Dear Colleagues and Postgraduate Researchers,
Happy New Year and we hope you managed to enjoy some rest over the winter break, although another lockdown is unlikely to be the start to 2021 we had all hoped for.
This will undoubtedly be another anxious and challenging time for many, with new Covid-19 restrictions announced yesterday for mainland Scotland by the First Minister in light of the spread of the new variant of the virus while simultaneously rolling out the national vaccination programme. Here is a brief recap of the new measures which came into force at midnight:
- Requirement to stay at home and only leave for an essential purpose, such as exercise, shopping, caring responsibilities. Frequency of outdoor exercise is not limited.
- People only allowed to meet outdoors with one person from one other household. Children under 11 do not count towards this.
- Schools to close to most pupils (except vulnerable children / children of key workers) until 1 February, but this will be reviewed in mid-January.
- Everyone who can work from home will be required to. Those who are shielding are advised not to go in to work at all.
See here for full details of what is permitted.
What this means for the University
Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science wrote to universities overnight, stressing the need to keep footfall on campus to a minimum during this period of restrictions, while recognising that Education remains an essential purpose. The default position is therefore that everyone who is able to work from home should do so.
Key staff who are required to work on campus to maintain essential activities can continue to do so as necessary. These staff will be advised by their line managers that they may work on campus.
Research labs, essential on-campus research and fieldwork
- Research labs will remain open for currently approved research including by Postgraduate Research students. Similarly, previously approved essential on-campus research can continue.
- Nevertheless, in the light of the new lockdown, careful consideration should be given as to whether some on-campus research activity can be scaled back to minimise footfall on campus e.g. it may be possible to postpone the start of new experiments if this does not significantly disrupt research. On days when on-campus presence is not needed for lab/research work you should work at home
- Research involving volunteers and participants which involves recruitment of participants who otherwise would not be travelling onto campus should be paused
- Fieldwork involving travel from Aberdeen to other parts of the UK or elsewhere should be paused
Those previously granted permission to work on campus
Permission granted on an individual basis to return to campus is no longer valid, with the default reverting to everyone working from home if you possibly can. Nevertheless we recognise that there may be very exceptional reasons why someone might feel that they have a strong case to be allowed to work on campus e.g. to carry out research that doesn’t involve labs or specialist equipment, or to access facilities to prepare online teaching. If you feel that you fall into this category you should contact your Head of School, Director, Line Manager or PGR supervisor in the first instance. They will be able to advise whether they support a case being made to the Return to Campus Group, which can be done via this link.
Picking up IT and other essential materials to facilitate homeworking
We have already received a few requests for permission to access campus to collect IT or other essential materials to facilitate home working. Staff may, if absolutely essential, access the campus on one occasion between Wednesday and Friday this week (6-8 January) to collect things you need for home working. Please note that desktop PCs cannot be taken from campus and directly plugged in at home –work is required prior to this to enable full functionality. If you require your desktop PC at home please contact the Service Desk at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for this work to be completed before arranging to collect your desktop PC.
Mr Lochhead in his letter noted that plans are already in place for the staggered return of students to universities. The timing of these arrangements is currently under review and we are able to clarify the following in relation to the start of term with further information following when we have it.
- Term will start as planned on 25 January but now with online teaching only for nearly all undergraduate and taught postgraduate students for at least the first week. This date is under review as we await further guidance from the Scottish Government, with online only delivery for nearly all students potentially being extended into February (this has already been announced for England). Thereafter we expect a staggered return to blended learning. Except for very limited exceptions, students who travelled away from Aberdeen over the break should not return until they are advised that on campus teaching will be resuming for them.
- Students with placements will hear from their Schools if there are any changes
Buildings, libraries, University Halls of Residence & Rocking Horse Nursery
- Buildings will remain open to staff and students with approved access and grounds activities will continue with essential operational services in place as planned from 6 January to support the phased return of agreed essential activities.
- Sir Duncan Rice Library will open on 11 January with use of the click and collect service preferred and no access to the book stack initially.
- Arrangements for the opening of libraries in the Polwarth Building and Taylor Building are under review and will be confirmed in due course.
- Halls will remain open and students in residence will continue to receive additional support; international students with existing travel arrangements may continue to arrive.
- Rocking Horse Nursery will be open for key workers.
Shielding & childcare
- Those shielding should contact your line manager to discuss your situation and follow this guidance.
- Childcare will be an issue for many with the closure of schools. Please contact your line manager to discuss your arrangements and further flexible working arrangements that might assist you.
- Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead stressed that testing remains an important part of the safe return of students and our asymptomatic testing centre at Butchart Centre in Old Aberdeen reopens on 7 January.
Please see here for a communication that will also be going out to students today.
In the meantime, be assured that we are aware that the latest lockdown will bring challenges both personally and professionally. Please continue to look after yourself and those around you. Finally, we should take great encouragement from how science and research has yielded vaccines which will ultimately lead us out of this crisis.
Karl and Debbie
Director of People