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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update for staff - 8 January 2021

Dear Colleagues,

The new national UK lockdown has meant a difficult start to 2021 for all of us. We are all struggling to adapt to changes once again and it’s made even harder when we don’t know how long this situation will last. It’s normal to feel all sorts of different emotions right now. Please know wherever you may be our wellbeing services are still open and ready to support you and you can find out more information on our web pages.

I know that there has been a huge amount of change over the last few weeks, and that the Spring term is not beginning in the way any of us would have wanted. We have had a lot of important information to share with you in a short space of time, and some of you have told me that you have found our recent communications to be heavy on updated guidelines instead of acknowledging the impact these restrictions are having on us all, whether we are students adapting to unexpected situations or colleagues working in challenging circumstances to support everyone.

We are always focussed on giving you the information you need as quickly and clearly as we can, but we know we may not get every word right every time. Please know that we listen to feedback and we are always trying to improve the ways in which the University can support you.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hurt all of us in many different ways. I believe that when we show compassion and understanding our University community stands strong together and we help to beat back the effects of the virus. Our kindness and support for each other is a vital part of our response.

Support for parents and carers

We know that the national lockdown in England will have a particular impact on staff who are carers and parents of school age children. Colleagues are encouraged to keep in touch with their manager if they have any queries or concerns and to discuss how the University can support them to balance work and family responsibilities. Please see updated guidance at https://www.exeter.ac.uk/staff/employment/coronavirus/parentssupport/. This includes information on the Department for Education confirming that University staff are critical workers and how you can obtain written confirmation of this for your child’s school.

Other information is available on our staff FAQ at https://www.exeter.ac.uk/coronavirus/staff/ including information for staff who have been advised to shield, who can refer to the Question “I have a health condition and I am concerned about my health and safety at work with coronavirus, what can I do?” and follow the guidance on recording your absence.

Postgraduate Research (PGR) Students

We are reviewing lab, field and office-based research to ensure critical research activity can continue safely in line with Government guidelines.  

Where possible, PGR students should work from home.  In the meantime, if you cannot work from home for any reason, you can continue to access specialist facilities, campus offices and study spaces. Please arrange to get tested prior to working on campus. 

We know these are difficult times. Please do talk to friends and peers as well as your supervisors or our PGR support teams and reach out for help from them whenever you need it.

COVID-19 testing

We have worked incredibly hard together to control the transmission of COVID-19 within our University community and we want to continue to reduce the risk of transmission following the period of households mixing over the winter break. Testing is a key part of this and we are strongly recommending that all colleagues who continue to work on our campuses or are returning to work on campus for the Spring term undertake two tests (separated by 3 days), as soon as possible.

Tests can be booked via the following links:

These tests are nasal and throat swabs and are delivered on our Streatham and Penryn campuses at our dedicated test centres and there are COVID-19 secure measures, and stringent infection control throughout to ensure that everyone remains safe when getting a test. Everyone that enters a test centre is required to wear a mask, maintain social distance and sanitise hands at regular check points. Our campuses are currently much quieter than usual, so you will find it straightforward to social distance on campus when travelling to the test site. Staff and student testing is currently only for the beginning of the term, rather than on an ongoing basis.

We’ve had some great feedback from colleagues who have been tested on our campuses this week including:

“I was really impressed going for my LFD test.  The system is very slick, the staff were highly professional and caring and the infection prevention and control measures made me feel very safe.  As a registered healthcare professional, I thought the service was excellent and would encourage everyone to take up the tests they are offered.”

And even…

“Just been and had my test, whole process, people, facility etc brilliant.  Plus the bonus of a negative test and the knowledge of where my tonsils are. In fact I have known that for some time. I left them at Ipswich General Hospital back in 1965.”

University accommodation fees

Yesterday I wrote to students to explain our policy on University accommodation fees, confirming that for those students who are living in University or FX Plus accommodation, or whose contracts were arranged through the University with a nominated partner, we will waive the rent charges that would be payable during this lockdown period, for those who do not return to their accommodation. 

The national lockdown is also directly affecting students who are not in University-managed or nominated rooms. The Students’ Union Advice Service and the Students’ Guild Advice Service are available to offer guidance to students in Cornwall and Exeter respectively on matters including accommodation and finance. Working with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union we have doubled the financial support available through our ‘Success for All’ Hardship Fund and we are encouraging those students who need additional financial support to reach out and apply to the fund. We continue to work with our partners in the Russell Group and UUK to make the case to Government for additional financial support for students and universities.

Police Registration for visa holders

Devon & Cornwall Police have advised that, during the lockdown, international students should not travel to their offices to complete police registration. The usual seven day deadline for police registration does not currently apply. If a student’s visa requires them to register with the police they should not travel to the police enquiry office at this time but await further announcements by checking the information on our website. For Exeter-based students we are hoping that the police will come onto campus later in the term – please continue to check our Immigration updates webpage for further information.

The Digital Hub Online is here to support you

The Digital Hub is now available online to help you work and teach from home.

The Digital Hub Online offers 24/7 guidance and support for remote study and work and colleagues and students can discover, and learn how to use and master, the digital tools that we all use daily.

  • Search for illustrated ‘How to’ Guides that take you through initial set ups, as well as keeping you up to date with new features, on Teams, Office 365 and Zoom
  • Dip in and out of micro-learning Espresso sessions to quickly learn about new and existing tools and software when you are short of time
  • Don’t know how to do something? Book 1-2-1 expert training sessions to fit around your timetable and work commitments

Take a look at what’s available on the Digital Hub Online now

The Digital Transformation Team are continually updating and adding content to the Digital Hub Online and we recommend ‘bookmarking’ the site so that you can quickly come back and visit again.

Communications from next week

Finally, next week we plan to move to one update email per week, on a Wednesday, so please look out for that. If the situation changes or we have urgent updates for you, we will of course contact you sooner. You can always find previous updates on our COVID-19 communications page.

My update to students today also included some important information about our commitment to protecting their academic outcomes. You will be able to read this shortly via the COVID-19 communications page.

I hope you have a restful weekend and wish you the very best for the start of the Spring term next week. Please remember to reach out to your line manager or other support services if you need to.

Best wishes

Mike

 

Mike Shore-Nye 
Registrar and Secretary