Universities are large workplaces and organizations with a public mission. Their impact on the size
and composition of their local communities and populations means that they have a duty of care
not only to their employees and students but to those who live in their towns and cities.
Furthermore, as the engine-rooms of COVID-19 science and policy advice, universities can lead the
way for other workplaces and educational settings as models of good practice, including leading
change where it is needed.
Since Autumn 2020, Independent SAGE has made a series of statements and recommendations
regarding how UK universities could keep open safely during the pandemic. Much of the science
and recommendations overlapped with SAGE as well as with scientists internationally. In Autumn
2021, many recommendations remain current. The transmission risks for universities (e.g.,
independent adult population; mass (inter)national travel; creating new households; ‘fresher’,
sports and social events), are as high if not higher than last year since case numbers are higher in
the UK than at this point last year.
In guidance updated on 17th August 2021, the UK government lifted “restrictions on the approach
to teaching and learning in higher education (HE) providers as a result of COVID-19. There is no
requirement for social distancing or other measures within in person teaching. Providers are
therefore able to shape their courses without restrictions to face-to-face provision”, while also
stating that universities “should continue to make efforts to reduce the risk of transmission where
possible.” Universities UK has stated that universities are “preparing to maximise opportunities for
in-person teaching, support and social activities for a much fuller experience this year” but also
that “the public health situation remains unpredictable.”
In this statement, we set out A) key changes since last year; B) recommendations for September
2021 where processes and policies are not already in place, and C) principles for a good university