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The 2020/21 academic year

10 Jun 2020

A message from April McMahon


Dear colleagues

Following my announcement on 7 May confirming the start dates for the 2020/21 academic year and our decision to conduct all lectures online for semester 1, I am pleased to now further confirm our arrangements for the full 2020/21 academic year, as approved by Senate. 

Our core drivers are staff and student safety and wellbeing; and to ensure that we deliver outstanding teaching, learning and student experiences.  Students need to feel assured that they will be able to fully participate and engage in their studies, regardless of their personal and family circumstances, and the changing course of the pandemic. Our colleagues also need time and support to design and deliver excellent, creative and interactive teaching in a new format.

We recognise that the COVID-19 situation remains uncertain. We will need to remain flexible over the next academic year to changing circumstances and to be prepared for further ‘lockdowns’, should that be necessary. 

Structure of the year

We will have slightly staggered start dates for new undergraduate, returning undergraduate and postgraduate taught students to allow for a phased population of the campus. This will also allow us to support new students through an enhanced induction programme, along with welcoming back our returning students, who have experienced a difficult past year, in a more structured way. Induction activities will be available online, so students do not need to be in Manchester to access these.  For some programmes we recognise that the start and return dates may differ for regulatory or external reasons and where programmes are already delivered fully online.  Such cases are being managed within the Faculties to ensure that such exceptions are minimised and are based on very specific requirements.

Although we are starting the academic year slightly later than usual for some students, we will finish at the same time as normal for the summer in order to protect research time and minimise disruption for graduating students. 

We have introduced a week’s break at the end of semester 1 for undergraduate students so that they can prepare for the next semester and, to ensure that staff have time to mark before semester 2 teaching begins. This is in direct response to feedback from the last University Staff Survey. We have also harmonised the start of the second semester for undergraduate and postgraduate taught students to accommodate joint teaching, where this takes place.

A number of our postgraduate taught programmes may require an alternative January start. This timetable would have significant implications for summer 2021 and for the first semester of 2021/22. However, it may be the best option for some programmes and we will need to review this, case by case. 

Teaching and learning


As previously communicated and as many other universities have also now confirmed, lectures will be delivered online in semester 1 and we will offer other teaching and learning activities, such as seminars and practicals on campus if it is open. This hybrid-flexible approach combines both in-person and online face to face teaching and learning activities, where students may choose whether or not to attend in-person activities with no ‘learning deficit’ (though once campus is open, we may need to be clear to students who continue to participate online without special circumstances, that accrediting bodies may not accept this level of flexibility and their accredited degree status may be at risk). End of semester 1 assessment tasks will also be conducted online.  

This approach gives our students a choice and, for those who are unable to come to campus due to personal circumstances, reassurance that they will not be excluded. We know however that many of our students want to come and have an on-campus experience as soon as possible, and we are committed to providing that as long as Government advice allows us to.


We recognise that staff will need to prepare for teaching in new ways and so the slightly later start to the year provides additional time for preparation. It is important that the investment of staff time now is not for ‘one semester only’, if it allows us to enhance staff and student experiences in the future. There is always a cost in moving to new ways of working; but I know that our staff are motivated by doing things well; and by developing high-quality, attractive academic and co-curricular options, we are supporting the sustainability of our University.

It is important to recognise that, while 2020/21 will be an unusual year, the Teaching and Learning Theme of Our Future already commits us to improving and extending our blended learning provision. We have an opportunity this year to enhance what we offer, and to do so in a way that minimises disruption to the academic year. 

To do this effectively, we will continue to support our brilliant teaching staff in re-designing teaching material for 2020/21, working with our Institute for Teaching and Learning and through debate, discussions and the sharing of best practice on our Teaching and Learning Online Network (TALON) on Yammer. We are also currently recruiting additional e-learning and learning technology team members.

A safe return

A great deal of work is taking place to ensure a safe return to campus for us all and as part of that, I am pleased to confirm that we will be providing our staff and students with washable face masks and clear guidance on how our teaching spaces, libraries, study spaces and labs will operate to ensure everyone stays safe. Just as we will keep our colleagues up to date on health and safety arrangements, we will also take the opportunity to fully brief our students on health and safety, as part of their welcome activities. 

Student accommodation

I’m aware that many students are feeling anxious about their accommodation arrangements. We have one of the largest university-owned accommodation provisions in the UK, much of which has remained open throughout the current pandemic providing excellent support and a vibrant community for those students who have remained with us here in Manchester. I am therefore confident that with this experience under their belts, our halls and residences teams are fully prepared for the next academic year and that all the right safety measures are in place ready for our students to arrive. We have also adjusted our residences contract terms, to provide maximum flexibility for any further disruption that may occur during a student’s time staying with us. I’m also pleased to confirm that international students who have booked University Halls of Residence and are required by the UK Government to quarantine on arrival, will be able to arrive two weeks in advance of their accommodation contract start date in September with no additional charge for accommodation provided during this period.

Finally, on a personal note, I want to add how much I appreciate how hard both academic and professional services colleagues across the teaching, learning and student experience space have been working these last few months and indeed, throughout the year. Recent events have again reminded us how strong the relationship between our staff and students is and the important role that campus life plays – not just for our students, but for many of our colleagues too.

I am very much looking forward to the new academic year and a return to a slightly different, but very safe and welcoming, campus life. 

With very best wishes,

Professor April McMahon.

Vice President for Teaching, Learning and Students.