• RockBox

UK Universities are planning to open this September

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

We have been working with our University partners to establish the expected state of play for September and the academic year 2020/2021.

Cambridge University has obviously been in the headlines a lot recently with inaccurate reporting. We can confirm that the university will be open in September as is the case with most:

Christina Turner - Cambridge Students' Union - Despite some confusion regarding the messaging shared through recent national press, Cambridge University will open for the Michaelmas term in October 2020 although large lectures will be moved online to ensure that lecture rooms can be used accommodate seminars and allow for social distancing. Students will be returning to colleges for the next academic year unless the government renews lockdown restrictions prohibiting such activity. A statement from the university can be found here:

Most responses echoed these :

Chris Aucott - Communications manager Sheffield Students' Union -The University is planning to open in September with teaching being delivered through a combination of face to face teaching in small groups, where social distancing can be maintained, supported by digital delivery.
Hannah Sherwood - Exeter Students' Union - As it stands we will open in September.
Liz Nugent - Northumbria Students' Union - We are planning on opening in September, although things may change if government guidance changes.

An interesting additional side effect could be that smaller class sizes lead to longer teaching hours and students being on campus longer into the evening.

Jak Curtis-Rendall - QMU Students Union - Our plans for next year are still currently in development, in conjunction with the University. We expect students to return to campus with a blended learning offer of on-campus teaching, supported by online virtual teaching. We expect the campus to be fully open in September, with the expectation all our facilities will be open, albeit with social distancing measures in place. The University have explicitly informed us they will want the Students' Union's full range of facilities open from September. Our facilities are also likely to be in use for longer days as the proposal is to extend the teaching day to 8am-9pm to facilitate the smaller groups of teaching.

The overriding consensus is that “Yes” the universities will be open and students will be on campus from September.

Some institutions are planning to make decisions in the coming weeks and the vast majority plan to have final decisions by the end of June.

These are the measures that are likely to be in effect depending on the Covid-19 situation at the time:

  • A reduction in large lecture groups of 30+ in academic buildings.

  • These will be replaced with online lectures that students can view individually.

  • More small group learning such as seminars and regular one to ones.

  • Seminars are an integral part of the existing system already and make up the bulk of time for 2nd and 3rd year students.

  • Lecture halls will still be used to host smaller group and seminar sessions.

  • Sciences will increase the amount of lab work and smaller class tuition.

  • Social distancing measures in line to government messaging at the time.

  • Shops, bars and retail will be available in line with the national rules on those sectors at the time. The current government advice is that shops will open to the public from June 15th and bars will be considered from July 1st.

This means that most students who choose to go to university will still be moving to their university city and still be on campus and in their student unions in a normal manner with the likelihood of social distancing measures in place in September.

What is the difference between a lecture and a seminar?

(An image of a typical university lecture)

A lecture is a verbally delivered monologue that is usually to a large group in a large capacity room. These are more prominent the first year of study where the introductory topics are delivered by teaching staff.

Lectures typically take up the least amount of hours in a student's week with a BA course like history usually consisting of 3 to 5 hours per week max.

(An Image of a typical university seminar)

A Seminar is more of a workshop and discussion led by students and moderated by teaching staff. Students meet in small groups of around 12 to discuss recent reading or lectures. These are typically the bulk of the time on campus making up 6 to 10 hours per week depending on the course. Sciences and practical courses like design and architecture mostly consist of small group lab, design or practical work.

As you can see from the two images above, Seminars are a lot easier to deliver and maintain social distancing. They can also utilise the large capacity space of a lecture hall to allow social distancing.

In summary, the changes should not reduce the overall number of students on campus drastically. Instead it will disperse the concentration of numbers and likely increase the frequency of which students visit academic and student union buildings through the week.

What is the opportunity for brands?

The RockBox University network of OOH sites is located within student union buildings and not in academic buildings in which large lectures take place. This means that our screens should have a relatively normal footfall with some reduction should social distancing still be in place. The student union is an integral part of students daily life and provides most services and leisure facilities such as shops, bars, food and gyms. Our screens are located mostly in entrance areas and shopping or food purchase points.

(A six sheet poster in a student union shop in Leeds SU)

We are not oblivious to the fact that the number of students we reach might reduce as a result of social distancing. But there are some possible unexpected positives to offset this:

  • Should queuing systems be in place we expect the frequency of impacts and dwell time to increase temporarily for Q4.

  • If large lectures do not go ahead then Fresher's Fairs of thousands of students will not take place in September either. It is also likely that on campus pop up experientials will not take place until the new year. This makes our screens, poster panels and ambient formats deliver the only media available for brands to reach university students on site and allows our partner agencies to help clients divert this substantial budget into OOH instead of fairs if needed.

  • The situation has allowed us to work with our university partners to offer a wider range of ambient supporting media across digital and social to complement and enhance your OOH activity and effectiveness.

(Example of how screens might benefit from queuing systems for food purchase in London School of Arts)

We recommend that partners recommend contextually relevant messaging to their clients and where possible combine this activity with up-weighted social media targeting of same locations. The return to university is a great opportunity to deliver "social responsibility" campaigns to student audiences and secure brand reputation amongst a highly conscientious demographic.

“Striving to effect change, 85 percent of Gen Z seeks companies that prioritise solving world problems. The same percentage of Gen Z’ers are more likely to make a purchase from a company after they’ve learned the brand is socially responsible.” - Payment Source

With the increased quality of impacts your messaging has never been more important and DOOH can be used to drastically reinforce brands ROI on digital and social spend.

We hope this information was helpful and we will aim to post regular updates on this through the summer. If you would like to see more examples of our university screens and posters please visit this page. We currently have a number of large scale packs available for Q4 at a significant discount with full flexibility on deferment and cancellation terms.

If you have any questions at all please do get in touch at

 Get in touch! 

Thanks for submitting! We have received your request and will reply as soon as possible, please call us on 020 7907 0840 for anything urgent