Weekly update from the Vice-Chancellor - 02/10/2020

Posted in: Weekly Update

Dear colleague,

A new academic year

The past week has been a time of great change for the University, as we embark on a new academic year in an unprecedented manner.

This week has, of course, marked a significant milestone as we start our new Semester. I would like to thank most sincerely all colleagues who have begun their ‘Bath Blend’ of in-person and online teaching over the last few days. I know the first week has not been without its obstacles, but the feedback from many academic colleagues has been positive so far and many students have already expressed their gratitude for the enormous efforts made by staff. Please do keep communicating with us, either directly or through Heads of Department, so we know what is going well and what we might need to adjust.

The reduced numbers on campus are very evident as are the numerous safety measures we have in place. I do hope we can maintain good levels of engagement with our students over the next few weeks.

I have also been pleased to see the work of Cassie Wilson, Keith Zimmerman and Jane Loveys, alongside the SU and many colleagues, in putting on Covid-secure extra-curricular activities, including in the East Village.

The atmosphere has been very positive, and from what we can gather, these efforts have been very well received. I’m pleased to say that the new study space in Lewis House has now been fully prepared, and that we have just signed the lease for a property in Dartmouth Avenue which will provide more space for extracurricular activities and community outreach. These activities will continue to play a vital role in helping students connect, form friendships and learn new skills.

I know that it will take significant, collective effort to offer appropriate support to each student this year. May I particularly thank and recognise the important work of the personal tutors, student supervisors, and student support and wellbeing services. I would also like to thank our colleagues in accommodation, security and hospitality who have such extensive daily interaction with our student community and play a large part in creating a caring and supportive environment.

Many of you have already poured a huge amount of time, effort and care into supporting our students this year. Ensuring we have the right support in place is going to be vital, particularly as loneliness and isolation may be greater challenges for some of our students this semester. My heartfelt thanks to you all for your hard work and dedication and for continuing to contribute to a genuinely caring community.

Covid cases amongst our University community

Following my e-mail a fortnight ago, I wanted to update you on the current status of Covid-19 cases amongst our community. We have established clear ways of working through daily morning meetings, closely following our existing plans to monitor and respond to any new developments. We have systems in place for staff and students to Isolate, Test and Tell and it is vital that we all follow this process so the University is aware of people who have symptoms or who have tested positive. The testing process is working smoothly, with Security colleagues enabling students to be safely transported to nearby testing sites, and results typically coming back within 24-48 hours.

We have very recently had the first case of a student living on campus having a positive test for Covid-19. This student is self-isolating along with their whole household. We have robust support systems in place for self-isolating households in University accommodation, including:

  • The provision of three meals and snacks every day
  • A central hub of support for any other needs such as food and medicine or access to technology, staffed 24/7
  • Laundry services
  • Additional virtual exercise classes being provided by Team Bath
  • Wellbeing support in place for those who need it
  • E-mails and letters to those students affected, outlining sources of support

We are also in contact with both student households off campus and with staff members who are self-isolating and we are providing any appropriate help if needed. My sincere thanks to our retail, events and security teams for providing this very important support.

Supporting our staff

I am pleased to see so much progress has been made in providing suitable, risk-assessed spaces to work on campus for those colleagues who need them, and that processes are in place to ensure that those of you who need to continue to work from home have the right tools for the job. Opportunities for teams to meet safely continue to be made available for all departments.

Whilst we are connected by our collective endeavours as a University community, I am acutely aware of the disparity in experience amongst colleagues who will be working in quite different circumstances over the coming months. Having opportunities to engage and communicate with each other will remain crucial, so we will be continuing our virtual town hall meetings. We will also be running another staff survey so we understand the experiences and views of our staff and can respond appropriately, so please do complete this when it reaches you. The results of the last survey were discussed at University Executive Board and helped inform our decisions there and at our Programme Board meetings.

New local collaborations

Since rejoining the University, I have been keen to find ways in which the University can strengthen our connections with the City of Bath, for example through the ‘Our Shared Future’ initiative launched at the start of this year. Of course, our University community has played an enormously valuable role during the pandemic including in the provision of PPE and accommodation for NHS workers. This has underlined the importance of our actions, as well as words, in relation to our neighbours and partners here in Bath.

This week, I was pleased to lend our support to a new campaign, Bath Unlimited, showcasing Bath and North East Somerset’s successful companies and organisations. The initiative, which is a collaboration between B&NES Council, Royds Withy King, Mytton Williams and ourselves came out of the Economic Recovery and Renewal Partnership and is designed to attract new inward investment to our city and region.

We have also been pleased, working with B&NES and public health officials, to be able to provide space for a new walk-in testing centre opening on the ground floor of Carpenter House. The testing centre, announced by Government today, is part of the national testing system and will be open to University members and the general public via the NHS booking system. My sincere thanks to those colleagues who have shown real flexibility in enabling this to happen and for ensuring there are Covid-secure systems in place, such as separate entrances and exits for different users of the building and facilities. We all know how important effective testing and tracing will continue to be and we hope that by playing our part in this way we will benefit not only our University community but also our local friends and neighbours in the city and region.

Finally, I am delighted to share with you the news that our Master’s course in Data Science has been cited as one of the 10 Best AI and Data Science Master’s courses globally, in Forbes. This is a terrific achievement and one which is the result of very hard work and commitment. I am sure that you will wish to join me in congratulating all those involved on this outstanding accolade.

Alec Unsgaard and Martin Bowers 

You will have seen the published statement about Alec Unsgaard yesterday. May I take the opportunity again to extend our deepest sympathies at this most difficult time to the families and friends of Alec and Martin. They will continue to be in our thoughts as the semester evolves.

With warm good wishes,

Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President

Posted in: Weekly Update


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