Covid-19 update: New Gov guidance
My update focuses on the new Government guidance on in-person teaching, my thoughts on recent research funding decisions, and finally an update on the conversation we have started about how we will work in the future.
New Government guidance
The long-anticipated Government guidance came on Tuesday evening, confirming in-person teaching will not be available for classroom-based programmes until 17 May at the earliest. This is, of course, when the summer common assessment period begins for many of our students, and when much of our scheduled teaching finishes.
We have planned for this, but I have expressed my disappointment with both the decision and the length of time it has taken for the Government to provide this guidance.
I have written to taught students to update them (UG and PGT) and I continue to make it clear that students are able to return to York if they feel that their current learning and living environment is unsuitable for effective learning, or if being in York will be better for their wellbeing.
Roadmap resilience, with a focus on testing
My email to students also reiterated that whilst it is good to see some of the lockdown restrictions easing, it is also clear that we must continue to be careful if we are to progress to Step 3 on the roadmap on 17 May, and move beyond it to the general removal of restrictions anticipated on 21 June.
The Department for Education has made it very clear that regular rapid results covid testing is an important part of this for universities. We have set up such a comprehensive partnership with the City of York and all students and staff making use of University facilities can and should get tested twice a week, 3 days apart.
This is becoming easier and easier with home testing kits now available in York, which students and staff can collect from both City pharmacies and test centres on campus and elsewhere in the city.
We are encouraging everyone to build testing into their routine, if not done so already. For me, I’ve been using the test centre in the sports hall twice a week till now, but yesterday picked up a stock of home test kits and now plan a twice-weekly swabbing session at the kitchen table with the rest of my family!
As part of its latest announcement, the Government has also shared an additional £15m in hardship funding. While this is welcome - every little helps - it is to be spread across all universities in England and will make little practical difference. We will continue to provide hardship and emergency support funding, targeted at those most in need, at much higher levels than the Government has provided.
This week, I have also written to MPs about the Government’s decision to cut funding to the Official Development Assistance (ODA) programme, with all its damaging implications for research.
Research funded through the ODA route (largely the Global Challenges Research Fund) - York has approximately 68 current projects worth more than £21.8 million - is designed to support the UK Aid Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals, contributing directly to social welfare and economic development in some of the poorest countries in the world. The cuts will bring real damage to work tackling inequalities, global public health challenges and climate change, to research collaborations in partner countries we have painstakingly built up, and to the UK’s ambition to be a ‘Global Britain’.
Along with many colleagues across the University, I have also shared our extreme disappointment with many of our international partners, writing to them to outline the implications of the Government’s decision and to emphasise that our commitment to partnership remains steadfast. I am deeply saddened by the actions we have been asked to make following the Government decision, and have reiterated that we will do all that we can to maintain our strong relationships and shared endeavours. The opportunities GCRF funding brings are central to our mission as a University for public good and to our commitment to international collaboration on shared challenges.
Some of you may have also seen my comment piece in WonkHE this week, following recent decisions by the Department for Education about weighting allocations towards STEM-based subjects in higher education teaching funding. While we all recognise the importance of STEM, these decisions show a worrying lack of understanding of the value of arts and humanities subjects. You can read more about my case for the arts and humanities.
Return to campus and update on the future of working
Finally, for those colleagues not yet on campus, I know many of you are keen to understand more about how we will work in the post-Covid future.
We have started to analyse the responses to our return to campus survey and we are listening to the many different conversations taking place through the ‘Covid Keeps’ community forum, which will all contribute to developing and evolving our approach to the future of working at York. While this conversation is still at an early stage, we would like to show you the initial survey results and how we will take insights from them. You can read more about the survey results on the HR website. Please do keep sharing insights and opinions about future ways of working, too, especially how we continue to build a strong digital culture.
In the meantime, I would like to reiterate that the government guidance continues to ask people to work from home if they can, and this is what we should be continuing to do for now - even though I know this remains disappointing for some of us.
Please do continue to take care of yourselves and one another.