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Vice-Chancellor news

Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff

23 April 2020

Dear colleague,

It is the job of a free press to hold governments to account, so it is not surprising that all the governments of the UK are being challenged on coronavirus issues such as testing and the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Quite rightly, the Opposition probes and questions the government too on whether all is being done that can be done. We should not forget, however, that this is a time of national emergency and that on the whole people are doing the best they can in very difficult circumstances. Constructive criticism is important and helpful, and can lead to better outcomes. What can be less helpful is when challenge, constructive criticism and holding to account slide into scapegoating and blaming. Obvious political manoeuvres such as attempts to shift blame for early failures to take coronavirus seriously to the World Health Organisation, for example, will do nothing to reduce the damage caused by the virus or slow its spread. Similarly, you may have seen headlines such as ‘Who is to blame for Britain’s coronavirus crisis?’ in The Guardian, or countless pieces arguing that other countries are handling the crisis better. Interestingly, if you look at the press around the world, many countries are saying the same thing; looking over the fence, the approach taken by other countries can often appear more effective. Yet at this stage there is no real consensus about whether the looser approach of Sweden or the much tighter one of Spain will ultimately prove the best route, especially since we don’t know enough about the effect of demographic differences, population densities and a host of other variables to draw solid conclusions. Unfortunately the pandemic has a long way to run and nobody knows exactly where we are on the curve, or curves. Even in Germany, where the levels of preparedness and the public health response are seen as exemplary, it is not difficult to find headlines reading, for example, ‘Are other countries fighting coronavirus BETTER?’, although admittedly this is the mass-market tabloid Bild, as the capitals perhaps attest. Similarly, the difficulties in the provision of PPE are not confined to this country; demonstrations by health workers in the USA and familiar complaints in other European countries are clear evidence of that. The point I am trying to make is that while the authorities must be held to account in a democracy, denouncing any of the four governments for alleged past failings in handling the present crisis can be counter-productive and may ignore the collective efforts of many people doing their best in a difficult situation. We at Cardiff University have been working very closely with the Welsh government and the Westminster government, and while not everything goes to plan — sometimes there are glitches in communication — the partnership continues to be excellent. We have already achieved a huge amount together and we will continue to support in whatever ways we can.

Moving on, I’m conscious that since shifting to a weekly, lockdown-oriented rhythm for these emails, they tend to arrive on Friday evening which then can cause further work over the weekend when queries are answered and responses replied to. I will therefore try to issue them on Thursdays if possible, and indeed this week that makes sense because tomorrow is a Wellbeing Day. Just a reminder that this is an opportunity for you to attend to your own wellbeing and it is up to you to decide how to do that. Personally I have a piece to write that will require some concentration and so I will gladly spend time on that tomorrow; I also have some slightly overdue cleaning and tidying to do which I’m sure will make working from home a pleasanter experience next week. And it’s a chance for exercise of course. I hope you are able to make the most of it, and if you have to work tomorrow in order to keep our essential services running, that you have arranged with your line manager an alternative date for your Wellbeing Day. In addition, key workers who have to come in three days or more a week may be eligible for an allowance; if you’re not sure, please look at the advice here.

Last week I promised to update you on our revised management structures that will be invoked for the duration of the present crisis (not just the strict lockdown but until things return to a more normal state). If you look at the revised structure here, you will see that while the existing University Executive Board and Professional Services Board will continue their work, we now have groups working on key issues such as how to manage varying states of lockdown restrictions and the issues surrounding core activity like research, education and student recruitment. The latter point is very important because our financial position next academic year will depend very much on how that pans out. I’ll return to the issue of our financial prospects next week, and will also say something about how we will need to recast The Way Forward 2018-23 in the light of the new realities. To reiterate the points I made last week, what characterises this approach is close working between academic and Professional Services colleagues in consultation, where appropriate, with officers of the Students’ Union. By these means we hope to come up with considered solutions that are thought through, easy to implement and straightforward to communicate.

Finally, Professor Christine Bundy in the School of Healthcare Sciences is leading an important research project looking into how we are all thinking, feeling and coping during the pandemic. We have all surely started conversations by observing that these are strange times, and this project will help get to the bottom of what that really means in terms of its effects on people. Professor Bundy and her colleagues have launched a survey aimed at identifying common coping behaviours and ways that may help people maintain or adopt healthy behaviours and/or avoid unhealthy choices. I would encourage you to take part if you feel able, because the more data there is the more reliable and useful the results will be.

With best wishes,

Colin Riordan