Westminster Higher Education Forum

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at info@forumsupport.co.uk or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email delegate.relations@forumsupport.co.uk

University safety and COVID-19 - implementing best practice, managing the impact on students and staff, and preparing campuses for the future

Morning, Wednesday, 10th March 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will bring out latest thinking on ensuring COVID safety at universities.

Delegates will discuss best practice and tackling key challenges - looking at key issues affecting students, academics and others working on campuses, local communities, and university authorities.

Areas for discussion include:

  • student welfare and experience - including  mental health and wellbeing
  • university staff - priorities for supporting the health and safety of staff working in all roles in universities 
  • social distancing regulation and enforcement - strategies employed by universities, as well as the impact on student-HEI and town v gown relationships
  • implementing safety measures - case studies and best practice in preventing and tackling the spread of infection across higher education settings

A scan of relevant developments:

  • Updated guidance for universities ahead of reopening - guidance from the DfE outlining how universities can ensure their campuses are COVID-secure
  • A commitment by Universities UK to students’ wellbeing - checklist on supporting student wellbeing and safety during the pandemic, following Principles and considerations: emerging from lockdown
  • Principles for managing SARS-CoV-2 transmission associated with higher education - SAGE guidelines on the risk of spread of COVID-19 in HE settings
  • Universities Minister announces mental health support for students - from the DfE, with including £3m to go towards launching the online mental health programme Student Space
  • Student accommodation - OfS coronavirus briefing notes, including guidance for HEIs on supporting the wellbeing and rights of students staying in university accommodation during the pandemic

Key areas for discussion:

  • student welfare and experience:
    • the student cohort - assessing the support offered to students and the impact of disruption to the usual processes of student integration and socialising
    • quarantine and student bubbles - and the effectiveness of measures put in place to support students’ sense of community
    • first year students - the experience of freshers’ week under social distancing regulations, and levels of student satisfaction with virtual events
    • particular student groups - how the needs of students with SEND, heightened vulnerability to the virus, or that are new to the UK have been taken into account in social activities and how well they have been integrated into the student community 
  • university staff - priorities for supporting the health and safety of staff working in all roles in universities, with discussion expected on:
    • face-to-face teaching - including a recent claim by the UCU that the move to reopen universities for face-to-face teaching was unlawful and the proposed judicial review
    • workplace culture - with reports of junior staff having been pressured into face-to-face teaching
    • safety provision - priorities for assessing and making available equipment and training, with anecdotal evidence from university staff of limited availability of PPE for face-to-face teaching
    • workload
      • with reports of university teaching facing increased workloads as a result of the pandemic and worry over their safety as well as that of their students
      • burdens of increased need for regular sanitation on cleaning, catering and other staff working on campuses 
  • mental health and wellbeing:
    • students with pre-existing conditions - their experience and the service offered, particularly in the context of reports of worsening of symptoms being suffered
    • loneliness and anxiety - care for all students in dealing with increased isolation, and learning from challenges and examples of success in the performance of universities in this regard
    • support provision - identifying at-risk students remotely, the impact of disruption to communal and in-person social life, and best practice in support through isolation and loneliness
    • accommodation - how can the challenges of confinement indoors and scarce access to contained outdoor spaces inform future design of student accommodation with mental health needs and crisis responses factored in
    • opportunities for collaborative responses - possible ways to foster a sense of coherent, in-person community and mental health support post-pandemic and how HEIs, student unions and local authorities can work together to prepare for students’ needs beyond COVID-19 
  • social distancing regulation - assessing the effectiveness of strategies employed by universities and the impact on student-HEI and town v gown relationships:
    • enforcement - measures such as security patrols and closing down student parties, involving local police and local authority services, and the use of expulsion, fines and other sanctions, and the impact on students’ sense of safety and wellbeing
    • backlash - assessing strategies for universities and their partners and service providers, student unions, local authorities and other in dealing with the impact of measures affecting:
      • students - possible changes in student take-up and drop-out rates following dissatisfaction expressed by some students over expectations of the university experience not having been met, cleanliness in student halls, quality of meals, support offered by HEIs, costs of quarantining in student halls
      • local communities - town and gown relationships, with concern over the risks of further COVID-19 outbreaks in university towns following the return of students to campuses, with discussion expected on ways to restore mutual trust and respect between students and local communities moving forward
  • implementing safety measures - best practice in preventing and tackling the spread of infection across higher education settings:
    • latest research - with a keynote contribution from Dr Gavin Yamey, Professor of the Practice of Global Health and Director, Centre for Policy Impact in Global Health, Duke University, on latest understanding of the spread of COVID-19 across higher education settings as well as the effectiveness of COVID-19 safety measures
    • best practice and shared experience - assessing what has been learned by HEPs in implementing DfE safety guidelines, looking a arrangements for shared areas including staggered access and ventilation, safety rules including the wearing of masks, disinfection and cleaning procedures, test and trace systems and plans for effective action in case of local outbreaks 
  • case studies - implementation of safety measures at higher education institutions, including contributions from:
    • Jane Harvell, University of Sussex - on making university library spaces COVID-19 secure including staggered arrival times, allotting study space timeslots and a ‘click-and-collect’ loan system
    • Darren Chalmers-Stevens, CriticalArc - on the SafeZone security application, which has been used by UK universities to track and trace students and help minimise the spread of infection
  • emerging safely from lockdown- ensuring agile and flexible responses on university estates to possible future crises requiring the implementation of smart safety measures across campuses

The agenda:

  • Building cohesive student communities through the pandemic and into the future
  • Managing the student experience during COVID-19 - the impact of bubbles and quarantine on social life, integrating international students, and loneliness and mental health
  • Dealing with the challenges for universities - distancing, tackling anti-social behaviour, disciplinary processes, students’ experience and relationships with their HEIs, and the effect on university towns
  • Supporting university staff safety - academic and service provider needs, workload across university roles, provision of safety equipment and training, and protecting wellbeing
  • Understanding the spread of infection across higher education settings and the effectiveness of safety measures
  • Retrofitting campuses for COVID safety - costs and consistency, contact control and tracing, and study in shared spaces
  • Next steps for student safety and community moving forward in the new normal

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

Overall, we expect further speakers and other delegates to be an informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government officials officials from DfE, DHSC and other Government departments and agencies, together with university and college leaders; academics and other higher education professionals; senior representatives from university estates; health professionals; representatives from students’ unions; student mental health support services; university COVID-19 compliance teams and security services; student accommodation providers; local authorities; police representatives; law firms; mental health and contact tracing technology providers; edtech providers; businesses and their advisors; mental health charities; along with commentators and reporters from the national and trade media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speakers

Jenny Shaw

Student Experience Director, Unite Students

Professor Simon Marginson

Professor of Higher Education, Department of Education and Linacre College, University of Oxford

Dr Gavin Yamey

Professor of the Practice of Global Health and Director, Centre for Policy Impact in Global Health, Duke University


Baroness Garden of Frognal

Co-Chair, All-Party Parliamentary University Group


Darren Chalmers-Stevens

Director EMEA, CriticalArc

Dr Monika Nangia

Director of Student and Academic Services, SOAS University of London

Dr Sam Grogan

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience), University of Salford

Dr Adam Hansen

Senior Lecturer in English, Northumbria University

David Gordon

General Secretary, Students’ Union, London School of Economics and Political Science

Levi Pay

Director, Plinth House

Sara Raybould

Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience), University of West London

Lila Tamea

President, Student’s Union, Liverpool John Moores University

Dr Andrew Chitty

Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex and Co-Creator, UniCovidUK

Jane Harvell

Director of Library Services and University Librarian, University of Sussex