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Vice-Chancellor news

Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff

21 May 2020

Dear colleague

In a shorter email this week (I didn’t think you would mind) I would like to update you on three interrelated matters.

Firstly, at its meeting on Monday 18 May the University Executive Board (UEB) agreed to extend the Wellbeing Days through the month of June. While nothing ever proceeds as smoothly as one would like, I have heard from many quarters that the absence of video conferences and email, and the ability to focus on wellbeing in whatever way suits you best, is helpful and makes dealing with the present crisis significantly easier. So the following four Fridays are designated as Wellbeing Days in accordance with previous practice: June 5, June 12, June 19 and June 26. As previously, where any member of staff is unable to take advantage of a Wellbeing Day because they are required to deliver critical work on or off site, managers are expected to allocate time to the individual on an alternate day. I hope this will help to make a difficult situation more manageable.

Secondly, Policy and Resources Committee (an important sub-committee of Council) met on Tuesday 19 May and amongst other things considered a paper from UEB concerning the initial requirement to save 10% of expenditure for the next financial year. In terms of underlying principles, UEB proposed that at this first stage the University should aim to protect jobs, that the process needs to be fair and consistent, that changes should be made in consultation with staff and unions and that there would be no voluntary severance scheme because this would add to expenditure. We are presently talking to representatives of the campus unions about how to protect jobs whilst planning for reduced income. As the position on fee revenues becomes clearer during the course of the summer, we will have a better idea of where we stand, but we cannot wait until then to secure this initial round of savings. Indeed, it looks likely that we will need to make further savings at that point. Neither UK government nor the Welsh government have closed the door on the possibility of further support for the sector (though doubtless any additional funding would come with certain conditions) but unless we have a clear commitment we cannot bank on that. I can assure you that all our networks — Universities Wales, Universities UK and the Russell Group — are working very hard to explain our case and propose possible solutions. I should say that UK and Welsh ministers have been very open and communicative, and the position is well understood. We do understand the demands on government and there can be no guarantees, but the next days and weeks will be crucial, and I will update you as soon as we know more one way or another.

Finally, the Coronavirus Taskforce that I mentioned in my email and video on 7 May met last week for the first time.You can see the initial membership and remit on the staff intranet. A summary of key points will be added shortly and we are putting in place ways for you to comment or make suggestions for how we should proceed. This is all uncharted territory and your inputs will be considered if they are not already on the agenda. The Taskforce will make regular recommendations to UEB, the first of these being a gradual re-opening of our research capacity, which was agreed at last Monday’s UEB meeting. This will happen in three phases and it is critical that in this first phase we only consider essential research which must be done on University premises, in keeping with Welsh government guidance. At this point we cannot admit large numbers of researchers and so we will be asking Schools to prioritise and then decisions will be taken centrally on the capacity of building and labs in accordance with the space analyses that we have undertaken. Research involving human participants on site will not be possible until later in the process. Safety must be the number one priority, and so only during stages 2 and 3 (and I’m sorry but we cannot put firm dates on this yet, because it will depend on Welsh government decisions) we will work on a larger-scale return to research, including how we might support multiple research groups working in buildings as well as the safe delivery of human participant research. We are very conscious that researchers who continue to work from home face particular issues and so we will be providing supportive advice and help to facilitate that.

The Taskforce and its sub-groups are also working hard on how to accommodate students safely on campus and in our residences from September, if that proves to be possible. We are hopeful that it will be, and as proposals firm up I will keep you informed about progress.

May I thank colleagues throughout the University for your forbearance. For all the difficulties the tremendous spirit of co-operation that colleagues at Cardiff University have shown remains profoundly impressive. We really will achieve the best outcome for all if we are able to act collectively and for the greater good, and I think the progress we have made so far in extraordinarily trying circumstances is testament to that. Please enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend, and I will be back in touch later in the month.

With best wishes Colin Riordan