Thank goodness that the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is getting stronger and brighter. Like many of you I am working out how to make the most of the gradual relaxation of the restrictions (will April be warm enough for garden lunches for six?) and am relieved that we can look forward to socialising and holidays, even if 21 June still feels a long way off. Hilary term is over and the prospects for Trinity term are brighter, as more students will be able to return for the summer. This winter’s lockdown has been really hard for most of us and we deserve a freer summer where we can begin to meet family and friends, wander around shops and … get a haircut.
An initial step towards the return to normality here at the University is mapping what we need to do over the spring and summer onto the government’s plans for gradually easing lockdown restrictions.
Silver Group has approved a ‘roadmap’ for the University that describes our activities against the stages of the government plans expected on 12 April, 17 May and 21 June using our business continuity planning (BCP) framework. Along with an associated plan developed for colleges by the Conference of Colleges, this will provide a blueprint for the collegiate University returning to what I hope will be more familiar ways of teaching, studying, and conducting and supporting research in the months ahead.
The first milestone is Monday 12 April, when (subject to any changes in the government’s guidance) the University will move into Stage 2 of our BCP framework. Some students will return for catch-up teaching and a limited number of staff will return to on-site working (those who are taking part in in-person teaching, or who need to be in the office for other reasons). The comprehensive guidance we used for the return to on-site working in Michaelmas term is again the basis for supporting them in a COVID-19-safe way.
To coincide with this date, I am pleased to be able to confirm that regular asymptomatic testing at a number of central sites in Oxford will be offered to all staff and students who are working and studying on site. Building on the success of our testing pilots, and working in conjunction with the hugely successful Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service, this asymptomatic testing will be important in helping to contain any spread of the virus over the course of the next term. The University’s testing team is working on detailed plans of how this will work in practice and we will tell you more as we get closer to 12 April.
For most of us, a return to on-site working will start later in the summer, and this gives us all a chance to reflect on how we can build on what we have learned over the course of the last year.
You may have seen that last week we launched New Ways of Working. This project aims to provide a framework for how individuals and teams in our professional services can work most effectively in the future – whether on site or remotely – drawing on what we have learned during the pandemic. Responding to the needs of academic and research staff is absolutely critical to this work, so they are part of the consultation. We are still in an early stage, but you can read more about our progress so far on the Staff Gateway.
I hope that our planning in the lead up to Trinity term and the new testing arrangements will enable some normality to return to the University in the weeks ahead. The pandemic has upended the way that we have worked over the course of the last year, but our ongoing planning and collaboration will help us shape our ‘new normal’ after this period of unparalleled change.
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