Covid-19 - Staff update - furlough scheme, looking to the future, planning for first half session

Covid-19 - Staff update - furlough scheme, looking to the future, planning for first half session

Staff update - 24 April 2020

Dear Colleagues

We want to begin by reiterating our profound thanks to everyone for the work you are doing in often very difficult circumstances. We acknowledge – in particular – the absolute commitment and professionalism of our key workers on campus and in roles supporting the NHS.

We are also truly grateful for all the work that has gone on to ensure that in the coming weeks our higher year students are able to complete their assessments and graduate or progress as planned. We are also immensely proud of our medical students who graduated last Friday to support the NHS and Covid-19 effort.

We are acutely aware of the very difficult working conditions that many are grappling with, whether it be juggling work and home schooling, caring for others, or because you or someone in your household is unable to go outside at all due to the need to be shielded from any risk of infection. For some, this may be proving a huge challenge on all fronts, and we should be mindful of the possible struggles of our colleagues and friends.

Furlough scheme

The University in partnership with the Campus Trade Unions has looked carefully at the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme - also known as the furlough scheme - as a way of protecting our financial position. We are grateful to our colleagues in the Campus Trade Unions for the support and hard work in taking this matter forward. The terms of the scheme enable the University to claim back 80% of salaries of furloughed staff up to £2,500 per month. The University is committed to paying the remaining 20% of salary so staff in this position will not see a change in their salary.

We are now in a position to move forward with the scheme, and a number of roles have been identified as suitable to be placed on furlough. Where possible, line managers have taken forward discussions with those staff who are impacted. Those identified for furlough will be contacted by HR early next week outlining what this means for them. Please look out for an email - or letter in some cases - and follow the link within the correspondence to accept your status as a furloughed worker on our online form. Additional FAQs on furlough and what this means for staff in this situation are available here.

Please be assured that being identified for furlough does not mean that your role or contribution is not important. Furloughed staff remain an integral part of the University community and we are extremely grateful to them for their important role in safeguarding the financial position of the University at this challenging time.

Looking to the future

We are frequently asked what the future holds, when we will be back on campus, when and how lab-based research will resume, and how we will deliver teaching and assessment in the first half session in the autumn.

In the last few days, what the future holds for all of us has started to become clearer.  Yesterday the Scottish Government published Covid-19 - A Framework for Decision Making. From that document, and from the UK Government press conferences over the last few days, it is apparent that we cannot expect an early or quick end to the impact of coronavirus on our lives. 

Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said on Wednesday, that there is an ‘incredibly small’ chance of having an effective vaccine or treatment in the next calendar year. It seems almost certain that once the current lockdown begins to be eased in a very controlled way, physical distancing will be required at least for the rest of this year and possibly well beyond that.

Just as the Scottish and UK Governments are developing plans for the next phase, so we too as a University are doing so. This week we stood down the Coronavirus Emergency Steering Group which oversaw our move to homeworking for all but key workers.

In its place we have established a Covid-19 Campus Planning Group that will start work on Monday to prepare our own plans for the phased resumption of work on campus as and when the Scottish Government indicates that this will be possible, noting that this may not be for some time.

Details of the Group are available here. Our scenario planning for the phased resumption of working on campus will be guided by the principle that the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and students remains our number one priority.

Planning for first half session

We recognise that it may neither be safe nor possible for some staff to return to campus working, long after the Government indicates that some form of campus working may be resumed. We also know that this applies equally to our students.

Even if we are permitted to resume campus working by the autumn, some students as well as staff will not be able to attend campus because they are in high risk groups, or are unable to travel due to ongoing travel restrictions.

We also need to be mindful that as well as ongoing physical distancing, the Scottish Government has made clear that there may be a return to lockdown with little notice, and that it is possible that such a cycle may happen more than once until there is an effective treatment or vaccine.

That is why we need to begin to plan now to deliver blended learning in the first half session. Blended learning in this context means delivering face to face teaching if possible – albeit with social distancing – together with online delivery, and also ensuring that those unable to participate in face to face teaching are nevertheless able to study with us. We also need to be ready to move rapidly to a resumption of lockdown at any point in the semester, even if we are able to start teaching on campus.

Preparing for this is going to be a huge undertaking for the whole University. Ruth Taylor (Vice-Principal Education) will lead a Blended Learning Implementation Group under the auspices of the University Committee for Teaching and Learning. Details of the Terms of Reference and Membership of this Group will be available shortly here.

A Session and Programme Commencement Group led by Alan Speight (Vice-Principal Student Recruitment) is also being set up to plan the organisation of the start of the first half session. This group will report to the Student Recruitment Committee and details of the group will shortly be published here.

We will ensure that our whole community is kept informed of the progress of the planning work that these groups will now undertake, and each group will also ensure that there is the opportunity to feed into and influence the work. 

As ever, please direct any questions you may have to coronavirus@abdn.ac.uk.

Stay safe and best wishes,

Karl and Debbie

Professor Karl Leydecker
Convener, Covid-19 Campus Planning Group
Senior Vice-Principal

Debbie Dyker
Acting Director of Operations

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