Sussex academic forum: September 2020

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Answers to the unanswered questions: Academic Forum 23 September 2020

Can you confirm that the government has informed VCs that (quoting the VC) 'colleagues involved in delivering this face-to-face teaching are seen as essential workers'. Can this communication from the government be made public or is it confidential?
The VC's statement to all staff today argued that "colleagues involved in delivering this face-to-face teaching are seen as essential workers, like school teachers, and thus are exempt from the 'work from home' rule". Please can you confirm the official or governmental source behind this definition of teaching staff as essential workers?

Answer:  The UK Government’s recent guidance states: “We have published guidance advising universities on reopening to ensure they can adequately prepare new safety measures to operate safely and minimise the spread of the virus. As with other essential services, employees working in education and higher education should continue to go into work where necessary.”

Colleagues who deliver face to face teaching have essential roles providing an essential service at the University. This is because of our commitment to deliver a blended teaching and learning experience for our students. These roles deliver an essential service to our students who have told us that they want face to face teaching and this will have a positive impact on the mental health of many.
Other universities (e.g. UCL / Leeds) have decided to put teaching fully online for the Autumn term. In light of recent developments and covid outbreaks at other UK universities, why would Sussex not consider this to protect staff and students? Many teaching staff are very anxious about the real risks of face to face teaching.

Answer: We recognise that some staff would prefer to teach online only. Staff who may be feeling anxious about returning to campus should talk to their line manager or School HR contact for advice and support tailored to their specific needs or concerns.  We want to do whatever we can to prevent you feeling anxious and it might be that learning more about the control measures we have in place may help you to feel more comfortable. 

As mentioned in the webinar there are a number of reasons why we must provide a blended approach to teaching and learning.  These are:

  • We have committed that we will deliver a blended learning approach to our students
  • Delivering face to face teaching and enabling students to be on campus is something our students have told us they want and we know that this has a positive impact on their mental health.
  • We have commitments to the DfE, OfS and the CMA to deliver a blended approach
  • We are following the advice of the UK government and our own Health and Safety experts’ advice and health and safety risk assessments to ensure that we are providing Covid secure environments to deliver face to face teaching.
A simple calculation shows that thousands of students around the country will be arriving at universities both currently asymptomatic and infectious. This will inevitably lead to multiple outbreaks of Covid-19 at universities, which in turn will be exacerbated through face to face teaching. Is it not irresponsible for the University to persist with face to face teaching in these circumstances?

Answer:  Please see the answer above for the reasons why the University is providing a blended approach to teaching and learning which includes provision of face to face teaching following our stringent Health and Safety assessments and guidance to students and staff. The University is following the DfE-approved SAGE guidance, which uses a tiered framework to decide upon the level of face-to-face teaching. We are currently at Tier 1, blended learning, but will not hesitate to move between the tiers as our risk profile changes.

We know our students desperately want to learn and to do this together with other students.  Of course there is a balancing act to strike and we would not be doing this if we thought that our staff would be at an increased risk.  We have very robust control measures in place in the classroom – and we really hope that together we can make this work.

Answer: The measures bought in place both with regards to housing segmentation, social distancing measures, face coverings and hand sanitisation are put in place to ensure that University activity does not contribute to any potential increase in the local rate of infection from symptomatic or asymptomatic individuals.

If, or perhaps when, restrictions are increased and we reach tier four, will laboratory-based research staff be prevented from coming to campus to carry out their work? It was reported that tier four "should include the continuation of essential research". What is essential research?

Answer: Should there be a situation whereby the University has to operate within the Tier 4 requirements your Head of School will work with research colleagues to identify what research will need to continue on campus. As each research project is unique they would be looked at on an individual basis.

What is the guidance for PhD students? Should they get f2f supervision, or be on campus? They appear to have been forgotten in most of the guidance provided.


Answer: Please contact your supervisor to discuss this.  Stephen Shute has been regularly communicating with Doctoral Researchers, and we’re sorry to hear you may not have received his emails. The next email from Stephen is due very soon, and it will address these points and make reference to the format of supervision and updated guidance on the Sussex Staff/Student guidance pages for Doctoral Researchers. This guidance notes that,

The format of supervision should be agreed by PhD students and Supervisors, with distant supervision, in-person supervision (subject to the following paragraph) or a blend of the two all permitted. For further guidance on supervision please refer to Sussex information for supervisors and UK Council for Graduate Education online supervision guidance.

Where in-person supervision or a PhD examination is agreed by all participants, this can occur in offices or rooms on campus where 2 metre distancing between all parties can be maintained.

Please also don’t hesitate to contact the Doctoral School for any advice too.

How are the newly recruited doctoral tutors going to be supported in their roles and will they have access to training on how to deliver blended teaching effectively?

Answer: Doctoral tutors should speak to their line manager for advice and support on this matter, and they will have the same online teaching access and support available as all Sussex teaching staff. In addition the Fundamentals of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education course should be taken by all Doctoral Tutors ahead of teaching.

We do have a lot of information available on delivering blended learning on Canvas and you can also attend webinars run by the TEL team on how to get the best out of the technology available.  Colleagues may also wish to view the range of online workshops for academic staff provided by TEL here.

What is the legal position of the university if staff are asked to return to campus against their will, and then catch Covid as a result?
What would be the University's responsibility if someone were to catch Covid on campus

Answer: We accept our legal duty of care and are taking all reasonable steps to protect staff based on the advice from government and other advisory bodies. We do also expect staff to fulfil their contractual commitments, as is reasonable, during these unprecedented times.

Coronavirus is a global pandemic. Whilst there is no inevitability that any person will contract the virus, nor is it possible to guarantee that no person will contract the virus. As the virus is prevalent across the community there are many places and occasions through which someone could contract COVID-19: it would therefore be very difficult to demonstrate that a person definitely contracted COVID-19 on campus.

What we have done on campus is put in place a large number of different control measures to help to minimise the risk of transmission of the virus on campus. As a result of the various measures we have introduced, we are confident that we are upholding our duty of care and that no cause of action would lie against the University in the circumstances where someone who was required to attend campus to work discovered that they had coronavirus.

What support will be in place for staff who contract Covid-19? Will they simply be expected to overwork when they return? And how will people unlucky enough to experience Long Covid be supported?

The absence of any member of staff, for whatever reason, should be managed locally by the line manager. If anyone has time off sick then their work should be distributed, as much as possible, to other colleagues. This is not always possible, so the line manager should ensure that things like “out of office notifications” are put in place through IT and colleagues are informed.

Once a staff member is able to return to work our existing sickness policies and procedures still apply. These are designed to support staff returning to work after a period of sickness.  Of course, the University would support a member of staff who may suffer from longer symptoms, as we would any member of staff, at any time who has health issues.

Any staff or student experiencing symptoms associated with Covid-19 must leave work immediately and inform their line manager either by email or phone. They should also complete the Covid-19 symptoms or self isolation reporting form

Staff should only return to campus after this period of self-isolation ends or they have been tested for Covid-19 and the test is negative.

Why can you not recognise the fact that you saying how much of a relief it is being back on campus is completely blind to the fact that you have been working in offices, in a deserted campus? That is *very* different from working in a poorly ventilated classroom full of people - and you need to acknowledge that!

Answer: You are right, working in an office and delivering teaching are very different circumstances and working environments – and apologies these comments were insensitive.  Also, please do be assured that ventilation systems of all campus buildings have been assessed and checks have been completed by estates colleagues. 

I've been asking how Pev 1A6 is ventilated with fresh air (it has no windows), and yet to receive a response. I'm lecturing in there next week.

Answer: Prior to opening all buildings on campus, we have carried out a check on all ventilation systems in accessible areas, in line with the guidance from the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). There is also a detailed paper on the University’s ventilation surveys and checks. This paper provides the worst case (or fewest number of air changes by hour for each building) this means that any accessible room (as opposed to cupboards or plant rooms) will have a greater number of air changes than what is listed in the paper.

Will Risk Assessments for each GTS-containing building, including the minimum Air Changes per Hour for each GTS in the building that is to be used for teaching this term, be shared with staff before teaching in that building begins?

Answer: As part of the phased re-opening of campus, guidance on risk assessments as well as assessments for the general use of teaching and office space are available to understand and view. Risk assessments have been reviewed by members of the University’s Health & Safety team.
 
These risk assessments are all now available on the Health & Safety Covid-19 resources page (at the end of the accordion). You can also access a detailed paper on the University’s ventilation surveys and checks. This paper provides the worst case (or fewest number of air changes by hour for each building) this means that any accessible room (as opposed to cupboards or plant rooms) will have a greater number of air changes than what is listed in the paper.

Has any allowance in the timetabling been made for the build-up of aerosols during the day, so that teaching in a room late in the day is more dangerous compared to first thing in the morning

Answer: The question assumes that there will be a build-up of Covid-19 in a room, which itself would require all or most of the students using the room to be infected and not to be using control measures such as face coverings. It is highly unlikely that all or most of the students using a room will be infected but, additionally, we have clear requirements with regard to control measures such as face coverings. We therefore do not consider that there is a risk of contaminated aerosol build-up. The major risk form covid-19 is living in an area with a high rate of infection. The purpose of University controls is to ensure that University activity does not contribute to this infection rate.

The ventilation systems of all campus buildings have been assessed; these assessments consider all accessible areas. Details of air changes are available on the Health & Safety Covid-19 resources page.

There are internal under-ventilated rooms on the timetable e.g. 3rd floor Silverstone and inside rooms 2nd floor Arundel. Are these listed by mistake?

Answer: As mentioned above the ventilation systems of all campus buildings have been assessed; these assessments consider all accessible areas. Details of air changes are available on the Health & Safety Covid-19 resources page, if you have any further questions please email the Health & safety inbox with the specific room numbers.

How can I find out the risk assessment regarding ventilation etc in the rooms I am scheduled to teach in?

Answer: As part of the phased re-opening of campus, guidance on risk assessments as well as assessments for the general use of teaching and office space are available to understand and view. Risk assessments have been reviewed by members of the University’s Health & Safety team.
 
These risk assessments are all now available on the Health & Safety Covid-19 resources page (at the end of the accordion). You can also access a detailed paper on the University’s ventilation surveys and checks. This paper provides the worst case (or fewest number of air changes by hour for each building) this means that any accessible room (as opposed to cupboards or plant rooms) will have a greater number of air changes than what is listed in the paper.

SAGE guidance predicts outbreaks when Universities go back.

Answer:  The SAGE paper Principles of managing SARS covid-2 transmission associated with higher education highlights that “accommodation and social settings are likely to pose a higher risk for transmission than well managed teaching environment with good mitigations in place”

Following the SAGE guidance, the University has instated a policy of segmentation within the residences as part of a serious of controls to reduce the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission within a social setting. These measures are being continually reviewed and UEG is getting a weekly report on the effectiveness of these controls so that they can be reviewed at the highest levels of the University.

How will we know at what level the virus is circulating on campus (and the concomitant risks to staff and students), given the failures of the government test and trace system?

Answer:  Any member of the University experiencing symptoms or a need to self -isolate must complete the Universities own symptoms reporting form available here http://www.sussex.ac.uk/hso/specialist/covid19symptoms so that assessments can be made of the on-campus situation. This is in addition to working extremely closely with our local partners including Brighton & Hove City Council and the Surrey and Sussex Health Protection Team who are monitoring the local Covid-19 infection rates. In addition to this the recently released NHS track and trace app has now been launched, it is strongly recommended that all members of the University down load this app where possible, details of how to access it are available here

Given term starts in 5 days’ time, can we expect the imminent publication of information about individual room assessments?  We need these to feel assured that it is safe to teach, particularly given unfortunate early decision to go with 1m plus rather than 2pm and in some instances minimal revision of overall room capacity.  Can a link perhaps be published during the webinar?

Answer: The University has completed risk assessments for all of its occupied buildings, and these have been published and are accessible to all staff. A number of area-specific guidance documents discuss the principles of protection used. Where the principles apply to a range of spaces, e.g. teaching rooms, these are set up using a standard approach.

Individual room assessments or activity assessments are completed where the activity or space is unique and non-standard controls are required, e.g. a chemistry laboratory. The room layouts for general teaching spaces are individually planned by Estates and SEF, and laid out accordingly. In addition, each room has had its own assessment of ventilation by SEF.

Specific assessments of an individual room would be completed only where the measures used to control the hazard do not provide an adequate level of control. These controls are in line with the University guidance documents. Where there are concerns about individual spaces – either due to the nature of the space or the activity within the space – we have spent a lot of time with Schools resolving specific issues; examples include the use of music and media studios.

I actually have a clash with this webinar but am hoping that my question can be answered so that I can check the webinar recording later for the answer.
I am organising an outdoor activity for my students in week one. I have 15 students and my plan is that we will go on a socially distanced 'sound walk' and record found sounds on campus and perhaps further afield in Stanmer Park. I will be insisting on face coverings for all and on 1 - 2 m distance. My question is, do I need to observe the rule of 6 whilst walking around (a) on campus or (b) in Stanmer park? Would it be better for example to send students off in pairs? Any advice gratefully received.

Answer: The rule of six applies to social gatherings. Educational activities that occur on campus do not break the ‘rule of six’. We would advise adhering to the ‘rule of six’ for activities outside of campus, as members of the general public will not be aware of the educational nature of larger groups off campus and this may cause unnecessary concern.

Additionally guidance on of campus activities and working outside is available here http://www.sussex.ac.uk/hso/specialist/hscovidpage under the “travel on university business and offsite working” drop down menu. There is also guidance that may be relevant in the “guidance for performing arts” available under the Guidance drop down menu

Kelly Coate: What is the justification for saying we can remove masks, or students can, given the evidence for aerosol transmission?

Answer: The current medical and scientific advice on social distancing states that people should wherever possible stay two metres apart from each other.  Therefore staff may, if they wish to, remove face coverings or visors – but only if they are able to safely maintain this distance. Staff may or may not choose to do so, and are of course welcome to continue to wear face coverings at all times whilst teaching face to face.  Students are asked to wear face coverings at all times in indoor communal spaces.

We've tried and tested some truly blended interaction (i.e. students online and in class being taught at the same time) in a few seminar rooms and I'm afraid that the technology was just not up for it and that it didn't work at all.  It would be more honest to students to drop this term and say that they will just have some teaching online and some in person, but not truly blended.  Terminology is really important here.

Answer: Colleagues in ITS and TEL undertook work in every GTS space in the two weeks before the start of term to make sure the technology was working as well as possible, and they continue to work hard to ensure that staff and students can access the teaching and learning resources they need. If colleagues are facing difficulties with any IT or online learning resources please contact your School’s learning technologist and/or report a fault with ITS. It may be that teaching is blended at the module level, rather than specific taught sessions, and we know that modules across the University are taking different approaches as fits their discipline, content and learning outcomes.

Presumably the pressure on teaching rooms is much less than usual this term since many lectures will be pre-recorded.  Will timetabling allocate large enough rooms for f2f teaching so that as many students as possible can attend in person?

Answer:  Timetables are now available to students and staff. Each teaching area’s capacity has been assessed by the University’s expert Health and Safety teams to ensure that they meet Sussex’s specific Covid-19 health and safety assessments for each individual teaching area. We have ensured that adequate space is provided to ensure social distancing requirements, ventilation and other Covid safety measures to protect the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. As an additional safety measure, we have set a maximum class size of 50, even if a room could safely accommodate more.

Can we refer to 'in-person' teaching and not 'face to face'? Online can be face to face. Also in being so anxious that we provide some 'face to face' teaching, the university communicates to students that online is inherently inferior. The evidence suggests this is not the case - see work by Liz Stoke cited in the Independent SAGE document on HE.

Answer: Students understand the term ‘face to face’ learning as being in-person and delivered in a teaching setting.  Our blended teaching model does not imply that online learning is inferior to face to face learning – we know that many colleagues are teaching online in innovative and creative ways. However, we do recognise that students value in-person interactions for reasons above and beyond their pedagogical benefits, and these are reflected in our communications. This a pragmatic approach to enable the delivery of teaching and learning to students during the Covid-19 pandemic and maximising the learning experience and opportunities that face to face teaching provides.

We recognise that there are differences of opinion on Covid-19 matters, such as that between Independent Sage and the UK Government’s advice in terms of the management of Higher Education. However, we have a duty to follow the official guidance and advice issued by the UK Government and the Department for Education on such matters.

If, or perhaps when, restrictions are increased and we reach tier four, will laboratory-based research staff be prevented from coming to campus to carry out their work? It was reported that tier four "should include the continuation of essential research". What is essential research?

Answer: Should there be a situation whereby the University has to operate within the Tier 4 requirements your Head of School will work with research colleagues to identify what research will need to continue on campus. As each research project is unique they would be looked at on an individual basis.

What additional provision has been made for library resourcing? I teach a first-year module to over 100 students. I was told just 2 weeks ago that the core text (which I have used extensively for several years) is available as an e-book, but not through our suppliers (so I can no longer designate this as core and will pose significant problems and disadvantage those students working remotely). The alternative I suggested is available online, but only to a single student at a time. I am struggling to find sufficient texts that students can access remotely without having to physically go into the library. This is turning into a serious issue.

Answer: For advice and support on core texts, please email the Library team via  readinglists.lib@sussex.ac.uk. They will provide advice on this matter.  Where students need to access books in the library the Click and Collect service should be used. Library staff are working hard to support students and academics during a time of Covid-19 and have developed a range of ways to access learning materials. Details of these can be found on the library webpages.

If you have 1 or 2 students attending in person, is it still useful to run your class in person?

Answer: We have made a commitment to provide face to face teaching to students and those that are in attendance are clearly keen to receive it. It is unlikely that colleagues will have such small numbers attending in person, and as part of our commitment to them, the DfE, OfS and CMA we are obligated to provide it. In these situations, though, it may be that the style of teaching could become more ‘tutorial-based’ and students often value the personal nature of this.

If faculty cannot (for any reason) be on campus for face to face teaching sessions is it acceptable for them to deliver the session remotely instead?  Or is the expectation that other faculty will provide cover?  The "approach line manager" answer has the potential for very different responses between schools and departments, an official university statement on this is needed.

Answer: Colleagues who cannot be on campus to deliver face to face teaching sessions should discuss this with their line manager, including discussion of how their work can be undertaken remotely.  There are so many reasons as to why this might not be possible for that unique situation, so conversations, are absolutely essential – and they should be recorded, and revisited.