Monday evening’s address to the nation by the Prime Minister, announcing more stringent measures to control the spread of coronavirus, marks a significant shift for all of us, not only practically, but emotionally and psychologically. Clearly, it is of paramount importance that we follow instructions to stay within our household groups and to go out only on essential errands for provisions or medicines, or essential work, or for exercise. As we do so we must keep at least 2m away from anybody not in our household, avoid touching street furniture and wash hands as soon as we return.
We have to recognise that these are the only means we presently have to slow the spread of the virus, and we need to be prepared for these measures to be in place for a long time. When they are ultimately relaxed — and they are likely to be tightened before that happens — they will probably be need to be reintroduced as soon as the virus begins to spread again, until such time as an effective vaccine is produced and mass inoculation has taken place. We must prepare ourselves psychologically for the long haul, and recognise the practical implications of that. The human cost of allowing the virus free rein, or freer rein, are considerable and not confined to those in the high-risk categories. Not at ‘higher risk’ does not mean ‘not at risk’, as I’m sure everybody appreciates.
University Executive Board will be discussing the implications of longer lasting, potentially repeated restrictions this week, and Council will be doing the same at its virtual meeting next week.
I know that the impact of school closures and home working is very considerable on your lives. Let me, once again, be absolutely clear that we are aware that these changes to our world mean that compromises will be necessary. We cannot expect a colleague with considerable caring responsibilities, and no way of relieving or sharing the burden, to be able to fit in a normal amount of work. It is also clear that many people will be working in sub-optimal conditions, where equipment is not operating as desired, or there is not enough of it, or the right kind of furniture is not available, or where it is difficult to work undisturbed for any period of time. There may be insufficient peace and quiet to concentrate.
For this reason we have issued some new guidance to line managers. At a time like this, their role is key to ensuring that team members feel supported. Line managers should continue to stay in regular contact with their team and additional advice, issued today, on what this might look like, as well as additional resources to support you in doing this, can be found here. Please refer to these pages on a regular basis, because additional information will appear over the next few days on supporting staff who are self-isolating or have become ill.
From all the conversations I have had with colleagues across the institution, it is clear that the overwhelming desire of staff is to help, to contribute, to do what they can to complete their work, support students, maintain the research effort or support the University’s endeavours as they normally would, or close to it. But with the best will in the world we are all going to have to compromise to some degree and I want you to know that there is understanding for that.
We will need to adjust our expectations regarding what outputs we can expect and how much work people can do in these circumstances. We will have to be very clear — even ruthless — about our priorities. We need to decide what is genuinely essential and needs to be delivered at this stage and what can wait. We will give as much guidance as we can but a useful way of doing this is to ask what is important? What is urgent? Focussing on important, urgent matters allows us to set priorities effectively. We must also give some thought to back-up plans if people are off sick for a period of time and be aware of areas where staff absences would quickly cause us problems. If we can think these things through in advance, we will find them easier to deal with.
On the academic side, questions of how much assessment we can realistically do, and what we can expect from students during this period, many of whom will be facing the same constraints as staff in terms of working conditions and access to resources, will need to be resolved quickly. There is no point in imposing unrealistic pressure on ourselves and others when the answer may have to be a compromise that we would not normally contemplate, but that in the circumstances is the best option.
The principle that no student should be disadvantaged in terms of their achievement as a result of the crisis is an important one. We have a framework for assessment which allows variations to normal practice, and we will be producing further guidance as soon as we can, because it is also not helpful to have a free-for-all. We do need Schools to be operating within certain limits but with the flexibility to arrange assessments in ways that suit their particular needs and those of staff and students.
Our overall priority remains the health and wellbeing of all members of the University. Academically, we want to ensure that our students expecting to graduate this year are able to do so. Let us focus on those high-level priorities and see what we can achieve together.
You may have heard that the Research Excellence Framework has been put on hold. The census date of 31 July remains in place, but the submission date of 27 November 2020 will no longer apply. Further detail will be made available by Research England in due course. This will help relieve some of the pressure on universities as we focus on the crisis.
Students and parents are also concerned about financial pressures. We have therefore decided to release students from their accommodation agreements if they do not plan to stay in their Cardiff University accommodation after Easter. An announcement to this effect is going out to students today. We felt it was the right thing to do for our student body. We are putting in place a number of measures to support those who are staying in Halls of Residence over Easter and beyond.
Being in lockdown means changes to the way we manage our buildings. The only buildings we are keeping open are Halls of Residence, and those areas requested by the NHS. All other buildings will be shut, with access granted only to essential or key workers. We have almost completed our list of these workers and we will be in touch with the relevant individuals to explain how to gain access. This is not the same as a Christmas shutdown. Our measures are far more stringent and there will be far fewer support staff on site. As a result, staff are reminded not to use lifts or to access water systems, because inspection and testing regimes will not have taken place. Anyone not on essential business will not be granted access to the buildings.
For all our information, please see our intranet pages on the coronavirus pandemic.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has called on all British nationals to return to the UK immediately. As a result, we are seeking to contact all staff and students overseas urging them to follow FCO advice and return home as soon as possible. We will support their return as best and as swiftly as we can.
One or two more points before I close. Firstly, there may well be colleagues whose job is difficult to do at the moment, or who cannot carry out their work off-site but are not on the list of those who require on-site access. Please let us know if you have spare capacity and would like to be assigned other work. This could even be community work associated with our civic mission, if that can be arranged, or remote working to assist areas that are under pressure. If that is the case please do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, but it is important to ensure (in consultation with your line manager) that you will indeed have the time, and it is also worth considering whether you might have any training needs for an unfamiliar role. If you have any ideas about how the University could be helping more generally in the effort to slow the spread of coronavirus and deal with its consequences please send them to the same address.
Secondly and finally, again another very big thank you to everybody for the matchless commitment, mutual support and fantastic goodwill you have shown in coming together in this time of national emergency and social need. It is magnificent, and moving. Thank you all so much.
With best wishes