Read a message from the Vice-Chancellor, sent to staff today (6 January 2021).
Firstly may I wish all of you a Happy New Year, in a spirit of hope tempered with realism. I do hope you were able to enjoy a period of rest and recuperation ahead of a new term that is already bringing significant challenges.
I am communicating with you urgently today as there have been a number of developments since I last wrote before Christmas.
As you know, the inoculation programme using the new Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has begun, complementing the Pfizer vaccinations that have been underway for almost a month. While there is light at the end of the tunnel, these promising developments are undoubtedly overshadowed by the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday in relation to England.
We have the benefit in Wales of an excellent working relationship with our Education Minister and her officials. Our ability to work closely with government and Public Health Wales colleagues gives us a real advantage when coupled with our excellent in-house asymptomatic screening service.
Welsh Government guidance on the return of students has not changed. However, the spread of the new variant coronavirus throughout the UK requires us to review our risk assessments and consider whether we need to amend our plans.
While some in-person teaching is taking place in January (predominantly in health-related or practical-based programmes), most of our students are not expected back in Cardiff until early February. This gives us time over the next week or so to consider what, if any, changes we need to make in terms of phased returns and of testing, and of the relative proportions of in-person and online teaching. In doing so we must take account of the wishes of our students, their mental health and their life-chances as well as the need to play our part in controlling the spread of coronavirus.
On research, we have no plans at present to change access to campus facilities.
Please be assured that we want all staff to feel comfortable and safe in support of our approach to doing the best we can for students. As we have made clear previously, any member of staff who has concerns should raise them with their line manager in the first instance, and can take advantage of the Welsh Government’s risk assessment tool for workplaces. You may also seek support from our Occupational Health provider if further information from an Occupational Health Specialist would be helpful in identifying whether and what adjustments might be needed. University Executive Board colleagues and I are committed to ensuring that colleagues continue to feel safe in raising any concerns they may have, and that managers feel supported in addressing them.
I realise that some of you may once again find yourself juggling the demands of work and childcare as schools in Wales move to online learning until at least January 18. Under the restrictions, some of those working in education (and childcare) continue to be classed as ‘essential workers’ which means that their children may be able to continue to go to school. We are seeking clarification on who this covers in higher education and will be in touch when we have further details. We recognise that this could be a huge help for many of our staff. We will also be considering other ways in which we can support staff wellbeing.
I will update you with further information as soon as possible.
With best wishes,