Answers to additional questions submitted by staff to the Principal.
- Working from home / return to campus
Q. Given the difficulties likely in implementing social distancing across two campuses, can you foresee the situation where if staff have shown they can work from home successfully that they will not be asked to return to campus until there is a vaccine?
A set of principles and priorities have been developed by the Covid-19 Campus Planning Group to guide the return to on-campus working. There will be a consultation on these with staff and PhD students.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that there may never be a vaccine, and no-one can predict the future development of the pandemic.
Returning to campus with physical distancing will reduce the capacity of the campus which we will need to prepare for.
The University’s current position is that people who can work from home should continue to do so. Some people will not be able to return to campus because they are in vulnerable groups and it is conceivable that some staff could remain off campus for a lengthy period.
In addition, we are reviewing the working from home policy and that will likely include the opportunity to request to work from home on an ongoing basis.
Q. The University has had a policy whereby it is not permissible to work from home. In light of the way we have all been working over the past weeks, will this be revised when things start to go back to 'normality'?
Yes, a working from home policy is under development and there will be consultation on it, including with the Trade Unions. It will likely include the option to work from home on an ongoing basis.
Q. I suspect that if worst or near worst case scenarios of financial difficulty arise in the wake of the current crisis that the University may adopt a policy of actively encouraging specific employees to accept voluntary redundancy. Will you give an assurance that in such circumstances age will not be a factor in selecting people to be encouraged to leave their positions in the University?
A voluntary redundancy scheme is not an option that is currently under consideration. The University would undertake an Equality Impact Assessment on a voluntary redundancy scheme to ensure that the scheme is being taken forward in a manner that is consistent with employment legislation.
Q. Why didn't you use the furlough scheme creatively and flexibly like you said, or work out other ways to stop people being made redundant during a pandemic?
The University followed the terms of the scheme and the associated guidance in relation to the implementation of the furlough scheme.
- Student recruitment
Q. With the possibility of lockdown measures being eased in England before Scotland, is there a risk that potential students may choose Universities in England rather than the Scottish ones?
It is very possible that our prospective students will revisit their university choices given current circumstances, and that student perceptions of public health policy in different parts of the UK will impact on this decision making. However, this could play out in a number of different ways. For example, students may be less inclined, or less able, to travel further afield to university, meaning that more remain in their local area. Another possibility is that smaller cities may be seen as more attractive. So, we will see different factors playing out which we are building into our scenario planning. And by being able to offer range of study options and by positively engaging with our prospective students through communications and virtual events we can mitigate these challenges and develop new opportunities – we have a very positive story to tell.
Q. I have spent a lot of time thinking (and indeed worrying) about how I can support staff in my team during this time, as they balance the logistical challenges of remote working with often complex personal circumstances. What changes has University management made to personal leadership styles to adapt to the challenges of the current situation?
Hopefully the communication issued on Thursday, 14 May regarding workload has provided an understanding of expectations and demonstrates the approach of the University management in supporting staff.
Q. Can you give a bit more assurance that right now we're not 'working from home', rather, we're at home, trying to survive a global pandemic and doing a bit of work when we can? I know many colleagues, myself included, are struggling a lot with juggling caring responsibilities and working in conditions which are not exactly conducive to productivity.
Hopefully the communication issued on Thursday, 14 May regarding workload has provided this reassurance.
- Online Learning
Q. After the coronavirus threat has subsided and we are all able to return to work and begin face to face teaching, does the Principal anticipate that online teaching will still be a major component within the teaching curriculum or does he think that face to face teaching will remain the main form for the majority of teaching with online teaching as an accompaniment?
There is an opportunity for us to learn from this current situation, and take forward practice that has been successful in enhancing the student learning experience. It is important that we continue to be prepared as an institution for a similar potential situation in the future. However, the on-campus experience is such an important part of many students’ learning experiences and we would anticipate that we will return to on-campus teaching, with digital components that support that learning as appropriate (and as we already do through MyAberdeen).
Q. Having been involved in online law teaching since around 2005, I am aware of the work involved in preparing online materials. At the same time, online teaching brings opportunities.
As uncertainty in the HE sector continues, I wonder if the university might position itself at an early stage as offering certainty: that is, that we can guarantee that for those who enrol for any degree programme being offered in 2020-21, it will be delivered, ideally on campus but if not online (or partially so)?
If we can get that message out early and explicitly as part of a marketing campaign, this might encourage those who have/would have applied to join us to see through their application; it may also attract applicants who would have applied elsewhere, but who see certainty as the most important feature.
I agree that certainty is important for our new and returning students. We know that we will need to be in a position to deliver all of our learning online in September. When students are able to come on to campus, we will need to offer some small group on campus classes and study groups as part of the curriculum, plus enrichment experiences, for example on campus study groups aimed at developing community and connections with the physical campus, outdoor activities, Students’ Union activities, access to buildings such as the library.