Covid-19 update: Gill Aitken, Registrar

As I walk each day on Port Meadow, where the larks sing and the geese graze, I have been reflecting on how brilliantly everyone in the University has responded to the pandemic.

The pace has been fast. Colleagues have been collaborative, determined to take account of insights and needs to make our plans as strong as possible. You have responded graciously and energetically to the requests and instructions that ping into your inboxes, from me and colleagues across the University. All this, as we mastered video meetings and adapted to being grounded at home with family commitments, worries about the virus and of course work. Thank you. The last week has been particularly busy for colleagues who are working hard on the recruitment freeze and furlough policies, so particular thanks to them and to you for your patience while these are implemented.

Colleagues have been asking me how our decision-making works at a time like this. The University has had to move swiftly so that teaching and assessment can take place this term, and essential work, especially our inspirational Covid research can continue. We could only do this by moving to a faster, more agile way of planning and decision-making using our Crisis Management Framework – last used when the Tinbergen Building had to close, and a fairly standard approach in universities. Our Statutes allow for Council’s management of the University, subject to appropriate reporting and consultation, to be delegated to the Vice-Chancellor; this gives the necessary authority to what is known as the VC’s Silver Group. In a nutshell, Silver sets the strategy and commissions planning and delivery from the Bronze Group for our response to the pandemic.

Right from the start, we needed to make decisions affecting different parts of the University and Colleges. Opening an isolation building, the first Covid cases, teaching and exams for this term and implementing Public Health Guidelines were all decided by the Silver Group with input from across the University. The VC, Heads of Divisions, Chair and Deputy of Conference of Colleges, the Assessor, and the Pro-Vice-Chancellors are all members and meet twice a week.

The Bronze Group (made up of Divisional Registrars, Colleges, Service Heads, our dedicated Infectious Diseases expert from the Nuffield Department of Medicine, the Students Union and Junior Proctor) also brings together the collegiate University with relevant experts to develop and test plans for implementation. We pass on these plans and requests to you through regular cascades and updates.

This is a tough time for the University but the planning and creativity achieved by our academics and professional services staff working together should make us all feel proud. It has been an Easter roller coaster, but our students will be taught and assessed this term, and our research will continue to be at the forefront of the global effort to tackle the virus. No wonder the larks are singing above Port Meadow.