The University of Sunderland is working hard to reopen its campuses for the new intake of students in September 2020.

Although the University has never closed – with academics teaching and support services provided, online for the past three months – preparations are now well underway for the controlled, safe return of students.

The University is taking a ‘hybrid’ approach to teaching for the 2020/21 academic year, seeing a blend of on-campus and online teaching, assessment and experience.

Sir David Bell, University Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive said: “Although the start of term this year cannot be exactly the same as last year, we are working hard to strike the right balance between giving our students the best possible on-campus experience and keeping everyone safe and well.

“We will take a ‘hybrid’ approach to learning and teaching, blending practical learning on-campus with our high-quality online learning and assessment resources. Our intention is to allow students safe access to the facilities, laboratories, studios and specialist equipment they need to on-campus to achieve the best outcomes from their studies.”

So, what will university life exactly look like? Here, we answer your questions:

I am a new student so what will Welcome Week be like?

Welcome Week for new students starts on Monday, 14 September and is a great opportunity for them to find their feet before teaching starts.

Students can meet others and get involved in more than 80 activities and events, designed to welcome them and help them find their way about our ‘real’ and virtual campuses.

Wherever and whenever possible, the University will be running as many events and activities on-campus. But they will also be using virtual-reality technology to do things a bit differently by giving students their own avatar, in the virtual campus.

When will teaching start?

Teaching on most programmes will start the week commencing 21 September.

Whether students are new or a returning they will have access to a programme of induction week activities, where they can ‘virtually’ meet fellow students and staff in real time. On-campus meet-ups with fellow students and some of teaching staff will also be timetabled, maintaining everyone’s safety through social distancing and ‘safe campus’ measures.

Will all teaching be online?

The University plans to take a ‘hybrid’ approach to teaching. In other words, blending practical learning on-campus with high-quality online learning and assessment resources.

Students will be able to access facilities, studios, laboratories and specialist equipment needed as part of their studies – all done in line with social distancing guidance. The University’s priority is to offer a supportive and safe learning environment that enables students at all levels to progress successfully with their studies.

Is the Students’ Union open and can I join?

Yes. Sunderland Students’ Union – YourSU – is run by students, for students. YourSU is developing its services for the new academic year – but students can expect to be able to benefit from SU advice, SU societies and student discounts.

Welcome Week is a good time for students to connect with the Students’ Union, exploring all sorts of aspects of student life, from societies and campaigns to becoming a course representative.

Can I take part in sports and physical activities?

Yes, students and join Team Sunderland and belong to one – or more – of the many sports clubs at the University.

While teams may not be able to compete right away, The University will be ready to get into competitive play as soon as possible – it is expected that rowing, golf, archery, tennis and similar will be early starters.

The University has a well-established online fitness offer and will keep this running until it can be transferred back on-campus. The gym and fitness facilities will reopen when safe to do so.

Will the University library be open?

Yes, students can access all library facilities, as well as helpful staff, study skills support, learning resources and study spaces.

Almost all the services are already up and running online and students can access library books and journals this way, and by using the 24/7 LibraryTalk service.

When library buildings are open, students can browse and borrow books and journals, use a computer and study – in line with the ‘safe campus’ measures. This could mean there will be a maximum number of people in at any one time, and changes to opening hours.

Where can I go if I need help or support?

The University’s Gateway service is the first stop for all questions, advice and support. A full range of student support services is available online and on the phone, from wellbeing to financial guidance, disability support to the interfaith chaplaincy.

Are the University’s halls of residence open?

The halls are open. Each flat is a household and flatmates will need to socially distance from others outside of their flat. All students will be supported in halls by accommodation advisers who are the first port of call to get help with accommodation issues; they can also connect students to support services.

What about catering and shopping?

Catering will be available on campus and will operate within government guidelines from the start of the September term.

The City campus is a short walk from the city centre shops and the Sir Tom Cowie campus at St Peter’s riverside campus is a fifteen-minute walk from shops, including a large supermarket.

How can I get around in Sunderland?

The University has its own bus service – the 700. This runs between City campus and the Sir Tom Cowie campus at St Peter’s riverside, as well as some University accommodation. The 700 is operating like all city buses to keep everyone safe. This means fewer passengers allowed on board at any one time, safe distance markings on the floor and the driver protected by a screen.

How safe is the University of Sunderland?

Very safe, because the University sees the safety of students as priority. There is a security team monitoring campus buildings and student accommodation 24/7, as well as a police officer on campus.

I am thinking about deferring my start date. What is your advice?

It is understandable that making a decision is hard at the moment and the University knows that some applicants are considering having a year off before taking up their place.

Deferral may be possible, but the majority of students have indicated they are keen to begin their studies this September.

In some cases, it might be possible to start studies later in 2020 to avoid losing a year. Options include being flexible on start date, or enabling international students to study initially online from their home country, so they can delay travel by a few weeks.