this ‘engage, explain and encourage’ approach has not resolved the situation, we will apply our formal disciplinary process, using a graded ‘yellow, amber, red’ response system.

For a first, low level breach of regulations, a yellow warning will be issued by the student’s College. For a second or more serious breach, an amber warning will be issued – a formal warning will be added to the student’s record and this may be accompanied by further sanctions including a fine of up to £500 or community service of up to 75 hours.

For a further breach or where serious aggravating factors are identified, a red warning will follow, with sanctions including permanent exclusion from the University.