The phasing out of the University’s COVID-19 crisis management framework

Since the pandemic began just over a year ago, the University has faced difficult and unprecedented challenges. The COVID-19 crisis management framework was put in place to help the University respond in a timely, coordinated and effective manner to the unprecedented impact of the global pandemic.

As government restrictions begin to ease, it is time to start dismantling the “crisis committees” and return to the University’s well-established governance structures as soon as possible.  The trick of course is to do so in a way that still enables us to respond with agility should we need to. Silver Group (the most senior COVID forum) has now agreed plans for phasing out these temporary governance structures as we take careful comfort from the optimism engendered by the successful vaccination programme, the latest government modelling and advice from our own experts.

The current framework will remain in place for the rest of Trinity term, as we respond to the gradual lifting of restrictions set out in the government roadmap and ensure that all is ready for Michaelmas term 2021.

The framework will then (subject to a review at the end of Trinity term) be scaled back from the long vacation onwards. By that time, we expect to be at University Business Continuity Stage 1 or 0. We all hope that the situation will be less volatile but we will retain the ability to respond should things change. Bronze and Silver Groups will remain constituted but meet only if needed over the summer. Similarly, our incident response and expert advisory groups will remain available; otherwise the framework of crisis management groups will be disbanded and, wherever possible, pandemic-related issues will be handled through usual decision-making structures.

We know all too well that we cannot be complacent about what the future holds. If there are significant developments related to the pandemic, the University’s crisis management framework remains on standby. For now, however, we are optimistic about the months ahead and can start to look at the lessons the University has learned from the pandemic.

The framework has been essential in guiding our response to the pandemic, our testing regime, online teaching, Return to Onsite Working guidance and efforts to support the student experience being just some examples of activities that it has coordinated, supported and delivered. The colleges have been fully part of all the groups so that the work has been co-ordinated alongside their management of safe accommodation and the response to COVID-19 cases in their precincts. We are acutely aware that the additional governance and activities related to these groups have resulted in a huge amount of extra work for colleagues in both the University and colleges, and we are enormously grateful to everyone who has been involved. 

Silver Group will be conducting a review of the crisis governance and planning arrangements. Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, we had to respond at speed to a very difficult situation, and we may not have got everything right. However, we are committed to learning from our experiences both to improve the crisis management framework and also to see whether there are approaches that we could usefully adopt more generally. I for one, however, hope that it will be a long time before we need to invoke the crisis management framework again. Fingers and toes firmly crossed.