A statement from our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir David Eastwood - Thursday 19 March 2020 (update at 17:00)
I wanted to write to you following this afternoon’s meeting of the Strategic Emergency Response Team.
I have approved the recommendation to move to restricted campus operations from 17:00 on Friday 20 March and further details are below.
A significant amount of work and planning has taken place to ensure that the University is in the best possible place to ensure that we meet the needs of our staff, students and our wider campus operations, and can respond quickly to the latest government announcements during this unprecedented time. For example, the speed with which colleagues have engaged with the transition to fully online teaching and learning delivery in this challenging time is testament to what we can do when we come together as a community.
It is important to note that whilst schools are closing from this Friday, research-intensive, residential universities like ours do far more than teaching and it is critical that we are able to provide services so that we can support those students that need to remain on campus and continue with core and essential national research.
Restricted campus operations from 17:00 on Friday 20 March
I have also agreed to bring forward the move to restricted campus operations from 5pm on Friday, 20 March until 1 June at the earliest. This means that from 5pm tomorrow the majority of buildings will be closed and most staff will be working from home. However, a defined number of buildings that have been identified as essential will remain partially or fully open through the period of restricted campus operation but will only be accessible to specific staff for pre-agreed reasons. We also recognise that some buildings or facilities may require several days to fully close and line managers will advise staff if they are required on site after Friday 20th March to support this. If you are required to be on campus during the period of restricted campus operations please ensure that you are wearing your University ID.
While the majority of students have already returned home and will remain at home until campus returns to normal operations, we will be keeping the student residences open to support those students who are unable to return home. The Main Library will be closed from 5pm on Friday 20th March but we are enhancing our online library services and will be identifying alternative study space on campus for those students who are unable to travel home. The Guild will also be closing from Friday 20th March.
Recognition of staff contribution
There will be a requirement for certain groups of staff to deliver and support essential services across campus during this period of restricted campus operations and I am extremely grateful to those staff from across our community. We also want to more formally recognise this group of staff, taking account of the principles underpinning our existing reward practices. We have therefore agreed from 30 March to provide a special payment of £75 per week to this group of people, which will be paid retrospectively in full when the campus fully reopens. This payment will be for staff up to and including grade 8 who are authorised to be on campus during the period of restricted operations and will be pro-rata dependent on hours worked during the week.
Staff working remotely
IT has produced a guide to using University laptops or personal computers at home in order for staff to be able to continue to work effectively and deliver our core activities. The guide can be accessed via the FAQ page as part of an updated Home Working Guide produced by HR and IT.
Removal of any university property such as monitors and associated items must be agreed by a Senior Officer/Head of College (or delegated nominees such as Heads of School or Directors of Operations) and logged in the asset registers which all areas already manage. This is critical in enabling the University to be able to return to normal operations quickly and effectively when we are allowed to do so.
We also recognise that working remotely will be challenging, and ensuring that staff remain connected with the University and engaged with their teams is very important and our internal communications team are currently developing some new channels and approaches to help with this, alongside the guidance from HR on maintaining regular one-to-ones and team meetings.
While we are learning to operate in uncharted ways, it is really important that the normal provisions for taking annual leave, which is provided for rest and recuperation, continue to apply and staff should be supported to take their annual leave throughout the period of restricted campus operations as they would do normally. We recognise that due to travel disruption and cancellations staff may wish to change their leave dates but we do expect that they will use their leave allocation during the current leave period. We will continue to apply the normal carry over limit of 5 days annual leave into the next annual leave year to be taken within 3 months of the start of the new annual leave year (beginning 1 January for Support staff, and 1 October for AoR/Academic staff).
All line managers should work to ensure overall holiday plans for their areas are manageable and will not hamper the ability of the University to function both during the restricted operations period but also critically when we start to resume the breadth of our activity on campus.
Approach to refunds and paid services
There are a number of paid-for services which will inevitably be impacted by the restricted operations of the University including Meal Plan arrangements for students, subscriptions to Sport and Fitness, and nurseries. We have developed specific approaches for each of these depending on the nature of the service and are communicating directly with those who may be affected.
Student recruitment and admissions
Teams from across the University have been working together since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure that the needs of both our current and prospective students were being considered and addressed. In addition to the transition to online teaching and assessment for current students, in recent weeks this work has moved from helping students to return to their home countries – both international students based here and home students on a year abroad, to considering how we might deliver pre-sessional education for international students. Yesterday’s announcement by the government that students in England will not be sitting their A Levels this summer creates another layer of uncertainty. We are expecting more information from the government tomorrow and will share a more detailed update around this in the coming days. We have already communicated with our applicants and offer holders to reconfirm our commitment to them as future University of Birmingham students.
I would like to thank you all for your continued commitment during this unprecedented time. The pace at which colleagues have worked to implement these changes has been remarkable and I am sure that this will enable the University to continue to deliver our core activities and to be ready to return to normal when we are permitted to do so.
With best wishes
Vice-Chancellor and Principal