COVID-19 update

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1 July 2021: Message from the University Secretary – plans for autumn semester

Dear Colleagues 

The First Minister has confirmed that there will be further easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Scotland from Monday 19 July – moving to Level 0 – before the majority of remaining restrictions are lifted on Monday 9 August. This return to “almost complete normality” has been enabled by the successful vaccination programme breaking the link between the number of positive cases and the number of people taking seriously ill and being hospitalised.

While the situation remains uncertain and subject to change, the University must retain an agile approach to be able to respond to any change in government guidelines. At the present time, the route-map enables us to further build on our existing plans for autumn semester to ensure that students and staff enjoy the safest and best possible experience on campus.

Planning for autumn semester

We intend to retain our overarching planning assumptions for the autumn teaching semester. 

As previously communicated, we are planning for large lectures (for 50 people or more) to be online only, while in-person teaching is scheduled to resume for smaller groups – such as seminars and tutorials. These smaller sessions will take place in two-hour teaching blocks, with staggered start times to manage pedestrian flows, and enhanced ventilation and cleaning regimes in between classes.

The First Minister indicated, however, that after Monday 9 August, one metre physical distancing will no longer be a legal requirement. On this basis, although we have planned the autumn timetable on reduced in-person teaching numbers, our teaching rooms and labs will now be set up to accommodate full capacities. This will give staff the flexibility to bring together a greater number of students for pedagogic or community-building purposes. For example, those subjects with practical sessions – including science, nursing, digital media, languages, and computer science – can facilitate sessions without physical distancing in place.

Faculties have been asked to provide feedback about any enhancements or adaptations they might want to make to the timetables currently under development, in expectation of the one metre physical distancing potentially being lifted. The option to implement physical distancing in each teaching room will be maintained. This flexible approach enables us to respond and adapt to any future changes – whether that be the easing or tightening of restrictions.

In addition, we will continue to request staff and students sign in to buildings using the QR code, make hand sanitiser available, increase ventilation in rooms, and monitor government guidelines around the use of face coverings.

Staff are reminded, and as previously communicated, that to support the design of teaching using our technology-enabled rooms, Academic Development will offer drop-in events, and practice and training sessions throughout the summer. 

Transition back to campus and future working arrangements

When we move beyond Level 0 in August, and in line with Government guidance, we are planning for a gradual and phased transition back to the physical campus. 

While a number of colleagues have been working on campus throughout the pandemic, I recognise that, for many, August will mark a first return after a considerable period of remote working. It’s understandable if the prospect of more in-person meetings and face-to-face collaborative working elicits both excitement and trepidation, but please be assured that in managing this transition we will continue to prioritise your health and safety. The necessary arrangements and risk assessments are in place to facilitate this return and you will be fully supported by your faculty and directorate leadership teams.

The pandemic has imposed radical change on conventional working practices, and, throughout this unprecedented period, we have listened to a range of feedback from our community about individual and team experiences. As we look to regain more normality in all aspects of our lives, we want to retain and develop the best of what we have learned about working practices over the last 15 months. 

Your feedback has informed thinking that is ongoing to develop an institution-wide approach to progressive working practices. We are developing a principles-led, informal framework which will enable agile, responsive working arrangements. These will build on our successful use of technology, foster collaboration, and support teams to co-create working arrangements. In many cases, this approach will introduce greater flexibility about where colleagues can work from – be it safely together on campus, from home or elsewhere. More information about the principles and the framework will follow in due course.

I would like to extend my thanks to all of you for the continued contribution you are making to our pandemic response. In the meantime, I hope all of you manage to have some annual leave over the next couple of months – it has been a long, challenging year and it is important that everyone has an opportunity to get some well-earned rest.

Many thanks for your continued support and commitment. 

Best wishes 

Eileen Schofield
University Secretary and Chief Operating Officer
COVID Response Lead

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