Online, on-campus, critical workers, home working, mental health & wellbeing and student support

Online, on-campus, critical workers, home working, mental health & wellbeing and student support

Dear Colleague / Postgraduate Researcher,

As we get to the end of our first week back, we hope you are coping as well as you can with the latest restrictions.

While we continue our preparations for the start of term, we will do our best to provide clarity - as and when we can - about impacts on University activities. Today we can update you on the following:

Online learning & on-campus teaching

The Scottish Government made a further announcement today regarding the postponement of the return of colleges and universities – you can see details here. As a consequence, except for a very limited number of exemptions (e.g. Medicine, Dentistry), on campus teaching for most areas will not resume until at least the end of February. 

We are therefore writing to confirm that for the first 5 weeks of the second half session, from 25 January until 26 February teaching will be online only. There are some very limited exceptions and we are working closely with Schools to have in place a comprehensive list of where this will apply. More information will be provided when it is available.

The situation will be reviewed mid-February in the light of national guidance, and we will provide at least two weeks’ notice if we are able to provide some additional on campus teaching in certain areas.  

The communication that has been sent to students is included here .

Research labs, essential on-campus research and fieldwork

All research which can be done at home should be done at home. Only critical and essential research can be undertaken on campus.  These activities will have been approved by the Campus Planning (Research) Group.  On days when on-campus presence is not needed for essential research 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.

On-campus guidance

Footfall on campus is now below that before the winter break as everyone able to work from home must do so - with the exemption of our critical workers. Those needed on campus to carry out critical tasks and approved essential research should only do so as and when required.

Estates and Facilities are reviewing the latest guidance regarding ventilation requirements ensuring any changes required will be made to comply with the latest advice. Current risk assessments for buildings remain valid, but local teams are asked to review risk assessments for all activities to ensure all mitigations are in place and being strictly observed.

A reminder to building users - in buildings without automatic (mechanical) ventilation systems, windows should be opened for 15 minutes or so when entering the room (especially when the room was occupied by others beforehand).   This is best done by opening them at the end of a session, as you leave, and closing them near the start of the next, or once an hour in non-teaching situations.  There is not normally a need to leave them open or to open doors for ventilation purposes.

Where mechanical ventilation is present windows should not be opened, so that the system performs effectively.  Stickers have been placed in each teaching space to indicate which applies. Information about whether the ventilation is natural or mechanical is included in the reoccupation building risk assessments available here.

Our Covid-19 control rules and restrictions must always be followed, and line managers/PGR supervisors should remind staff and PGR students of these and discuss with them and trade union officials if anything else is needed to ensure the health and safety of our community.

Managers and PGR supervisors should work with staff and PGR students to review personal risk assessments, including Covid-age questionnaires, of all whose roles require them to work on campus. This includes those previously granted access to campus due to ‘exceptional circumstances’ and, dependent upon the outcome of that, if access to campus is absolutely essential at this time, a request can be made to restore that access, to some degree, to the Return to Campus Group, via this link.  

Critical workers

While the majority are working from home, essential on campus activities continue to be supported and delivered by dedicated and highly valued teams of critical workers.

Letters will be issued to staff working on campus which can be shown to police if stopped during travel to and from work. Anyone with concerns about working on campus should raise these with HR or their line manager – particularly staff with underlying health conditions.

We know that access to campus will be required to facilitate the preparation of some online delivery. We also recognise that due to home circumstances, some staff may be unable to deliver online teaching effectively from home. Requests for restricted access to staff offices for the essential purpose of preparing or delivering online teaching can be made to the Return to Campus Group, again via this link.

Shielding

Anyone shielding should not come onto campus and must be working from home where they can. Please see the updated shielding guidance here.

Working from home

Working from home can be tough. Add caring and home-schooling responsibilities and the challenges of trying to balance that with work feels even more immense.

We recognise the difficulties that our community is facing and realise that some staff may be unable to fulfil normal working hours and do all that is expected of us normally. These are extremely testing times and we aim to be as flexible as possible to give you the support you need. Please discuss your individual circumstances and any concerns you have with your manager, and you may also contact your HR Partner at any point. As a reminder, guidance on working at home can be found here.

If you cannot do your job from home – and no alternative duties can be performed at home – you will of course continue to be paid. We will also explore whether it is appropriate to place any staff on furlough at this time.

The Workload Review Group will meet shortly to consider whether there are any further short-term measures that can be taken to reduce the pressures of work at this time.

We are also continuing to seek clarity from the Scottish Government about whether Higher Education staff have key worker/critical worker status to be able to access nursery childcare and in-school places for children.

Travel to the UK 

The Scottish and UK Governments have announced that those travelling to the UK will require a negative Covid test within 72 hours prior to travel.  Further information can be found here

With online learning the default at the current time, you should consider, if you are not already in the UK and have not yet booked your travel, staying in the country where you are currently located and working from there meantime. Non-essential travel is currently against the law and this does not change with the introduction of pre-departure testing. Please consult your line manager and HR partner about your personal circumstances.

Libraries 

The Sir Duncan Rice Library will open on Monday 11 January between 10am and 5pm and these will be the opening hours for the first week. Hours of opening will be reviewed regularly in line with national guidelines.

A limited amount of non-bookable study space is available within the Library, but in line with safety guidelines the bookshelves are currently taped off and books can only be accessed through the click and collect service.

The Taylor Library will be closed due to Covid safety restrictions, however ‘physical’ books and journals will be available through the click and collect service.

Discussions are still underway regarding opening of the Polwarth Library.

Supporting our students

And finally, you may be interested in some of the ways we have been supporting our students over the winter break.

  • For the first time, teams across the Infohub, Student Advice & Support, and the International Student Advisers continued to work throughout the holidays to ensure that urgent student enquiries relating to travel, arrival, accommodation, Covid testing and Brexit were all managed as quickly as possible, providing reassurance to new and returning students.
  • Recognising the importance of providing prompt support during this challenging time, these teams managed hundreds of enquiries over the break – many more than normal.
  • Students staying at Hillhead over the break were provided with a Christmas meal on 22 December and, thanks to a partnership with our Development Trust, also received a three-day festive food hamper.
  • Festive food hampers and support were also provided to students who had to return to their accommodation and self-isolate after being turned away from the airport as they tried to fly home.

We are in regular contact with the Scottish Government and our sector partners and will keep you updated as soon as we have more information. In the meantime, you can find all our updates and FAQs on these pages  – please keep an eye on these as they will be updated regularly. Any queries not answered there can be sent to coronavirus@abdn.ac.uk

This is once again an extraordinarily challenging time for our whole community, with still much uncertainty and new demands again placed on us all. We are acutely conscious from the Staff Survey that workloads remain very high and that the strains on everyone are significant.  Once again, we need to look out for each other and continue to show flexibility and support.

While not underestimating the challenges, as throughout the pandemic we will get through the difficult weeks ahead by working closely together to support each other and our students. Better times are ahead. Thank you for your commitment and efforts and stay safe.

Best wishes

Karl and Debbie

Professor Karl Leydecker  Debbie Dyker
Senior Vice-Principal  Director of People

 

 

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