At the outset, I want to acknowledge that, for many of us across our University, the first two weeks back at work have felt very difficult. I know we were all hoping the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic was behind us, but I am very aware that for many the current situation is concerning.
Of course, the roll out of the vaccination programme gives us cause for hope, but we need to face the possibility that the next few weeks could bring changing Government guidance, and perhaps even further restrictions. I appreciate that every time this happens, we need to review and reimagine a whole raft of measures across the University, often changing what we do and how we do it to help keep all members of our community safe. And I know this feels exhausting at times, but it couldn’t be more essential.
Times of real pressure, even crisis, can show the true measure of organisations. The challenge of Covid-19 has brought out the very best in our community, even though I know it has not been easy. Our culture of care is going to be of fundamental importance, and pulling together and supporting one another will help us to get through the challenge ahead.
National lockdown and Covid-secure measures
Under this national lockdown in England, you can only leave home for work purposes “where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home”. Therefore, you shouldn’t come to campus unless you need to do so for your work. If you can delay your trip to campus, please stay at home.
This week, Heads of Department have been sent new guidance about ‘critical workers’ and our Director of Human Resources and Chair of the Health and Safety Committee, Richard Brooks, has also circulated information about the need to review local risk assessments for essential activity taking place on campus and in University buildings.
The key message is to avoid close contact of less than 2 metres with other people not in your household group, especially in an indoor setting. Where this is not possible, time spent within two metres of other people should be kept to the absolute minimum. The ‘Hands, Face, Space’ message is more important than ever, and the use of face coverings, ventilation and good hand hygiene continue to be vital.
Covid-19 testing for students and staff
As you know, we are taking part in the UK Government’s national programme of asymptomatic Covid-19 lateral flow tests at universities. Although the number of cases amongst our community remains low, particularly among the student body, the prevalence of the virus in the UK is high with a significant proportion of infected people being asymptomatic.
We are keen that all members of our community working or studying on campus have the opportunity to access this testing facility. This will help identify local asymptomatic carriers and reduce the risk of onward transmission. If you’re working on campus, we’d encourage you to consider booking a test.
Please remember, this lateral flow testing is only for people who do not have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, please do not come to campus and follow our ‘Isolate, Test, Tell’ guidance.
Changing senior roles for Professor Jonathan Knight and Professor Peter Lambert
Looking ahead to later this year, I wanted to update you on two forthcoming changes within the senior team.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to both Professor Jonathan Knight (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Research) and Professor Peter Lambert (Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Learning & Teaching) for their leadership and service to the University. Both colleagues will be finishing their current roles at the University in the summer but have kindly agreed to continue sharing their expertise to lead the University in other areas, with Jonathan leading the University’s enterprise activities, and Peter representing the University in the local community on student matters and leading on issues concerning student conduct.
Both Peter and Jonathan have played vital roles in leading our education and research agendas over a period of six years, and in helping us to navigate the unprecedented challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has brought us in recent months. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
I have greatly appreciated their insight and advice and we will have plenty of time to thank them fully before the end of the academic year, when I hope Covid rules may allow us to gather in person.
I am most grateful that the timescales enable us to make a smooth and well-planned transition, following the Research Excellence Framework 2021 process and the introduction of the Bath Blend. We will be updating our community again in due course with details around the timescale of appointments to these important senior roles.
Rent rebate for students in University managed accommodation
As you are aware, there have been growing calls by our SU and the wider student body to issue a rent rebate for those students who have University accommodation they are not able to use due to current lockdown restrictions.
In common with many other universities, following the approval of our overall approach by our governing body, Council, the University has agreed to a rent rebate covering 4 January to 14 February for those students who are not using their rooms. Further details can be found on our webpages.
This decision has not been taken lightly given the unprecedented pressure on our University finances driven by this pandemic, and we continue to work actively with Universities UK on clarifying with Government whether there is likely to be any financial support for the sector. However, the most important factor will be effective measures to control Covid cases nationally so we can welcome back students to Bath both this academic year and next, and indeed more of our colleagues onto campus, and get back to operating as productively and effectively as possible.
Assessments and no detriment: an update
I would like to extend my best wishes to all those across academic departments and professional services involved in the current assessment period. Moving to a new, online model of assessment has been, I appreciate, a significant undertaking and I’m most grateful for the hard work that has made it possible.
You may also be aware that the issue of ‘no detriment’ has been raised by students and by the SU in recent weeks. Last week, Professor Peter Lambert, our Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching) shared with you the update we sent to students on our no detriment measures. This week, following consultation with Senate, we have also introduced an additional measure which should help give further reassurance to students. Boards of Examiners for Programmes will now be allowed to use the additional discretion available in the Individual Mitigating Circumstances (IMC) regulations, if that is appropriate in a student’s academic circumstances, regardless of whether they have a valid IMC claim. Of course, this assessment period only represents part of this academic year and we will keep our approach under consideration in the coming months.
Finally, may I congratulate Joshua Hale, Volunteer Coordinator for the SU, for being recognised in the New Year Honour’s List for services to the community in Bath during the Covid-19 response. Joshua has been working tirelessly to support thousands of volunteers who signed up with 3SG, which supports charities and social enterprises in Bath and North East Somerset. Many congratulations on this much deserved recognition. We were also delighted for, and warmly congratulate, Peter Troughton, who recently completed his terms as Pro-Chancellor, on being awarded a CVO.
With warm good wishes,
Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President