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At the University of Chester, we don’t pretend to have all the answers. Sometimes a situation like a pandemic will strike out of the blue, and it’ll become very clear very quickly that there’s no process or a protocol to follow.   

What we do have at Chester though which sets us apart is an ethos and a way of doing things that means our students are always at the heart of every decision we make. And when we’ve listened carefully, we take actions to do what we can to prioritise both our students’ education and wellbeing.

That's why we've placed first in the North West for listening to the Student Voice in the 2020 National Student Survey.

Last March, as the pandemic took hold, our students told us they wanted as much face-to-face learning as we were able to provide. Our Chester Blend, which was already in its infancy, was brought forward and rolled out to all staff and students, enabling on average 25% of teaching to be undertaken face-to-face in our socially-distanced campus buildings. The rest was high quality online content, and has been well received by the vast majority of our students.

In September, our new students joined us having missed out on their school leaving parties, summer festivals and family holidays, so we did what we could to help make the lack of expected freedoms as bearable as possible, with a huge variety of outdoor social events and online meet ups for Freshers’ Week and sports clubs running socially-distanced ‘Chester Rules’ versions of their sports.

The important topic of assessment has been a worry for students all across the country at various levels – from GCSE all the way to undergraduate. Naturally, many of our students were concerned about end-of-year assessments and work placements. To reduce pressure on students, we introduced a no detriment policy to ensure they received a fair grade.

Our students told us these were the things that mattered to them, so these were the things we prioritised.

We have managed to keep positive COVID-19 cases low on our campuses – lower than in the local  community – but as widespread testing has been introduced, we have taken steps to prioritise wellbeing. Self-catering students needing to self-isolate are offered free of charge care packages while they get their food delivery sorted, we do regular check-ins to make sure they’re ok and fully-catered students choose three hot meals which are delivered to their doors.

After Christmas, when some students were told not to return to campus, we informed them quickly that they would not have to pay rent on their student accommodation for this period, and we liaised with private landlords, some of whom also gave rent rebates.

As we move forward into more of the unknown, despite being more experienced, we still don’t have all the answers. However, we know that in listening to our students we have our priorities straight and their health, education and wellbeing at heart. 

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