A message to all staff from University Secretary, Roger Gair (4 June 2020)

Email issued: Thursday 4 June 2020
From: Internal Communications
Subject: A message to all staff from University Secretary, Roger Gair: Update on response to coronavirus pandemic (4 June 2020)

Dear colleagues,

I write to update you on our response to the coronavirus pandemic, and in particular on the development of our planning for the rest of this academic year and next.

Our planning broadly covers four distinct but interrelated areas: the logistics of a return to campus (including resumption of research on site); arrangements for student recruitment and admissions; educational provision and student experience in 2020/21; and the assessment of financial risk and potential mitigations.

It goes without saying that our objectives are to provide a safe and welcoming environment for our students and staff, and to deliver high-quality education and research.

Approach to planning

Our planning recognises that the course of the pandemic is unpredictable and that there might be further lockdowns or restraints introduced in the future at short notice, or indeed further relaxation of existing restrictions.

For planning purposes, our thinking covers three distinct periods:

  • Period one: From now until September (when students arrive).
  • Period two: From September until social distancing requirements are lifted at some unspecified point in the future.
  • Period three: From the lifting of social distancing measures to the achievement of a ‘steady state’.

Our over-riding priority is to ensure that the working environment is safe.

This communication focuses on the first of the three periods. For the period until September, our priorities are

(a) to enable the phased resumption of research activities on campus as quickly as possible;

(b) to prepare for the return and arrival of students in September;

(c)  to carry out a few functions which can only be delivered on campus.

We will write to update you next week on arrangements for the arrival of students on campus, at which point we also plan to communicate with prospective and returning undergraduate students. We will ensure that relevant staff have sight of these student communications in advance.

On-campus working

During the coronavirus pandemic, and in particular while the requirement for social distancing remains in force (periods one and two), we are expecting the majority of staff to continue working at home. Staff asked to carry out work on campus or able to resume research on campus will receive appropriate notification.

In deciding whether to make any request for a member of staff to return to campus we will, of course, factor in personal circumstances, such as known underlying health conditions. Any staff who are asked to return to campus and who have concerns about that should discuss their concerns with their line manager and/or HR representative.

Health and safety on campus

As noted above, our over-riding priority is to ensure that we provide a safe working environment for our staff and students. For that reason, and as explained in a previous communication, decisions on how and when we re-occupy particular buildings and resume particular activities on campus are subject to approval by a steering group which reports to the University Executive Group.

There are three main elements to the work to re-open buildings. First, we have had to draw up a COVID-19 risk assessment. This has now been completed.

Secondly, we need to carry out work to ensure that the buildings themselves meet the necessary safety standards.  For example, we need to perform tests to ensure that there is no legionella in the water supply, and that fire safety systems are fully functional.

Thirdly, we have to ensure that work can be carried out in a way which is consistent with COVID-19 and social distancing requirements. Depending on the building, this can require the re-allocation or re-configuration of working space, the adoption of new ways of working or staggered working patterns, the introduction of prescribed one-way routes within buildings, and – where the nature of the work requires it – the use of personal protective equipment.

We have accordingly drawn up COVID-19 and social distancing principles and guidance, which, following completion of consultations with the trades unions, will be made available early next week to heads of schools and services and other staff directly involved in the process. The principles and guidelines will be applied systematically across the campus, an exercise involving heads of schools and services and teams from Health and Safety Services and the Facilities Directorate.

Given the size and complexity of the campus, the re-opening of buildings will inevitably have to be carried out on a phased basis over the summer.

Resumption of research on campus

We aim to enable research on campus to resume as quickly as possible, carefully managed to ensure the safety of all involved.

Staff and postgraduate researchers should continue to work from home where possible. (One-off access to campus to collect items to assist with this is being arranged, as explained below.)

Some areas of research do of course require access to laboratories and facilities on the campus. Phasing will allow us to manage the risks more easily and to learn from experience as the re-opening of additional facilities progresses.

The order in which facilities re-open is being determined through an assessment of research priorities by the Executive Deans and Pro-Deans (Research and Innovation) co-ordinated by Ceri Williams, Director of Research and Innovation Development. Initial prioritisation will take account of criteria such as the need to complete work on grants ending in the next 12 months, research activity where there is a contractual obligation, PhD research where there is no scope for costed extensions and where laboratory access is essential for completion of the PhD studies, and so on).  We will also take into account an assessment of feasibility of opening a facility. Faculties are determining the phasing of the re-opening of laboratories in discussion with heads of schools.

On the basis of the work to date, some research laboratories and facilities will start to re-open in the second half of June. Further phasing will then occur through the summer, and we hope to re-open all on-campus research laboratories and facilities by the end of September.

Further details on the phasing of research facility opening in each Faculty will be communicated through Executive Deans from next week and the appropriate risk assessments and social distance plans will be co-ordinated at local level (for approval by the central steering group). These will provide information for how research staff can be involved in the preparations for the opening of laboratories.

Remote working

As explained above, we expect the majority of staff to continue to work remote remotely throughout phase one and into phase two.

We remain aware of the challenges of remote working and are looking to enhance support for staff working from home including through:

  • Allowing time-limited one-off visits to campus to collect equipment to assist comfortable, healthy and efficient homeworking. This will be co-ordinated centrally, but overseen at school and service level, so that we can ensure staff safety. More details will be provided via heads of schools and services shortly.
  • Further investment in digital infrastructure to support online working and education, combined with measures to enhance cyber security.
  • Continued support through the occupational health and staff counselling services to assist staff who may be experiencing physical and mental health and wellbeing issues as a result of the current circumstances.

Executive Deans and heads of schools and services will work to ensure staff workloads are balanced, given possible increases in demand stemming from the need to adjust delivery of student education.

Fieldwork

Fieldwork may resume in locations in England from 15 June, subject to certain conditions and the satisfactory completion of risk assessments. Overnight stays will not be permitted. Resumption of fieldwork in the other nations of the UK will depend on decisions by devolved Governments. Further details on the process to be followed to gain approval will be available on the Wellbeing, Safety & Health webpages, which will be updated as and when the position changes.

International fieldwork – and international travel generally – will not be permitted for the foreseeable future.

Conclusion

Resuming our on-site operations and provision is much more complex than shutting them down, and we need to do this in a in a phased and carefully planned way. I appreciate that this communication is likely to raise further questions and, to be honest, we won’t be able to answer all of them yet. However, you will be updated on developments through central communications and at a local school/service level as soon as possible.

We are using Microsoft Forms to capture and consider feedback on the re-opening process. Please use this form, rather than email, to share any comments and questions you have relating to re-opening. Whilst we will not be able to respond to individual questions using this mechanism, your feedback will help to shape the process and future communications.

I understand that this continues to be a period of great challenge and uncertainty for our entire university community and I thank everyone for their continued effort, perseverance and understanding, often in the face of unprecedented personal and professional challenges.

With best wishes,

Roger Gair

University Secretary