We hope you managed to have a peaceful break over Christmas, despite the challenging environment we are in.
We appreciate that yesterday’s government announcement about a new national lockdown will cause further anxiety and are aware that for many this continues to be a challenging time. As promised last week, we are now issuing more detailed guidance to staff about the implications for work on campus and at home. It is also important to note that we are still awaiting further detail and clarification from the Department for Education and BEIS but we can confirm that, while restrictions have tightened considerably since the autumn, this lockdown differs from the situation last March. The University will remain open to support students already resident, to facilitate teaching, including face-to-face teaching for those on a defined number of exempt programmes (medicine, allied health, teacher training and social care), and to sustain research requiring specialist facilities, including libraries.
We recognise that the abrupt closure of schools until February half-term will have created significant challenges for many staff, but are pleased to let you know that, today, we have been informed that higher education staff, whether working on campus or working from home (for example, marking assessments), are viewed as key workers whose children can be considered for continued attendance at school. We will be in touch as soon as we can to advise what steps you need to take, and what verification the University may need to provide for schools. You may wish to approach schools to clarify any local criteria in operation and indeed their capacity for the children of key workers; until the position has been clarified, please ensure that you use your “best endeavours” to manage work alongside other responsibilities. We note also that, unlike the situation last March, early years provision, including nurseries and childcare are expected to remain open under the new restrictions, and as part of this, the University nurseries will remain open and childcare “bubbles” are permitted.
While there is now a clear imperative to reduce unnecessary personal contact and to minimise journeys from home, the government has continued to confirm that universities have taken the necessary steps to ensure safe working environments and have been asked to remain open to support those students who have remained on campus, including more than 1000 in our own student accommodation, as well as those on exempt programmes (medicine, allied health, teacher training and social care) who have started to return this week and will continue to receive in-person teaching under government requirements.
We are awaiting further clarification on research, which was not mentioned in last night’s announcements, but anticipate that the government’s aim to keep university research going will mean research staff will continue to have access to specialist facilities (laboratories, equipment, libraries) as and when required and where these cannot be accessed remotely. Our current understanding is that postgraduate research students will be treated on the same terms as workers in terms of access to research facilities on campus where these facilities are essential to their research. We will provide further detail on research when we receive the updated DfE and BEIS guidance.
There is also a need to provide a range of critical services to students and staff, as well as to ensure the safety, security and effective operation of campus buildings and facilities.
The government has updated its guidance to universities about the timing of resuming face-to-face teaching with the expectation that, apart from the small number of exempt programmes noted above, teaching will be online only until mid-February. There is also very clear guidance about the steps necessary to ensure the safe return of students, including the completion of two asymptomatic COVID-19 tests, three days apart, in advance of any return to on-campus activity, and to support those students who are permitted to return our LFD testing site will open today as planned.
For the vast majority of UoB students, in-person teaching was not scheduled to begin until early February at the beginning of Semester 2. The Directors of Education will now work with Heads of School to put in place the contingency plans for Semester 2 to begin with online teaching only. In the meantime, assessments and the UoBe festival will continue online as planned. Students are naturally anxious about how this lockdown will affect their progress and ability to graduate, with growing calls for different types of ‘no detriment’ policies. We were very successful in supporting our students to graduate successfully last academic year, and we made changes then that will help. We are currently revising our policies based on the circumstances in which we find ourselves this academic year and in light of the latest guidance from government and anything that is likely to emerge from the OfS. Please reassure students that we will continue to do everything we can to support them to achieve their full potential while also maintaining the integrity of their degree for successful employment or further study.
We will continue to review all of our on-campus safety measures to protect those continuing to work on campus and to ensure that these are fit for purpose and reflective of all recent health and safety guidance. Risk assessments are reviewed regularly and any changes are published on the intranet. To provide further support for staff who will be coming onto campus during this period, we are aiming to provide regular access to the Lateral Flow Device screening tests, which are for people without symptoms. We will provide more information about how to book these tests in the next few days.
For reference, we have updated below the previous guidance about working on campus and working at home for the period up to mid-February 2021. It is of course subject to any further changes from government.
Staff who should continue to work on campus until mid-February 2021
In some of the categories below, a full-time presence on campus will be required; in others, it will be as agreed with the line manager on a part-time or occasional basis with the remainder of working time spent working from home. If an occasional presence on campus is required, think how the number of journeys to campus can be minimised;
- those delivering face-to-face teaching on the small number of permitted programmes, staff supporting those who deliver such teaching, and those required to support any other form of academic interaction as determined by their College;
- those providing support and other services to students who are resident in Birmingham or are permitted to access campus facilities having fulfilled the advice for testing or self-isolation. In addition, those providing support and other services to staff continuing to work on campus where a campus presence is required to deliver that support.
- Researchers (including postgraduate research students) are permitted to access campus to use specialist facilities or equipment (including library resources) having considered how to maximise the opportunities for working from home;
- Technical staff supporting continuing research on campus;
- all those responsible for the safety and security of campus buildings and equipment;
- all those providing those campus services, including nurseries, for staff, students and others on campus, which remain consistent with current restrictions;
- all those providing essential health screening services and Covid-related testing for staff or students where these cannot be delivered remotely;
- all those who need to manage or provide the effective handover of information, materials or University property as a result of resignation or departure under VLS.
Staff who need not work on campus during January/ early February 2021
Reflecting public health guidance, any member of staff not in a category listed above whose work can be undertaken effectively from home.
Staff who may work on campus during January/early February 2021
We have previously recognised that some staff may not be able to work effectively from home due to personal circumstances or may feel that their mental health is adversely affected by remote working. Although most buildings will remain open, given the strong public health message that only essential journeys should be undertaken this can only be with the explicit agreement of the Director of Professional Services or the College Director of Operations and with due regard to health and safety considerations, including maintenance of social distancing rules and the avoidance of lone working.
Staff who should not under any circumstance work on campus during January/early February 2021
- Any member of staff who has been through a return to work on campus assessment and has been advised by Occupational Health or a medical professional (including a midwife in respect of pregnancy) not to travel to work on campus.
- Staff in the clinically extremely vulnerable category (those shielding) for whom current guidance is that they should not to travel to work, even where their work cannot be undertaken remotely.
Buildings and facilities
We are currently reviewing the impact of yesterday evening’s guidance on our facilities and services and we will provide more detail over the next few days but anticipate that the majority of buildings will remain open including laboratories, research facilities, libraries and study spaces, as well as a limited number of catering outlets.
We understand that this creates a level of uncertainty and thank staff for their continued support and patience as we work through the latest guidance and ensure we can continue to operate the University in a Covid-safe way for those who will need to continue to come on to campus for education, research and work.