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View from the VC

Today (Friday 15 May), the Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell updated all staff, in his regular View from the VC email, on some important developments the University is making.  You can read the full View from the VC below.

Dear all staff,

Health and safety has an unfair reputation for being overly bureaucratic but actually there is no other area of university activity that is more crucial.

If one really thinks about what those two words mean, I think we would all agree that they are of paramount importance.

We have always taken our responsibilities seriously in this regard but the past few weeks have brought this into sharper focus.

Since the Government published its plan for tentatively reopening society, our attention has naturally turned to what this means for the University and the detailed campus recovery planning we had already begun some weeks ago. Although we had already started this work, it will be some time before we are all back together on campus. And it is clear that any steps we take will be done only after we are satisfied that we have met all of the necessary health and safety requirements.

I have been heartened by all the skilled and considered work that has taken place to identify what we need to do to prepare our buildings, facilities and ultimately you, our colleagues, for safely returning to campus-based operations.

This is a huge logistical challenge, involving not only thinking about the placement of workstations but protocols, policies and measures for safely moving around buildings, accessing toilets and kitchens, as well as using doors, light switches, shared equipment and so on. We have an excellent team in place working collaboratively with Heads of School and Directors of Professional Services on this and I’m fully confident that the plan produced, which myself and UEG will approve, will cover all the bases. I am very grateful to everybody involved.

It goes without saying that nobody should be expected to work in an environment in which they feel unsafe and an important part of any return will be to give colleagues the agency to make decisions for themselves. This is especially important for those who have, or live with someone who has, an underlying health condition, although there are also other considerations. For our part, we will do everything we can to make that choice as easy to make as possible.

Our immediate priority is in those areas where colleagues are unable, either completely or in large part, to work effectively from home. Initially, this includes lab-based colleagues and some staff involved in assessments who need access to specialist systems on site. Parts of the University that will be asked to continue working from home for longer are no less important, they are just impacted to a lesser extent by the current circumstances.

I am aware that the big question now for most, especially those involved in teaching, is what the start of the next academic year will look like. The truth is, we don’t yet know but we are actively modelling lots of options and we will be providing clarity to students and staff soon. We are carefully monitoring government advice and will be ready to bring forward plans at pace in the coming weeks. Whilst the start of the next academic year is still over four months away, there is much to prepare and you, and our students, need guidance.

For now, the majority of us continue to do our work remotely and, I have to say, I have been hugely encouraged by the progress we have made together. If you haven’t yet had a chance, I would recommend you visit the new Covid-19 hub on our website, where we are detailing all the work we are doing with organisations and communities to contribute towards local, national and global efforts against the coronavirus pandemic. I will leave you to explore this for yourself but I challenge you not to come away feeling inspired.

Linked to this, our CRES (Covid Resources, Equipment and Services) task force recently set up a Covid-19 research network to co-ordinate and facilitate high-quality research on Covid-19 and its impacts. We already knew there was expertise and interest but I’m delighted to report that nearly 200 Sussex researchers have signed up. Many of them have also joined the Government’s database of experts, set up to more closely align decision making with academic insight. These are both hugely important developments and prove once again the value of universities to wider society.

I want to thank colleagues who wrote to give me feedback on my message last week, in which I set out the scale of the challenges we face now and in the future relating to coronavirus. While some of the content was difficult to read, it is clear that most people appreciated the opportunity to understand our situation.

As I said last week, these are difficult times and the scale of the challenge should not be under-estimated. Although we have some money in the bank, we are bound by legal agreements to make a financial surplus every year (before technical adjustments) and this means that we can’t use our reserves to cover losses. This is why, for example, we have suspended all but essential spending on the University’s estate. However, at a meeting of Senate this week I reassured colleagues that compulsory redundancies would be a last resort for the University.

I’m also conscious that university finances are complicated and questions still remain. I am happy to address these and any other questions at my open staff forums next week, so please do book a place if you would like to join. If you are interested in learning more about our finances specifically, Allan Spencer, our Director of Finance, will be hosting another round of webinars next week. Again, please book online.

This brings me to my final point for today. Zoom and Teams are really helpful tools for those of us working from home. However, long periods of video calls can be particularly tiring and there is lots of emerging research showing that this can have a detrimental impact on our wellbeing. As we do need to use them, please be mindful of the need to take breaks, have shorter meetings and see whether alternatives are available. For one-to-one conversations, for example, I am using the phone as often as I can instead of Teams.

Your health and safety is just as important at home as it is on campus.

Best wishes

Adam Tickell
Vice-Chancellor

 


By: Charlie Littlejones
Last updated: Friday, 15 May 2020

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