Universities and colleges are welcoming students and staff back on to campus with innovative approaches to making sure they do so safely.
The University of Bolton, for example, has installed airport-style temperature scanners and is lending bikes to keep students off public transport - just two of a range of measures to encourage people back on site full-time.
A number of members have asked for help and advice to make sure any new safety measures are proportionate, cost-effective and will protect health, safety and wellbeing in the months ahead.
And so, as safeguarding lead, I’ve been looking at how institutions can ask appropriate questions, assess solutions and make choices that are right for their own particular circumstances. These are complex issues, but here are a few pointers that might help avoid expensive mistakes.
People have many different views about the virus and make up their own minds about how ‘at risk’ they are. They all need to feel safe before they’ll venture on to campus. What that means for each institution depends on the make-up of student and staff cohorts.
In an institution with a lot of international students and staff, for example – especially ones from areas of the world where they’ve learned to live alongside coronaviruses like SARS and MERS – people will be used to having their temperatures scanned regularly. Installing temperature scanners on campus may well encourage them to return to campus.
On the other hand, if students and staff are mostly UK and European nationals, temperature-testing might feel heavy-handed or even worrying. Nonetheless, installing the equipment could increase that institution’s chances of staying open if there are future national or local lockdowns. It may be worth doing, therefore – and wise to keep communication positive and open to explain why testing is being introduced.
Carefully plan investment
Temperature-testing equipment has its limitations; it can only indicate that someone is warmer than normal. It can’t detect COVID-19 or say why a person’s reading is high.
It’s also very easy for detectors to miss a genuine fever if used in the wrong setting – outside, for example, or from the wrong distance – or if someone has just run to class and has developed a sweat.
Think about how, where and when temperature scanners will be used, how to protect staff who might have to use them (if it’s not an automated system) and what next steps to take when someone triggers an anomalous reading. Will that person have to go home immediately and self-isolate, take a test, or simply go back through the scanner in half an hour’s time?
It’s quite possible that some people will decline automatic scanning and processing, which is their right under the general data protection regulation (GDPR). You could offer a binary choice – consent to scanning or stay at home, but faced with this stark decision some students might decide not to start (or resume) their course.
These are all questions to think about and there are few right or wrong answers.
Use kit you’ve already got
There may be ways to limit financial outlay, or to invest in kit that has wider uses. There might, perhaps, be access control equipment such as facial recognition kit in the library. If so, it's possible to save time and money by adding temperature-checking devices to the existing structures.
And remember that maintenance teams and science departments almost certainly have thermal cameras that could be adapted to serve short-term as temperature scanners on access points. If they don’t, it is possible to buy this kind of camera now for temperature-scanning, knowing the equipment can be redeployed longer term in other settings.
As universities work towards a solution that makes this possible, it’s worth keeping an eye on ongoing QS coronavirus studies of the HE sector. These studies are designed to identify best practice and provide useful insights into how institutions are responding to COVID-19’s challenges and to the changing needs of students and staff.
If, after considering all the angles, an institution decides it’s worthwhile to invest in new equipment and processes, the London Universities Purchasing Consortium (LUPC) framework agreements can help with cost-effective procurement, with terms and conditions tailored to the needs of the consortium’s members.
Going forward, if enough members request it, Jisc will look at developing a framework agreement which would give colleges, universities and research centres access to higher level equipment.
Email me (email@example.com) if you'd like to discuss steps to bring students and staff back to campus safely and confidently; I’m happy to talk through issues and offer my own thoughts to help decision-making.