Staff update - June 19 2020
Following yesterday’s announcement by the Scottish Government of the move to Phase 2 of its roadmap out of lockdown, I wanted to highlight what this means for our community and update you on Campus Planning Group (CPG) preparations for our phased return to on-campus working in Aberdeen. Separate communications will be issued regarding return to our Doha campus in due course.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that Phase 2 will be introduced in stages - rather than all at once. This includes those shielding being able to exercise outdoors from today, ‘extended household groups’ can be formed in certain circumstances, face coverings become mandatory on public transport from Monday (22 June) and two metre physical distancing remains in place. The updated route map can be seen here.
The University also received a letter from Richard Lochhead, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science yesterday with helpful additional information for universities. The Scottish Government continues to expect only a small number of people to be on campus during Phase 2, and remote working remains the default position. The Minister did, however, confirm that university staff can return to make essential preparations for Phase 3.
o preparation of buildings, adjustment of teaching spaces, walkways and student accommodation as well as research facilities.
o provisions for specialist testing and services to support operations, including access for contractors.
o Work on site to prepare teaching materials including digital content eg filming lab demonstrations and arrangements for their delivery
o Allowing staff to access facilities to collect materials to support continued home working eg teaching and research materials.
And from 29 June
o Non-office-based workplaces including lab and research facilities can resume, with on-campus university research also restarting subject to physical distancing. This expands on the essential Covid-19 work which has been ongoing through lockdown and Phase 1, with a small number of labs having re-opened in recent weeks within the IMS and Liberty buildings on our Foresterhill campus.
o Research libraries and research archives but not wider library-based activity (except preparation of facilities) can resume (more details will follow on this).
o Home moves are permitted - this applies to students seeking to move out of student accommodation or students seeking to return to accommodation to collect belongings.
Construction of the Science Teaching Hub can also resume in earnest, following preparatory work that was possible during Phase 1.
These are very helpful developments and will guide the CPG in its planning of our phased return. Of course, many of our key workers have been on campus throughout lockdown, and their efforts include the continued support for around 400 students who are still in our halls of residence.
Our return to campus will be managed in line with our agreed principles and guidance documents, with our first principle being that the health, safety and wellbeing of staff, students, visitors, contractors, as well as the wider public is of paramount concern.
Much still needs to be done to bring our campus back into full operation and an update on steps being taken now follows.
Managed access to campus and home deliveries
This week we facilitated access to campus for 75 staff visits to collect essential teaching and research materials from offices. We have also delivered more than 450 items needed by staff to their homes over the past few weeks and I would like to thank all the teams who made this possible.
From next week there will be opportunities for all staff to gain access to offices for essential materials during designated times without making an appointment, and there are access programmes for Old Aberdeen and Foresterhill and guidelines for entry that must be read before accessing campus. Please note that you should not remove your desktop PC without approval from email@example.com It will not work off campus without being reconfigured. You can, however, take your monitor, mouse, keyboard and any other peripherals you require. Please remember to record what equipment you take off campus here.
For staff who would still like to request delivery of IT equipment and teaching or research materials, for example because you or someone in your household is shielding, or you are otherwise prevented from visiting campus, please continue to use the web form.
Re-opening of buildings and assessing teaching capacity
Engineers and electricians are among key workers already on campus, and cleaning staff will be brought out of furlough in preparation for our return. Numerous steps and checks will need to be completed, including ensuring the safety of lifts and water supplies, organising circulation routes, installing hand sanitation stations and introducing new signage.
In conjunction with Estates and Facilities, Central Timetabling and the Blended Learning Task and Finish Group (BLITFG), modelling of room capacity for teaching on campus is also underway. This involves looking at all our teaching spaces and working out what is safe and possible based on either two or one metre physical distancing scenarios. We will consult with academic staff and student representatives on the proposed configuration of teaching rooms shortly. In addition, consideration is being given to the impact of issues such as the requirement for ongoing shielding or caring responsibilities. Arrangements will be made in due course for staff to indicate for example their pattern of caring responsibilities once the arrangements for primary and secondary schools become clearer before schools open in August.
Return to on-campus research
A University-wide exercise was conducted to inform the logistics of how we phase back our research activities. This involved a review of more than 230 lab and associated research activities spanning 18 buildings and involving around 800 members of staff and PGR students.
These were reviewed by Heads of Schools, the Vice-Principal for Research and Director of Research & Innovation and then cross-checked for grant and contractual issues before a sequence of return was agreed.
Estates and Facilities and Schools are now preparing for our return and it must be stressed that the order of return is based purely on logistics. All research is essential to the University and in an ideal world it would all restart immediately. Assuming preparatory work does not throw up issues, we anticipate phased return into labs at Foresterhill will be able to start from Monday 6 July with labs in Old Aberdeen starting to return from Monday 13 July.
To date, only essential outdoor fieldwork has been possible under Government guidance. This position has just been revised slightly and we are currently revising our guidance in the light of this. We expect to have a process in place to start to authorise some further outdoor fieldwork by the end of next week. These procedures will entail approval being sought and risk assessments being undertaken in advance.
The planning for the resumption of research involving face-to-face interaction with human participants is complex and will require regulatory and government approval. Once guidance has been issued on this, we will update the community.
I would like to take this opportunity to remind staff and PGR students that Professor Marion Campbell, Vice-Principal for Research, is hosting an open session on Monday (22 June) from 11am-12pm, where she will provide an update on research activity across the University, including more information on how we are planning for research returning to campus. I hope many of you will attend the session and take the opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding any of these issues
Plans for restarting on-campus library services
The University of Aberdeen Library has continued to provide services while buildings are closed and will continue to focus on digital content and online services in the immediate future.
As we develop services in support of blended learning and prepare for some staff and students to return to campus, estates staff are carrying out safety checks on The Sir Duncan Rice Library and we will bring a small number of library staff back to the building when this work is complete.
Preparations will then get underway for the launch of a click and collect service for our library collections and a digitisation service to support requests for Special Collections materials – to be launched on Monday 13 July. Further details on this will be communicated in due course.
All books being returned in person - where national guidance allows - should be placed in the external book drop slot at The Sir Duncan Rice Library, irrespective of which library site they were borrowed from, until further notice. Our approach will be continually reviewed in line with national and University safety guidelines and in response to demand.
Planning work is now underway to determine when we will be able to allow University staff and students into any of our library sites and this includes looking at measures needed to ensure safe use of spaces such as occupancy limits, navigation routes and hygiene provision. We will also plan for restarting collection services for older material from our closed access stores.
Finance sustainability consultation update
We have received a significant level of feedback on the financial sustainability proposals, thank you to everyone who has contributed to this. Constructive discussions with the trade unions are continuing and a further update, including responses to the feedback, will be provided in due course.
I hope this message provides assurance that there is a tremendous effort going on to ensure we can transition back to life on campus safely and smoothly.
As ever, thank you for all your support and hard work which allows us to continue operating during this extremely challenging time.
Professor Karl Leydecker