University of Birmingham statement regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The University are monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and its impact, and doing all we can to make safe and reassure our staff and students. This statement will be regularly updated as the latest advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), World Health Organisation (WHO) and Public Health England (PHE) and other sources becomes available.
For more detailed information we are regularly updating the FAQs for staff and students to include the most up to date advice.
*Statement last updated: Thursday 10 September*
Over the summer we have been regularly briefing staff and students on the many measures we are taking to make the campus safe and in particular the work focused on the start of the academic year. As we move towards the start of the first semester we thought it would be useful to consolidate these measures in one update as a reminder of everything colleagues are doing to make the campus safe for us all.
In developing all of our plans and actions we have adhered to government guidelines and worked closely with the Director of Public Health for Birmingham, Birmingham City Council, Public Health England, and our own academic experts. We have taken a leadership role in convening discussions about safe reopening with other universities regionally and have been active nationally in sharing best practice and ensuring we are responding to the very latest advice and guidance. We have also worked closely with the Guild and with the local community (police, councillors, community representatives) to share our approach and develop our plans. Throughout, we have endeavoured to ensure that we have adopted a safe and pragmatic approach, recognising that we do all we can to support our students’ return to the University.
We understand that colleagues may be anxious about the rising number of cases nationally and regionally. We continue to closely monitoring the infection rates for the City of Birmingham and are in regular contact on this with the Director of Public Health, who continues to be very supportive of the range of measures we have in place to support safe campus re-opening and the arrival of our students. We also recognise that our plans may need to change if government advice changes and will keep the impact and effectiveness of these measures under constant review and continue to communicate any changes to staff and students. This includes reviewing the latest SAGE HE report which was published last Friday and the anticipated guidance from the Department of Education, which we are expecting this week.
As a reminder our approach to protecting staff and students and preventing the spread of Covid-19 includes:
Symptoms and testing
- Ensuring all staff and students are aware of the symptoms of Covid-19 and do not come onto campus if they are showing any
- Encouraging staff and students to get tested and self-isolate as soon as they start to show any symptoms
- Providing access to rapid testing on campus via the new walk-through test facility on South Car Park (open 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week) and our development of a Turnkey Laboratory in MDS as part of the national testing infrastructure. The combination of the two facilities provides a unique resource ensuring rapid symptomatic testing of our staff and students and the ability to provide rapid response testing in discussion with the City Director of Public Health should this be required.
- Taking a leadership role through the work of academic colleagues in MDS, notably Alan McNally, Andrew Beggs and Alex Richter, in the national development of both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing, through supporting the establishment of the Milton Keynes lighthouse laboratory and driving innovation in testing methodologies that will hopefully inform future national testing protocols. Asymptomatic testing in Universities is currently not viable due to the national scale of testing requirements, but our testing innovations are helping to inform possible future approaches
- Developing a Test, Trace, Protect process that complements the NHS and Public Health England process which we will be launching later on this week. This includes a proactive programme of identifying and contacting anyone who might have come into ‘close contact’ with a confirmed case on campus
- Developing outbreak management plans and contingency plans in the event of local lockdowns, through close working with regional public health and emergency planning organisations
Return to campus preparations including
- Providing all staff and students with a free, washable face-covering and mandating the wearing of face coverings in all buildings (including teaching spaces) where 2metre distancing is not possible, while recognising that some people may be exempt
- Ensuring safe social distancing arrangements are in place in all buildings and across campus with clear signage in all locations to help staff, students and visitors
- Developing a range of online resources including videos, animations, advice and guidance for staff and students about returning to campus and the changes in place
- Offering everyone returning to campus an opportunity to raise any concerns through a ‘return to work on campus’ conversation with their line manager and, where the conversation relates to personal health risks which require further advice, the opportunity for a referral to occupational health.
- Working with public transport providers and the sustainable transport team to support staff commuting and developing a car parking plan to ensure there are enough spaces available for staff who need to drive
- Developing a student community commitment as part of a package of measures with the Guild to set out advice and expectations for students around maintaining Covid-safe behaviours both on and off campus. This is very much in line with best practice advice from Government and regional Public Health.
Covid-related building risk assessments
- Ensuring that buildings are not opened until all of the mitigations in the Covid-related building risk assessments have been completed – copies of the risk assessments can be found on the intranet
- Undertaking specific teaching space risk assessments and ensuring that these integrate with existing building Risk Assessments take the flow of people in, out and around a building into account – with related advice and guidance on teaching spaces published next week.
- Providing the staff unions with the opportunity to review all Risk Assessments
Enhanced cleaning and hygiene measures
- Increasing cleaning and carrying out additional deep cleaning where required.
- Ensuring easy access to hand sanitising stations and cleaning materials such as wipes where required as part of a Risk Assessment.
- Promoting good hygiene measures including regular handwashing and using tissues to catch any coughs or sneezes.
Blended model of teaching and working
- Delivering bi-modal teaching with all lectures being delivered on-line and, where possible, practical sessions, labs and performances as well as small group sessions taking place in person.
- Enabling staff to work in a blended way combining some working on campus with working from home and having a rota system for staff where feasible.
- Providing online materials to support staff working on campus and from home.
- Providing weekly online personal academic tutorial sessions for all students.
- Investing in IT infrastructure and software to support distance working and learning including zoom and Microsoft 365 roll out
Student focused measures
- Delivering a staggered arrivals and welcome period which runs throughout September and October and providing an airport pickup service from London and Birmingham
- Providing a free 14 day quarantine package for international students staying in our halls who are required to self-isolate on arrival in the UK
- Developing a rolling ‘Welcome’ programme for new students including virtual events and small group, socially distanced activities
- Working in partnership with the Guild to ensure that we can deliver a positive and Covid-safe student experience particularly through engagement and commitment to a range of measures including a student community commitment.
This is new territory for us all and it is incumbent on everyone to take personal responsibility to protect not only our own health, but the health of our colleagues, friends and students.
Internal Communications Team
Update at 14:05 on Thursday 21 May
I know that many of you are keen to know what our arrangements will be for the phased start of campus reopening and the start of the next academic year. We continue to follow UK Government guidelines but inevitably there remains a high degree of uncertainty around this in terms of our physical return to campus and ‘normal operations’. What is also clear, is that the social distancing rules significantly restrict the numbers of staff we can safely have on campus at any one time.
Earlier this week, Council met and agreed a Framework for Campus Reopening which includes a set of principles and safe working measures, which are informed by government guidance, medical advice, and the need to ensure that the health and safety of our staff, students, and visitors remains central to our approach. This Framework sets out a phased approach to reopening, which is prioritised around critical research, education and student support, income generating activity and relevant professional services, and takes place across two broad phases.
Phase 1 will focus on the initial re-opening of campus starting on 1 June and running over the summer in stages. Phase 2 will run from the start of the 20/21 Academic Year in September.
The detailed plans for which activities and buildings will be prioritised in Phase 1 are currently being finalised and will be approved by the Provost, informed by the Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Education and Research, and the Registrar following discussions with Colleges. This will be a rolling programme: the initial focus will be on June and in the first weeks a limited number of priority buildings will re-open, with more buildings and activities re-opening in stages through July to September. It is important to note that in Phase 1, teaching, learning and assessment activity that is currently being provided online will stay online and continue to be improved and our focus in Phase 1 will be on re-opening facilities to support the 1500 student still in residence and other key student groups such as PGT.
Phase 2 will be informed by the Framework for Education Resilience 2020/21 that Professor Kathy Armour and the Directors of Education are currently developing. Our current working assumption is that we will open all key academic buildings and related facilities for the start of the Academic Year in September and to welcome our new and returning students.
More detail around what is included in each phase will be shared in the next few weeks, starting with the buildings re-opening in June.
While I recognise that some colleagues will be keen to return to campus, the principles in the Framework also set out that activity that is currently operating remotely from campus (from home) during restricted operations will continue to operate remotely unless there is a compelling reason to bring that activity back onto campus as part of the first phase of campus reopening. It is critical that only those who are identified in the plan to return to campus will be permitted to do so, otherwise staff safety will be put at risk. However, we also recognise that in order to support colleagues who will continue to work remotely during the first two phases we will need to develop a support package of measures and this is being worked on at the moment.
As part of the Framework, we have identified a range of measures to support safe working for returning to campus, informed by governance guidance on workplaces and research labs. Health and safety will be a central consideration and the measures will include: safe social distancing arrangements, cleaning and sanitisation, staggered shift patterns, guidance on face coverings, public transport and car parking, and limits on mass gatherings in order to operate safely. This means that space across campus will have to be used flexibly and staff and students that return to working on campus during Phase 1 and 2 will be expected to work in those premises that have reopened, which may be a change from their normal working location. In addition, we are also working with colleagues within MDS to explore measures like tracing, testing, and temperature checking for those who are back on campus.
New guidance and materials addressing these measures to help staff and students work safely on campus during these initial phases of reopening will be shared in the next few weeks.
While there remains a great deal of uncertainty, I hope in sharing our approach and principles this starts to provide some clarity and reassurance. As I have mentioned Phase 2 of the reopening plan will run from the start of the new academic year. I am pleased to confirm that we are planning on the basis that there will be no change to our autumn term dates. As you will have seen from the email from Professor Kathy Armour, given the uncertainty about the evolution of the Covid-19 crisis through the next academic year, we have taken the decision to prepare to teach both on-campus and online. This will increase the resilience of education, while also ensuring we can follow the latest guidance on social distancing. It also recognises that some Covid-vulnerable students and staff may find it challenging to be on campus for quite some time.
You may also have read about the sector, and individual university approaches to the current crisis, and the impact it will have on their financial position. Whilst I welcome the sector deal from government, no new money for universities has been announced, and it will not, on its own, ensure a strong future for the University. We need to ensure that the future of our university is secure through the measures we take, whilst also recognising the income into the University could be very significantly reduced next year, and possibly in subsequent years. We will not know our position fully until the student recruitment round is clearer from September. In the meantime, we are working on a number of scenarios and taking prudent measures, such as pausing the capital plan and controlling staff recruitment and non-pay costs. We will need to balance the needs to save costs with ensuring that we are ready to adapt so our recovery is as positive as possible.
I would encourage you to continue to read the Daily Updates, which will keep you informed about our phased return to campus and new working arrangements, as well as visiting the intranet where you will find more detail and FAQs. We will keep our approach to reopening under review and learn from the experiences as we work through each stage, recognising that we will need to adapt to any changes in government guidelines and associated developments.
As always, I want to thank you for the work you are doing in these unusual circumstances and the adaptability and commitment you are showing. I would also like to pass on the thanks of Council who were very appreciative of all of the hard work of colleagues across the University to transition so rapidly to remote working when we moved to restricted campus operations and of the work that is currently underway to plan and prepare for the phased reopening of campus over the next few months. I am confident that by working as a team, with focus, and our desire to maintain all that is great about the University, and especially our staff and students, we will continue to respond positively to the challenges we face.
Professor Sir David Eastwood
Vice-Chancellor and Principal