If you’re starting uni this year, the reality may be dramatically different from what you were expecting. Not least Freshers Week, which now thanks to the global pandemic will be mainly taking place online – if recent government social distancing guidelines* are anything to go by.
Freshers Week is usually one of the highlights in the uni calendar, a chance for students (many living away from home for the first time) to mingle, party, make friends and really get a taste of university life before the real work starts.
While Freshers Week normally involves a week of pub-crawls, club nights and campus parties, this year will be in stark contrast, with many events happening virtually, which students will attend from the safety of their bedrooms. Clubs, sports teams and other societies will also have to alter their activities to meet safety regulations. (Many students should expect mixers and welcome events to take place online via video chat.)
Plus, students’ arrival dates might be staggered to limit large groups of people coming into contact, so ‘Freshers Week’ might even take place across a number of weeks, with smaller, socially-distanced events. Even walking around campus might be different, with some universities considering having one-way pedestrian systems to limit too many people coming into close contact.
Of course, large gatherings – i.e. parties –will most likely be banned, to be replaced with social bubbles (with groups of people living and studying together) and get-togethers in groups of no more than six, in order not to breach current COVID-secure guidelines*.
When it comes to sexual health, it’s no longer illegal to have sex with someone outside of your household, as it was during the height of lockdown*. However, the government has issued ‘guidelines’ that you should "stay two metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or one metre with extra precautions." One minister also ‘strongly advised’ university students not to spread coronavirus in their ‘bedrooms’.
The exact rules vary, so check with your individual university on what their policy is. But to give you a rough idea of what to expect, here are some of the main government recommendations and regulations for universities*:
- Students should socialise in environments that are COVID-secure, so campus bars and student unions might include protective screens or markings for social distancing.
- University start dates might be staggered and each course will have the “appropriate” mix of online and face-to-face teaching to ensure optimal learning is combined with minimal risk of the virus being transmitted.
- Face coverings will probably be required for any social events hosted by clubs and societies.
- Students who develop COVID symptoms should self-isolate in their current accommodation, instead of going home (and risk transmitting it to older people who are more vulnerable). All residents in the same household must also isolate.
- Private gatherings in halls of residence that break the “Rule Of Six” are not allowed.
- Universities have been advised to offer more mental health support to students affected by the uncertainty and disruption to their studies caused by Covid-19.
*Government advice correct as of 16.09.2020. This is subject to change, please regularly check the government website for the latest updates.