Wednesday 25 March 2020

Email to all staff

Covid-19 update Wednesday 25 March

Dear colleague,

As we face the unprecedented challenge of Covid-19, I have been truly impressed by how colleagues across the University have moved so quickly and effectively to respond at this incredibly difficult time.

I would like to thank you, once again, for all the hard work taking place behind the scenes to ensure our staff and students are supported in the face of such uncertainty.

Research Excellence Framework

The impact of Covid-19 continues to expand its impact on universities. Much of that has been felt so far in the changes we are making to our teaching. But there are also impacts on our research.

As you may have seen, Research England has announced that REF2021 is now on hold, delayed until further notice. We are all very aware - and grateful - for the time already spent preparing for our submission.

It is important to note that the census date arrangements for REF have not changed and we will continue to work with UUK and the Russell Group to understand further the implications of the postponement and the plans for the rescheduled submission. Further information will be shared with relevant staff by the PVC for Research.

Communicating support for students

I also wanted to provide you with an update about some work we have been doing to look after our students, including some announcements of significant offers of support.

First, and with enormous thanks to our very many generous alumni, staff, friends, and supporters of the York Unlimited philanthropic campaign, we have launched the Emergency Student Support Fund (COVID-19).

This fund has been established to provide financial support to students with housing and food costs, travel expenses, technology costs associated with online learning and other unanticipated financial challenges. It provides support of up to £500 per student and details of how to apply will be widely publicised.

Second, we confirmed that there will be no charge made from the start of the summer term for students with rental agreements with the University. This offer of early contract cancellation also includes students in Student Castle who booked directly through Accommodation Services.

We have already encouraged as many students as possible to return to their homes, but for some this is not possible and our campus will therefore remain home to some students. We have reiterated to students that the Student Hub and College teams are available to support those remaining on campus, students who have accommodation contracts with private providers in York, or students with other particular requirements.

Engaging our Prospective Students

You will doubtless have seen many media reports on the potential impacts that the cancellation of public examinations may have on this year’s domestic admissions process. We are pleased that the Government has now confirmed that students taking A-Level and other final examinations will be able to progress to University this year. We have received very strong guidance from the Department of Education, OfS and UCAS that we must not try to amend existing offers, for example by making them unconditional offers. Our approach is different: to develop a range of ways to engage with our prospective students in a supportive way over the coming months. I shared a message to offer holders about how we will develop this support. You can see my video message to offer holders here.

Building Closures

Finally, you will have seen a message from the University Registrar & Secretary setting out guidance for the closure of most buildings on campus in order to protect frontline essential services: supporting students resident on campus, critical research (especially where it can help tackle the Covid-19 crisis) and essential maintenance. I urge you all to take seriously the need for the vast majority of staff to remain in their homes as per the Government instructions. This is above all to limit the potential for spread of the virus - and to protect our essential staff from that risk as they carry out their tasks. Thank you once again to those small number of colleagues who are remaining on campus to provide those essential services.

I hope you are managing to stay well and that the additional constraints on remaining at home has not proved too difficult. Please look after yourselves and your families, especially now that many of you are balancing home-working and childcare.

Best wishes

Charlie

Professor Charlie Jeffery

Vice-Chancellor

Email to all staff and postgraduate research students

Implementing a Closure Policy for Most University of York Buildings

Dear colleague/PGR student

I hope you continue to stay well.

I am writing to let you know that further to the Prime Minister’s statement on creating an effective lockdown of the UK on the evening of the 23rd March, we urgently need to accelerate our plans to move the majority of our staff to home-working.

Most buildings on the University of York campus will close by 17:00 on 25th March. This is in order to comply with the UK Government latest policies on only essential staff being allowed to travel to work and will enable us to focus our very small essential services team on supporting students, delivering Health and Safety Executive assured maintenance, and supporting critical research facilities.

In line with previous messages from the VC, this means everyone should have already collected what they need from their offices. If you haven’t then today is your last day to do so. This also includes all PhD students who will be remotely working. If they have not done so already all PhD students should immediately contact their supervisor to discuss the removal of any materials and or other necessary books they may require during what could be a prolonged closure of many buildings on campus.

Even if you are a PhD student who lives on campus you will still not have access to other buildings such as research facilities on campus after today.

The remainder of this message provides further guidance on implementing these closures. Our decisions on what facilities and buildings to close is based on detailed business continuity plans developed by Academic Departments and Professional Services. Academic Heads of Department and Heads of Professional Services are asked to ensure that their staff comply with all of the details set out in this guidance note.

The email from the Vice-Chancellor issued on 24th March made clear that almost all our staff are now required to work at home. There are only three categories of staff that will be allowed to come to campus, namely those who are:

  • managing essential utility infrastructure and maintenance activity;
  • providing essential critical campus services such as cleaning, mail, rapid response, selected receptions, running our supermarkets or welfare to the remaining twelve hundred or so students still living on campus;
  • overseeing essential and critical research equipment.

It is important to note that we still need to continue to adhere to all Health and Safety Executive regulations and these have not been relaxed and safety is an overriding priority for us.

This is a further reason to reduce the number of buildings in use as our available frontline maintenance staff is already running at significantly reduced capacity.

Measures taken already include isolating lifts and decommissioning some equipment. By closing down lifts we are ensuring the safety of all staff and students. While we appreciate there is an immediate potential impact on accessibility to some of our colleagues we feel that reducing the availability of some lifts is essential.

Colleagues in Estates and Campus Services will take a view on the operation of heating, cooling and other building services on a building by building basis as the situation becomes clearer, recognising the essential need of safeguarding services to the many students who are still resident on campus. This will involve focusing maintenance on a smaller area, recognising reductions in resource and limiting the chance of spreading the virus to an absolute minimum.

Who is allowed on campus?

Only those staff in specific teams expressly authorised in writing by me will be allowed on campus. This will be in the form of a letter that they can use, along with their University ID, to demonstrate that they are an essential worker with the right to seek access to the campus to work. Essential staff have been identified by Deans and Heads of Professional Services.

Access to buildings

Access to buildings will be restricted through an alteration to the access rights on ID cards and only those pre-authorised in line with the revised process will be allowed to access buildings.

Access will be strictly limited to those areas of the building for which staff members had pre-authorisation and attempts should not be made to access areas which permission has not been granted for.

What Do I Need to Do?

If you have essential equipment, books or other belongings that you will need in the coming weeks then today is the last day to come and collect it.

Estates colleagues will endeavour to accommodate specific requests over the coming weeks to come and collect items from offices and labs but they can not guarantee this will be possible given already severe reductions in staffing in their available workforce.

Further information on the specifics of the closure of buildings, details on essential services such as maintenance support, student support and support for research can be found on our Covid-19 website.

We recognise that this will cause considerable disruption but we must ask you to help us comply with the latest Government advice and to ensure that you do not come to campus unless you have been identified as an essential services worker so that we can provide the optimal level of social distancing for those who remain on campus.

I want to thank all those colleagues who will continue to provide vital services on campus and that all of us can stay healthy and safe.

Kind regards

Jo Horsburgh

University Registrar & Secretary