Westminster Higher Education Forum

We are continuing to organise full-scale virtual conferences which retain all the features of physical seminars, including full programmes, presentations with slides, panel discussions and live delegate questions and comments sessions, person-to-person and group networking, and a permanent record provided to all delegates afterwards. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time, so there are plenty of opportunities to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are.
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University safety and COVID-19 - managing the impact on students and staff, best practice and its implementation, and preparing campuses for the future

March 2021


Price: £95 PLUS VAT
Format: DOWNLOADABLE PDF


***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***
This conference will bring out the latest thinking on ensuring COVID safety at universities, and evaluate ways forward for developing agile crisis responses in the HE sector.


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


It comes with the recent Government announcement that students on practical courses and those who require special facilities will be able to return to face-to-face teaching from the 8th of March.


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-and-gown relationships, and how universities can support their neighbouring towns, cities and communities in the post-pandemic recovery
  • implementing safety measures - case studies and best practice in preventing and tackling the spread of infection across higher education settings

The agenda:


  • Building cohesive student communities through the pandemic and into the future
  • The student experience - bubbles and quarantine, teaching and learning, integrating new and international students, and transitioning to in-person communities
  • The role HEIs can play in supporting local communities to recover from COVID-19
  • The challenges and role for universities - safety and its management, the relationships with students and local communities, and the contribution of universities to post-pandemic economic recovery
  • Supporting university staff safety - academic and service provider needs, workload across university roles, provision of safety equipment and training, and protecting wellbeing
  • Campus reopening: experience from the United States
  • 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

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
    • remote learning - the impact of remote learning on the student experience, and levels of engagement with courses and peers
    • quarantine and student bubbles - and the effectiveness of measures put in place to support students’ sense of community and provide support and necessities through periods in quarantine
    • 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 who are new to the UK have been taken into account in social activities, and how well they have been integrated into the student community
    • the support received by PhD students during the pandemic - who are often undertaking face-to-face teaching and supporting undergraduates as live-in wardens in halls of residence, with some feeling isolated and that the focus of HEIs has been on undergraduate students
  • 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 the claim by the UCU last October 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 the introduction of remote teaching, in addition to worries 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 a worsening of symptoms being suffered
    • remote learning and isolation - feelings of loneliness and anxiety as a result of remote learning, 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 - the challenge of identifying and engaging with 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
    • financial worries - supporting students with concerns over the affordability of unused accommodation and the inability to work due to national lockdown
    • 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-and-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 others in dealing with the impact of measures affecting:
      • students - possible changes in student take-up and drop-out rates following dissatisfaction expressed by some 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
        • discussion expected on ways to restore mutual trust and respect between students and local communities moving forward
      • civic engagement after the pandemic - how universities can play a wider and more active role, supporting local communities and places to recover, and build a stronger relationship with further education, businesses and local government to rebuild local economies
  • implementing safety measures - best practice in preventing and tackling the spread of infection across higher education settings:
    • latest research - latest understanding of the spread of COVID-19 across higher education settings as well as the effectiveness of COVID-19 safety measures
      • 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
    • best practice and shared experience - assessing what has been learned by HEPs in implementing DfE safety guidelines, looking at:
      • arrangements for shared areas including staggered access and ventilation
      • safety rules including the wearing of masks, disinfection and cleaning procedures
      • test and trace systems
      • 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
    • Russ Huxtable, 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, and ways forward for agile and multi-functional planning and use of space on HE campuses 

A scan of relevant developments:


  • Students returning to, and starting, higher education in Spring Term 2021 - the recently updated government guidance for higher education providers that students on practical courses will be able to resume in-person teaching from 8th March, while those who can be taught online will continue to be, with twice-weekly testing available for all who are able to return to campuses
  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) Reporting in Higher Education Providers - the latest statistics showing that from August 2020 to February 2021 there were 72,202 COVID-19 cases among students and staff, with the November lockdown reducing case rates from 221 to 44 per 100,000 for students, and from 122 to 58 per 100,000 for staff
  • third national lockdown - with online learning returning for the first weeks of the spring term and the return of students to campuses being paused until at least mid-February, with only a limited number of courses resuming face-to-face teaching and rapid asymptomatic testing taking place as students return
  • updated guidance for universities’ campuses - guidance from the DfE outlining how universities can ensure their campuses are COVID-secure, with teaching taking place in socially distanced and well-ventilated areas
  • 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 the spread of COVID-19 in HE settings
  • Universities Minister announces mental health support for students - from the DfE, including £3m to go towards launching the online mental health programme Student Space, now extended to deliver mental health support until June 2021
  • 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
  • Over half of students’ mental health is worse than before the pandemic - surveys by the NUS and ONS finding more than half of students (52% and 57% respectively) reported a worsening of their mental health, prompting calls for increased financial support alongside safe and accessible learning and accommodation
  • graduate wellbeing - recent OfS report into graduate wellbeing and mental health finding that graduates reported lower rates of happiness and life satisfaction than the general population
  • Annual review 2020 - the recent OfS publication of their annual review acknowledging that students require increased wellbeing support and that this impact will continue to be felt
  • Government announces £50 million to support students impacted by COVID-19 - to be distributed by the OfS and to be used by universities to support disadvantaged students, and contributing to combined funding of £70m for hardship in this financial year
  • Interim Conclusion of the Review of Post-18 Education and Funding - in which the government states its intention to commit to a one-year freeze on the maximum tuition fee cap, announced in the Government’s response to the Augar report, aimed at controlling costs and delivering value for money for students
  • Scrap interest on student loans, say vice-chancellors - the recent call by a group of vice-chancellors for the interest on student loans to be waived for 15 months in order to lessen the financial pressure on students

Policy officials attending:


Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders. Places have been reserved by officials from the Welsh Government.


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


  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript 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



This pack includes

  • Dropbox video recording of the conference
  • PDF transcript of the discussion, including all speaker remarks and Q&A
  • PDFs of speakers' slide material (subject to permission)
  • PDFs of the delegate pack, including speaker biographies and attendee list
  • PDFs of delegate articles