Covid-19 - staff update - ensuring a safe return to our campuses

Covid-19 - staff update - ensuring a safe return to our campuses

Staff update - June 5, 2020

Dear colleagues, 

This week guidance has started to emerge that will help inform our ongoing work to ensure a safe return to our campuses for our staff and students.

Our Campus Planning Group (CPG) continues to develop plans for a phased return to on-campus working, and we are working hard to ensure that these are sufficiently adaptable to be able to accommodate a range of scenarios, including ongoing physical distancing for an extended period. 

In recent weeks the CPG has consulted on and approved several documents that establish the key principles and guidance that will govern the safe return to our campuses, and I want to thank all those involved for their efforts.

Earlier this week, Universities UK (UUK) published its principles for universities when emerging from lockdown report, incorporating also principles jointly agreed between the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the sector trade unions.

The CPG is now actively mapping our own plans against these principles, but I am pleased to say that the principles set out by UUK provide reassurance that our approach to ensuring a high-quality and safe experience for our students and staff - encompassing teaching and research - is the right one.

An open statement accompanying the guidance contains the following passage which encapsulates the intention behind the principles: 

Universities will provide as much in-person learning, teaching, support services and extra-curricular activities as public health advice and government guidance will support. This will include new ways of providing practical sessions in socially distanced forms, innovative approaches to extra-curricular activities such as welcome week programmes, and a continuation of important student services such as mental health and wellbeing support and careers advice.

And specifically on research, the principles state: 

Following appropriate risk assessment, universities will introduce measures to enable research to be conducted in a safe and responsible manner, following government guidance specifically designed to protect researchers in laboratories and other research facilities and spaces. 

While the UUK guidance is helpful, the work of the CPG is ultimately subject to guidance issued by the Scottish Government, and we are awaiting the publication of further guidance from them that will assist us in our planning for a phased return, based on its own Route Map.

Phase 1 of the route map did not mention universities, however the University’s Acting Director of Operations has been involved in a series of meetings with Universities Scotland and Scottish Government officials to provide input into the sector specific guidance for HE, publication of which is expected sometime in the next few weeks.

Alongside the planning for the resumption of on-campus research, work is now underway to establish the capacity of our campuses for teaching under conditions of physical distancing. This is a complex task that is expected to take a number of weeks. The work encompasses establishing the capacity of all teaching spaces, but also flow rates for access to and from buildings, floors and rooms, toilet capacity and hygiene arrangements. Parallel work is continuing to consider how to timetable on-campus and virtual teaching sessions.

While Schools, and academic staff in particular, will be anxious to have greater certainty about how much on-campus teaching will be possible, we ask for your patience as the complex evaluation work is carried out as quickly and thoroughly as possible given that it will have a direct impact on health and safety. Ultimately our staff and students will need to have confidence that it is safe to return to campus and so it is important we get this work right.

On Monday we updated you on our planning for the forthcoming academic year 2020/21, and the blended learning approach we will be taking for at least the first half of the new session. We also updated prospective and current students on our plans, emphasising that we will be open and ready to welcome those who are able to attend in September, with parallel online options for those joining us later. 

I am conscious that delivering on all of this is a huge effort for our staff, and we are grateful for the way in which everyone is pulling together to make this happen.

We will continue to engage in active dialogue with staff, students and stakeholders, including consultation with recognised trade unions, to ensure the transition from lockdown both protects the wellbeing of our whole community and enables the safe resumption of university activities.

We also continue to seek ways to reduce the volume of other work to allow us to focus on the key tasks in hand, and encourage you to send your ideas on how we might achieve this to wellbeing@abdn.ac.uk

Above all else, it is the collective effort of our community that is making the crucial difference in our ability to rise to these unprecedented challenges.  Once again, I wish to express my sincere gratitude for your continued efforts. 

Best wishes

Karl

Professor Karl Leydecker
Senior Vice-Principal