In- person teaching arrangements at the University of Sheffield are under review following the announcement the city will be subject to Tier 3 Coronavirus restrictions from Saturday. 

A spokesperson for the University told Forge Press: “The safety of our students and staff is our top priority and we will be reviewing the announcement that Sheffield will be moved to the Very High level of the Covid-19 alert system (from Saturday 24 October) and what this will mean for our students, staff and in-person University teaching, taking advice from Sheffield City Council and the local public health team. 

“Our staff have worked hard to prepare the best teaching and learning resources for our students, to enable flexible and quick transition between on-campus teaching and digital methods if needed, making it possible for us to continue to provide the high quality education our students expect from us.

“We are working closely with local and national partners, as well as our own public health experts, to ensure we review and inform our safety measures and teaching arrangements in light of what is best for our University community. We appreciate the situation is continually evolving and are thankful to our staff and students for their efforts to follow government guidelines and keep our University community as safe as possible.”

The statement comes after Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region, announced tighter restrictions would be imposed on the city along with Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham in exchange for a regional support package worth £41 million.

He said that “inaction was not an option”, adding: “The number of people with Covid in our hospitals has doubled over the last ten days with no signs this will relent over the coming weeks.

“While infection rates vary across South Yorkshire, collective action was the only practical choice to keep everyone in our region safe. If restrictions are effective, individual local authorities will be able to move to lower alert levels as soon as it is safe to do so.

“However, to reach that point as quickly as possible, it’s critical people in South Yorkshire follow the new restrictions as soon as they are in place. I want to thank everyone in the region for their perseverance. The character and grit of people in South Yorkshire will be needed in abundance to help us get through what will be an incredibly challenging period.” 

So what does this mean?

Universities, along with schools and retail outlets, are permitted to remain open in regions subjected to Tier 3 Covid restrictions. But there are no national guidelines on whether teaching in these areas should take place in- person or online. 

Other institutions in ‘very high’ risk areas have taken different approaches. The University of Liverpool moved nearly all teaching online following the region’s move into a Tier 3 lockdown earlier this month but The University of Lancaster is currently persisting with a blended approach. 

With an average infection rate of 395 per 100,000 people, cases of Coronavirus in Sheffield remain nearly four times higher than the national average. Dan Jarvis has also voiced concerns about the current rates of hospital admission in the region. 

Yet cases in the city are down by 137 compared to this time last week and on campus there’s  been a marked decrease in the number of infections. 

Just 14 new cases were reported to the University yesterday and this morning. Vice Chancellor, Koen Lamberts, emailed new postgraduate students saying he was “pleased to report that over the last week, cases of Covid- 19 at the University have been falling”. 

The question now is whether these falling rates are enough to allow in-person teaching to continue in the face of new restrictions.

Graphic: George Tuli

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