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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff - 07/05/20

Dear colleague,

There have been a number of important developments even since my email to you a week ago. The government has made its response to UUK’s request for financial support, and we have given more thought to how to address the financial problems we are facing. It is also clear that as infection and mortality rates fall, we are nearing the end of the strict lockdown period that has been in force since March 23, although it is equally clear that any relaxation will be gradual and will not mean a return to normal.

On that, we are making plans to reopen the University gradually over the coming months, although that has to be subject to extensive caveat because there will be a limit to the numbers we can allow on to campus at any one time. At the moment, the broad thinking is that we should initially begin to open our research facilities and plan to reintroduce face to face teaching where there is no realistic remote alternative from September. We will need to continue to restrict access, and so working from home must continue to be the default position for those who do not need to come to campus for their research, teaching or other work. This will continue for the foreseeable future. Re-opening will be a gradual process and will require much detailed planning. At the moment it is not clear when we will be able to return to unrestricted access, but we can assume that it may take at least a year to 18 months, and it may well be longer.

There are still a great deal of unknown factors, including what the government guidance and regulation will be in respect of social distancing, face-coverings, testing, contact tracing, isolation regimes and the like. Clearly, we will need to liaise closely with Public Health Wales and other relevant authorities as we consider these matters. I am in the process of setting up a task force which I will lead myself in order to co-ordinate all aspects of the re-opening and take the key decisions. As well as determining building capacity, priorities for access, biosecurity (hygiene facilities and disinfecting procedures) and expectations of individuals coming on to campus (face-mask wearing, compliance with social distancing), we will also need to ensure public confidence in the measures we are taking.

All of the above matters are in development and subject to change, and so I have recorded a video which you can see here, rather than trying to write it all down which would result in rather a long email. Since like most of us I am working from home the quality and setting are on the informal side, for reasons that I hope everybody will understand.

Because of the emergency, Council held an extra meeting earlier this week, at which I was able to present a revised version of The Way Forward 2018-23, taking account of the huge changes that we have all experienced and can expect into the future. The major constraints on our teaching and research activity will have profound effects that will only gradually come into focus in the coming months. However, it seems clear that we need to focus on weathering a stormy period over the next year or so rather than on our comparative performance as a university, and so matters like league table position and other performance indicators will need to take second place. We will need to recognise that our top priority must be the health, safety and wellbeing of our students and staff, and that financial sustainability will be critical in securing that. In essence, we must ensure that the University comes through a period of severe financial constraint that is likely to last at least two years, emerging in as robust a form as possible to play our role in recovering from the unprecedented deleterious economic and social effects of the crisis. We must set out clearly what that role is and why we matter for the benefit not only of the government but of all our stakeholders, including the general public as well as our local communities and partners. This will require a different strategic approach in which we have at the forefront of our mind five critical success factors. In addition to the health of all University members and financial sustainability, we will need to focus on student satisfaction and experience in these unprecedented circumstances, on how to deliver research grants and contracts, and how to reformulate our civic mission to ensure that we contribute effectively to the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Council endorsed the proposals and the next stage will be to consult widely on the reformulated Way Forward strategy, so we will be in touch in the coming weeks to let you know how you can make your views known and take part in the debate. We will all need to work together to get through the coming difficult period and it’s important that we gather views widely on how we should approach this at a strategic level.

Before I close, I want to draw your attention to a research project led by Dr Athanasios Hassoulas of the School of Medicine, which aims to investigate the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on people with traits and symptoms of OCD, specifically those with obsessional and contamination-related symptoms of the conditions. The hope is that the research will identify key areas to target in developing tailored interventions that could be delivered remotely. The team would like to recruit enough participants over the next couple of months to get started with data analysis over the summer. If you would like to participate, you can find out more information and access the survey here.

This research project is also a timely reminder of the huge hidden costs of the pandemic. There are all kinds of effects that will not be immediately apparent but there are also those that the emergency has highlighted. Health inequalities for example, as well as the potential for blaming particular ethnic groups or nationalities, and the extremely damaging effects that loss of income can have on families that were in any case struggling to make ends meet. The crisis does not mean that we should ignore pre-existing matters of great concern such as race equality, and I am keen to continue the work we have done in this and other similar areas. I don’t want anybody to be overburdened but please do let me know if you have ideas and suggestions for how we should take this work forward during what could be a prolonged period of adjusting to the existence of COVID-19 in our world.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan