Campus and commercial services respond to Covid-19
03 April 2020
CUBO documents the impact of Covid-19 on university campus and commercial services.
We are in uncharted territory, in the most challenging times that campus services professionals have ever had to face.
Residence life, catering, cleaning and security teams are all at the frontline, looking to ensure that students remaining on campus are safe, fed and in good mental health.
Even before universities went into lockdown, many international students weren't able to return home due to flight cancellations and border closures. On the latest Government advice, they must now remain in student accommodation, along with domestic students who have not left. This is their home for the foreseeable future.
This places significant pressure on the wellbeing of those students and of the teams who are looking after them. Staff have stepped back from face-to-face contact to ensure social distancing at the very time students are most vulnerable and looking for reassurance. Staff themselves are still travelling to the campus to provide essental services to these students.
Overwhelmingly students are complying with social distancing, understanding the importance of this. The rapid expansion of online activities and resources by residence life and student welfare teams does an enormous amount to maintain morale, while providing critical information and contact.
No-one knows what the next few months will bring. Advice changes daily – send students home, keep them on site - so adaptability is paramount. Heads of campus and commercial services are implementing and communicating operational procedures to a large number of students and staff in increasingly short time periods.
And it's complex. Take students self-isolating in halls: these may be catered or self-catered, and rooms may be en-suite or in shared flats. Every scenario needs to be thought through from a Covid-19 health and safety perspective, including delivery of food, essential shopping, cleaning and waste removal.
Contingency plans are being implemented fast, as universities share and learn from each other via online forums like CUBO’s. Some of the changes that we are seeing now include:
- The provision of meals to students in a managed way that includes social distancing via take-away, food packages, online shops and delivered meal service.
- Staff redeployment - with online training in areas where they don’t normally work, in a bid to maintain the right level of frontline cover and cover those off sick or in high-risk groups.
- Renegotiation of affected commercial contracts - clarity around cancellation charges, insurance and force majeure clauses
As to the future, we can expect a major impact on the next academic year. Both domestic and international students will face continuing delays, lockdowns, perceptions of safety and recession setting in.
This is a time when universities would be planning their new student intake. As yet there is no certainty when term will begin, let alone how many students will arrive.
It's also a time when commercial services teams would be gearing up for their summer business – conferences and summer schools that deliver important revenue to most institutions. The word is that most conferences are postponing rather than cancelling, but whether the companies and industries will be in an economic position to run their events in 2021 remains to be seen.
Throughout this difficult period, campus services are being maintained across the UK and Ireland, with our key workers – cleaners, security, caterers, residence life teams, accommodation staff, campus convenience stores and others - giving students every support possible.
As student accommodation is being prepared for our amazing NHS staff, we salute the campus services staff from our own sector, working long and hard to respond to a unique situation that evolves on a daily basis.