Key considerations for Higher Education establishments during the Covid-19 pandemic

The UK government’s decision to keep schools and higher education establishments open during the second lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a major headache for those in charge of colleges and Universities.

The health and safety of all students and staff is paramount. There are multiple aspects to take into consideration, so students can safely return to lectures, seminars and practical sessions, as well as making use of common areas such as the library and flexible working spaces.

Key areas outlined in the UK Government guidance for reopening Higher Education buildings and campuses are social distancing on campus, segmentation and ventilation.

A considerable amount of guidance is the same as the standard guidelines outlined by the UK government such as “keeping people 2 metres apart from those they do not live with, where possible. Where 2 metres is not viable, reducing the distance down to a minimum of 1 metre can be used but only if appropriate mitigation is in place.” (1)

Social Distancing on Campus and Segmentation

Government advice states that you should consider how to reduce social contact and maintain social distance. Mitigations should be introduced in response to a risk assessment (4), which should take place in order to understand:

  • the number of students and staff likely to be included in a learning space and how they can be accommodated as safely as possible (1)
  • supporting services required in increasing the number of individuals on-site (for example, catering) and how they can be provided as safely as possible (1)
  • The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) recognises that there is no one model of segmentation that would apply equally across industries, but has advised that the benefits of segmentation could be:
  • reduction in the risk of transmission (smaller number of people to infect) (1)
  • easier to control (smaller number of known contacts) (1)
  • less disruptive (small number of people to quarantine or test) (1)
  • In order to predict the number of students and staff likely to be in specific spaces, you can analyse previous occupancy data and also collect new data. There are a number of ways to collect new data including but not exclusive to people counting devices (a), under desk sensors (b) and room occupancy sensors (c).

Most, if not all, Higher Education establishments will already have some level of CCTV across campuses but may be reluctant to track individuals every move e.g. by using a smart phone location services or ID badges.

People counters can be used to monitor people flow, accurately detect the number of people in specific rooms, zones or areas without tracking individuals. Under desk sensors and room occupancy sensors typically use Passive Infrared (PIR) technology, sometimes combined with thermal sensors to confirm human occupancy rather than a large object.


UK government guidance issued on 4th November states:

Poorly ventilated buildings are particularly conducive to virus spread. Where possible, poorly ventilated spaces should be adapted to improve ventilation or, if that is not possible, they should not be used as a teaching/learning location. (1)

Indoor air quality monitoring is one way to monitor ventilation in spaces, whether indoors or outdoors. As Covid-19 transmission is widely recognised to spread at a much lower rate outdoors, the main focus for building managers should be indoor air quality, looking at CO2 levels, temperature and relative humidity.

A 2019 study on a tuberculosis outbreak at Taipei University, Taiwan, provides detailed evidence. Many of the rooms were poorly ventilated and reached CO2 levels above 3,000 ppm. When engineers brought levels down to under 600 ppm the outbreak stopped.(2)

Reducing CO2 levels could have a similar impact on Covid-19 as it did on tuberculosis. Studies undertaken in the last few years have found that higher levels of CO2 have a negative impact of productivity (3). Although this should not be the key driver to reduce CO2 levels in classrooms and lecture theatres, it would be an additional benefit to both students and staff.

Adding indoor air quality (IAQ) sensors throughout Higher Education establishments to monitor CO2 in particular, alerting staff when levels are increasing towards an unsafe level, is a simple but effective way to potentially reduce the transmission of Covid-19.

The UK government’s decision to keep schools and higher education establishments open throughout the majority of the Covid-19 pandemic has presented many challenges, with the health and safety of all student and staff of paramount importance. The implementation of smart building, or IoT, solutions can assist colleges and Universities by allowing them to monitor occupancy and people. Following UK Government guidance and implementing these types of solution, will allow higher education establishments to safely bring people back to campus.

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Monitoring people flow and facilities usage across campus can be achieved using a combination of people counters, motion detectors, thermal imaging cameras, car parking space sensors all connected through a MobiusFlow gateway to one central location or monitored and controlled remotely via a secure connection in the cloud.


1. UK Government Guidance - Higher Education: reopening buildings and campuses. All information quoted was correct as of 4th November update to source.

2. EnOcean Alliance white paper – CO2 Monitoring to Lower the Coronavirus Threat

3. EMCOR UK - C02 Levels in Offices ‘Silently Damaging UK Productivity’, finds New Study

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