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A COVID-secure course and student experience in 2020/21

Last updated: 5 August 2020

We promised to provide applicants and students with an update on the plans we have been making to provide an enjoyable, valuable and life-enhancing experience at Harper Adams in 2020/21. In doing so, we continue to prioritise the safety of our Community, taking account of the Government guidance that is in place at any time. If that guidance allows us to relax social distancing rules so that we can return to more normal operations later in 2020/21, we will do so as soon as this is practical.

We are also making plans so that we are well prepared for any future re-imposition of restrictions. We hope this summary provides you with a clear picture of our intentions for 2020/21. If revised Government guidance means that we need to make further changes between now and the start of the new academic year, we will let you know. We remain confident that, despite the challenges we are all facing because of COVID-19, we will be able to provide a memorable and meaningful experience for you. The following summarises our current plans in relation to the questions that applicants and students have been asking us about.

Start of the Academic Year and Welcome Week

We expect to welcome new and returning students as previously advised. Our plan, working to current guidance, is to provide a combination of face-to-face and online activities, with the face-to-face academic and social activities taking place in different levels of ‘Harper Herds’ (our take on the ‘social bubbles’ that others talk about). We aim to create a safe, but connected Community from the outset. Find out more about our plans for ‘Harper Herds’ for both resident and off-campus students. Your ‘Primary Harper Herd’ will be determined by your accommodation arrangements, whether you choose to live on or off-campus, including students commuting from home. If you are starting at Harper Adams for the first time, our arrangements will give you a ready-made network so that you are sure to make friends from the outset and without the need for social distancing within your primary herd. Of course, as restrictions lift, your primary herd will grow. For returning students with existing friendship groups, including those you live with, please ensure that you follow guidance to ensure that you, your primary herd and your wider circle of friends who are not in your primary herd all stay safe!

We know that for new students Welcome Week will be a little different to usual, but we’re really excited about the opportunities that the ‘blended’ model of our face-to-face and online programme will give you. By delivering some of the programme online, we can offer alternative activities for you to get to know members of your wider Harper Herd, as well as your primary herd. As we expect some of your learning will take place online, we will also provide useful guidance and support on how to learn in this way if you are unfamiliar with it, so that you can be confident in your studies. For undergraduate students, alongside the usual induction information that you would expect, you can also look forward to workshops, tractor trailer tours to familiarise yourself with the campus, ice-breakers (in person with your primary herd and online with other herds), competitions, scavenger hunts and other outdoor activities either with your primary herd, or socially distanced with other students. The Students’ Union (SU) will be showcasing the range of clubs and societies, and, even if the sports leagues are later than usual to kick-off, we will still make sure you’re linked up with the right club for you and that you have plenty of opportunities to network with your future team mates.

The induction programme for new taught postgraduate students is integrated with the Research and Information Skills module and you will be sent details shortly beforehand. Please contact us at: postgraduate@harper-adams.ac.uk if you have any queries. Bespoke arrangements will be made to ensure international students are able to start their studies safely. Postgraduate research students should discuss their individualised study arrangements directly with their Director of Studies.

Your social and sporting life

Our SU is committed to running as many social and sporting opportunities as possible for students, throughout the course of the year. Initially, there may be more restrictions and safety measures in place, and the format of some activities may need to change but, wherever possible, all our activity groups will continue to run and will accept memberships from students to participate from September onwards. If an activity, club or society is unable to undertake their usual activity due to Government guidance and associated safety measures, the SU will work with students to support alternatives. Throughout the summer, the SU will be speaking with the student executive teams for all clubs and societies to establish any guidelines or restrictions the groups will need to work within so that you are safe but active!

Our SU and Student Services are working together to build a connected student community. Our fantastic outdoor spaces mean that you will still be able to gather with team mates, and train as individual clubs according to its sport’s governing body guidelines. Likewise, some of our indoor spaces will be bookable for small gatherings in your herd, or for larger socially distanced activities. We are now planning our reopening of ‘The Welly Inn’, and working with the SU to create indoor and outdoor spaces to socialise with your herd, or with other students (such as a club or society) in a safe, socially distanced, but sociable way. For our commuting students, we will have a dedicated space for you to relax and meet with others whilst on campus for those days when you have face to face teaching.

Accommodation

We want you to know that we are following all Government guidance closely, as well as incorporating university accommodation sector best practice. This means we can review and adapt our accommodation allocation approach and introduce any additional safety measures, if this becomes necessary, to ensure your wellbeing and happiness in our on-campus accommodation. At this stage, our measures will include: identified areas to socialise and eat together in your ‘herd’, clearly marked out ‘zones’ in accommodation so that kitchens and bathrooms are shared by only your herd, increased cleaning in communal areas, sanitisation stations and access to cleaning supplies, guidance materials to support student living whilst the restrictions apply, regular drop-in sessions to help with any queries, as well as independent living skills workshops. We’re working closely with Telford and Wrekin Health Protection Hub in our response to managing any COVID-19 health concerns. Allocating students to a herd and zoning accommodation is just a small part of that, and we will also ensure that students have access to 24/7 support and advice on campus. Out of hours we have Student Wardens, Residences Officers and Security Staff on hand to offer assistance.

We know that moving away from home is a big step and we want you to feel comfortable from the outset, so we will do our best to make sure that you get to know your herd before you even arrive, initially using facebook groups but also by hosting virtual meetings. Our student wardens and the wider team will be here to help you foster friendships and develop connections and facilitate social opportunities, whilst also offering support and reassurance along the way.

We tackled the challenge of lockdown with 140 students still living on campus; they were particularly welcoming of regular updates from the Student Services team, a daily shuttle-bus to the supermarket, food packages they could order through our catering team (with the occasional, complimentary treat added to their order!) and regular online social activities. We’re building on this knowledge and experience for our new intake of residents.

Travel

We continue to provide free parking for students and staff, and provided it is only with a member of your herd or household we encourage students to car-share where they can. If you plan to bring a car you will need to register your vehicle and we will prompt you to do this during Welcome Week. Our subsidised shuttle-bus will continue to run throughout the academic year (and will be free during Welcome Week). This service is invaluable to many of our students to get them to and from the shops. In line with Government guidance, we will be asking passengers to wear a face covering and use sanitiser. There is also a public bus service (Arriva 519) which offers an alternative timetable to the shuttle and has onward connections to Stafford or Telford (both of which have train stations). The public bus isn’t currently running but we are keeping an eye on this, as we expect it to restart in September.

Many of our students will bring bikes and we have ample cycle storage available and we also have a small number of bikes for hire. We know that many people have developed a passion for running during lockdown, so we’ll also share with you some scenic walking and running routes as well as a safe cycle route into town. For those who haven’t yet discovered a passion for running, we’ll be restarting our very popular ‘Couch to 5K’ group in the new academic year – so keep your eyes peeled for this!

Course content and delivery

We are planning that approximately half of your classes will take place in smaller groups on our rural campus in the form of tutorial, seminar, lab or workshop classes. Some courses include practical classes that use our working estate and we will look to maximise outdoor teaching for farm/land/environment-based lessons, whilst social distancing remains in place. Lectures will take place online and students will also have access to online learning resources and activities, with suggested work to complete for each week, to complement the smaller group classes. For example, we plan that full-time, undergraduate first year students will, on average, spend around 8 hours a week in small group classes and also be asked to access 8 online lectures. Including the suggested independent work, you should expect to spend a total of 40 hours a week, on average, on your studies.

Taught postgraduate students’ programmes are delivered in week blocks and, whilst there is variation by module, these will also consist of approximately half the week in class with the balance online. A small number of modules will be delivered wholly online, using a blend of interactive live sessions, supported by pre-recorded sessions. A list of the taught postgraduate modules and the balance of classroom and online delivery for each will be provided by the Postgraduate Office (postgraduate@harper-adams.ac.uk) as soon as it is complete.

All core course content is unchanged, although in order to simplify the timetable so that we can organise socially distanced, face-to-face classes, we have removed a couple of undergraduate first year optional business modules. We are also likely to need to postpone running elective foreign language modules and some animal handling classes until social distancing measures are eased. Our course content and assessment plans will be organised so that we maintain professional accreditation for all qualifying courses.

In the autumn term, exceptionally and whilst we are looking to avoid doing so, we may need to extend the teaching day so that occasional classes might run until 7pm, rather than the 6pm finish we are used to. Please don’t worry if you are a catered student as we will ensure that you are fed either before or after any late class you might have! We are also likely to use the Wednesday afternoon session, which we would normally reserve for sport, and also the undergraduate Independent Study Weeks to ensure you are able to benefit from the classes that we would normally provide. We are looking to minimise the impact of any changes on individual students as far as we can whilst still providing an optimum balance of face-to-face small classes and online lectures.

All of our tutors have participated in professional development over the summer so they are well prepared to provide excellent teaching in person as well as online for the larger classes. We worked with our SU to gather feedback from our students who experienced online learning in the final weeks of 2019/20, in the early period of the lockdown and, whilst our revised arrangements were considered ‘good’, we want to ensure that they are ‘excellent’ for 2020/21!

In the event of a future lockdown, we are working on plans to provide live, online, interactive tutorials in line with the teaching schedule. Students will be able to access the recording after the session, so no student will miss out if they cannot attend.

Our Learning Hub

The Learning Hub is the name of the University’s own Virtual Learning Environment. This is the online, web-based platform through which you will be able to access all the materials that you need for online and independent study. We have worked closely with our Students’ Union to make sure that the Learning Hub is easy to use, and fully accessible.

Each of your modules will have its own Learning Hub page and this will include your online lectures and details of any assessment tasks, as well as links to relevant library resources and ideas for further study. Many of the pages will also include opportunities to participate in online discussions with peers or tutors, as well as quizzes to help you to check your own understanding of the learning materials. To help you to get organised each page will be set out in a similar way and tutors provide a ‘weekly activity guide’ to help keep you on track. When you arrive at the University, you will be shown how to access and use the Learning Hub and you will be given guidance on how to successfully manage and make the most of online learning to complement your time spent in classes.

Staying safe

All of our buildings have been assessed against Government guidance and, where necessary, changes made, including by reducing the maximum capacity of our teaching, learning and social spaces and offices. Returning students will notice that some buildings have new one-way walking systems, our rooms have capacity limits clearly noted and signage will remind all of us of the need to keep our distance and wash hands regularly. We have installed alcohol rub sanitation stations across the campus so that, even if you are not within a few seconds of a washroom, you will be able to clean your hands. We are also prioritising more frequent cleaning of communal spaces, as well as asking students to wipe down shared desk spaces after use. If required by Government guidance, all staff and students will be provided with an initial pack of two washable face coverings. You are, of course, welcome to use your own disposable or washable face coverings.

Any student who shows COVID-19 symptoms will be supported to self-isolate and will be given fast-tracked access to testing through our arrangements with our Local Authority. Every student will be supported in their daily living and studies whilst they isolate and, where necessary, recover from any symptoms. If you are on placement and develop symptoms, you will need to follow your employer’s local testing arrangements. Please seek advice from your Placement Manager or Student Services if you have any concerns.

We have revised our Community Charter, in conjunction with the SU, so that all staff and students understand the part that we will all need to play in ensuring that we stay safe in these unprecedented times.

We are also working with our Local Authority to have a robust plan in place should there be any further restrictions imposed on us by the Government. This plan includes arrangements for continuation of studies wherever possible, in line with Government guidance, as opposed to delaying studies.

Assessment for taught programmes

Our assessment plans remain largely unchanged for 2020/21 although we will revise our arrangements for traditional exams wherever possible, so that they are converted into ‘take-away’ papers, to be completed in your own study space, over a short time period. Only where professional body restrictions for accreditation purposes do not permit this will we run a small number of conventional exams, all of which will be operated according to any guidance in place at the time. In a post-pandemic world, it will be more important that graduates are familiar with working remotely in an online environment, including for group work. A small number of our courses involve practical assessments involving animal handling and we are working hard with the relevant professional bodies to ensure that we can develop and assess such skills in line with Government guidance and also meet professional body and employer expectations.

Access to services, facilities and resources

We have award-winning student support services and we aim to maintain our reputation for this! Our tutors and professional services staff will remain available for on-campus, one-to-one support where this is most helpful for individual students and can be managed in line with social distancing guidance. We will also provide bookable, one-to-one online support across our student support services where this is a student’s preference or social distancing guidance requires. This includes academic guidance, accommodation advice, maths support, careers and placement support, disability guidance, wellbeing support and, for overseas students, supplementary English language teaching and dedicated international student support. Our staff continued to support our students all the way through the spring lockdown period, including providing online or telephone support for those students who had gone home so they had every chance to excel in their final assessments. Our students’ results for 2019/20 have been impressive and is indicative of the hard work by them and our staff who continued to support them during a very challenging time!

The Bamford Library building will be open to users from September. In line with Government guidance, we are taking measures to provide a safe and effective service. Since the lockdown we have prioritised online access to digital resources and our librarians are busy working with tutors to ensure that reading lists and materials that will help with assessments are readily available. We will continue, as we have done since March, to provide individualised support through our online enquiry service (using Live Chat, email and Teams) and you will be able to book your own one-to-one appointment with a librarian. We will also provide guidance sessions to groups of students so that you are well versed in how to make the most of our library services.

We also understand that our print collection still has a part to play in your studies and that our study spaces are important to some students, particularly those who do not live on the campus. In order to ensure that we can still provide you with access to these, we are planning for the following:

  • Frequent sanitisation of the building
  • Providing a quarantine period of 72 hours between loans
  • Changes to the layout to ensure that study spaces comply with Government guidance
  • If required to do so, complying with the requirement to support the Government’s initiative on ‘Track and Trace’ (as for public libraries)

In order to achieve this, we will carefully manage the use of space, through providing a ‘Click and Collect’ service for print materials that cannot be digitised and an online Study Space booking service for those who prefer to study in the library. At least for the start of term, there will be no ‘walk-in’ access to the library and entry will be by swipe card access. We will not be able to open the Building for 24/7 access at the start of the year but will do so as soon as we are able to do so. Our plans will be regularly reviewed in line with Government guidance and so are subject to change.

Placement and Careers

The 2020 Graduate Outcomes data highlights that Harper Adams’ graduate employment levels are outstanding. Our low unemployment figure was remarked upon in The Times on 24 June 2020, which said: “…Harper Adams…St Mary’s, the education specialist in Twickenham and Winchester have the lowest unemployment rates of between 1 and 2 per cent. In July 2020, for the fifth consecutive year, we were the winner of the WhatUni? Job Prospects Gold Student Voice Award. We are confident that our well established pool of placement employers remains keen to work with our students and provide real-life experience in which they can apply their early studies to the world of work. We have agreed with many placement employers where flexible start and finish dates are reasonable and where they support their organisation but also give our students the experience they need in order to boost their career prospects.

Graduate employers continue to collaborate with us to provide established and new career opportunities for 2020/21 and beyond. In the autumn of 2019/20, we attracted over 200 employers to our Careers and Placement Fairs, with opportunities for both graduates and placement year students. We plan to continue providing this series of events in the autumn of 2020 and into the spring of 2021, although many employers will participate remotely in the earlier period order to comply with anticipated social distancing rules. We are busy working on creating an online programme to support graduate careers, enterprise and placement. Our Careers and Placement staff continue to provide both group and individualised support, using a combination of online sessions and socially distanced face-to-face meetings, by appointment, where the latter is more beneficial to the student. Employers who offer financial scholarships alongside their placement employment opportunities are keen to continue their programme of support with the University in 2020/21. Please do look out for email information on these opportunities which will be sent to eligible students early in the autumn term.

Support to placement students will continue with each student having their own placement tutor, as well as support before and after placement from a course-based Placement Manager and the Placement Office. In the autumn term, we expect that most tutor / student / employer meetings will take place online rather than in person in the student’s place of employment.

Course and related costs

University fees remain as published, as we aim to continue providing an excellent learning environment that will enable all students who apply themselves to succeed in their studies and their careers.

An inevitable additional cost of studying is a laptop or tablet, so that you can work in your own space at your own pace. To allow you to fully participate in online activities you will need a web-camera, microphone and some headphones. A headset with a built-in microphone would be ideal. Whilst you are encouraged to shop around for best deals to suit your own needs, the University is a customer of Dell, which offers discounts for our students. We recommend downloading either Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome to use as your web browser while studying. You will make good use of the Microsoft Office suite in your studies which you are eligible to install free of charge, using your University student details. Specialist software is also available through University desktops. Please get in touch with us as soon as possible (StudentServices@harper-adams.ac.uk) if you think the cost of purchasing your own laptop or tablet will be prohibitive as we would not want any applicant or student to be prevented from studying for this reason. The Service Desk team (ServiceDesk@harper-adams.ac.uk) will be available to support your set-up once you are a registered user of our network and if you are unsure about what you need can be contacted before you arrive.

Unlike some rural areas, we are fortunate to have access to Ultrafast broadband. On campus, we have access to the Universities’ JANET network (with a download speed of up to 1 Gbps which is scheduled to be upgraded even further to 10 Gbps in the autumn of 2020). Up to 500 Mbps download speed is available in the local area, depending which provider you use. It is important to check what services are available at potential off-campus residences with the Internet Service Providers in various locations across the local town of Newport (where most students live after their first year studies).

Further information

We hope this advice provides you with the reassurance you need that our arrangements for the 2020/21 academic year are safe and supportive. Of course, if these plans are subsequently amended as a result of new Government guidance, we will let all applicants and students know as soon as possible by email. We will host our arrangements on our webpages and there will be a link to them as part of our online enrolment arrangements so you will be sure to know our latest plans, in line with any changing Government guidance. Along with our terms and conditions, setting out the relationship between ourselves and our students, we have a Student Complaints Scheme, a Transfer Policy and a Student Protection Plan in place, as part of the arrangements to protect a student’s interests if things go wrong. These are available on our Key Information Page (along with all other student facing policies and procedures, in case you are interested!).

If you do have any concerns, please email us so that we can advise you further (for applicants at: admissions@harper-adams.ac.uk or postgradute@harper-adams.ac.uk and for existing students at: studentservices@harper-adams.ac.uk). We look forward to seeing you in beautiful, rural Shropshire in the autumn – whilst the academic year might start off a little differently than usual, we are confident that our plans will support you to fulfil your career and life ambitions!

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