The University recognises that students are concerned about the impact of the current situation on their time at University. Undoubtedly, 2020/21 has been different to how anyone would have predicted; we have all been required to adhere to national restrictions and guidelines, adjust our expectations across the year and recognise that this approach will continue into the near future.
Throughout the pandemic, the University has carefully monitored the impact of the ongoing situation and we have always placed our students at the forefront of our decision making and planning, seeking to deliver the best possible learning and student experience within a rapidly changing external environment and dealing with the constraints we have had to manage. At all times the health, safety and wellbeing of the whole University community has been, and continues to be, of paramount importance to us. Our actions throughout have been aligned to the guidance from the UK and Scottish governments, Public Health Scotland and the NHS.
The impact of the pandemic has been quite dynamic and, as a result, the University has been required to regularly adapt and update plans for the delivery of learning and teaching. While the unfolding nature of the pandemic could not be foreseen, the University has responded proactively and positively to the situation, for example, by investing heavily in the planning, support and delivery of online learning, teaching and assessment. We have been encouraged that the quality of our online learning has been well received by students across all levels of study and we will continue to invest in the positive innovations that have emerged during this time.
In further support of students, the University has taken time to carefully adapt and evolve our quality assurance processes to ensure that students are not academically disadvantaged by circumstances that are beyond their control, while ensuring our academic quality and standards are maintained. Our staff are making significant efforts to ensure that teaching, learning and assessment continue in order to ensure all our students are able to achieve the required learning outcomes and qualifications in line with original timescales. As you are aware, we delivered this successfully for students in 2019/20 and are committed to doing so for our 2020/21 learners.
In recognition of ongoing and the wider challenges that the pandemic has brought to bear, the University has continued to invest to ensure that students experiencing financial hardship have the support to assist them during these challenging times. Our COVID-19 Hardship Fund - with significant investment from the University, its staff and alumni - along with tailored financial grants including the Digital Inclusion grants and the COVID-19 Relief Scholarship, are the cornerstones of our approach to financial support. The University looks positively on this approach and will continue to monitor, review and provide for the ongoing need for such funds.
Wider online support for students has been available throughout the pandemic, with all student services providing online access to support for mental health and wellbeing, financial support, careers guidance and Visas and immigration guidance. This continued into the winter break, with additional specialist help and support available throughout this period.
Following the Scottish Government announcement in December, which outlined dates for the staggered return of students to University Accommodation in January, students who were due to return to their hall of residence after the winter vacation were to be provided with a fixed sum refund equivalent to 3 weeks’ rent. In light of the most recent update to guidance (8th January and 15th January), the refund provided to students who have had to delay return to their hall of residence has been increased to a fixed sum refund equivalent to 6 weeks’ rent. This position will be kept under review, in keeping with the protection level in place and future government guidance.
Throughout this period, the University has demonstrated our collective commitment to maintaining the highest academic standards, ensuring a high-quality learning and teaching experience for our students and to providing additional targeted support where required. We will continue with this approach. Tuition fees will remain unchanged and we will continue to monitor the situation.