Students Staff
University of Essex

May 15, 2020

Planning our move back onto our campuses

Dear colleagues and students,

On Friday of last week, the Vice-Chancellor wrote to us all explaining how we are developing our plans to enable us to start a return to more campus-based work and study. He outlined that the University would not be re-introducing more on campus activities yet and that we would only do so when we are confident that a phased return can be managed in a manner that keeps our students and staff safe.

Since then, the Government has published its COVID-19 recovery strategy which is supplemented by more detailed guidance documents. Although the guidance is helpful, it is still our intention to make our own assessment of when we should move from the current Advanced Protection arrangements. In making sure we get our plans right, we want to take full advantage of the insight, expertise and understanding of the University community.

As part of this process, I am sharing the proposed approach to planning our move back onto our campuses, and invite your comments and feedback.  I am also consulting with the Trades Unions, the Students’ Union and our safety representatives in good time with regard to these proposals.

Our approach will be to identify progressively less restrictive levels of protection under which the University will operate in the future, to ensure that we maintain a safe and healthy environment with more staff and students on campus. The University’s business continuity plan for COVID-19 initially identified two escalating levels of response: Enhanced and Advanced Protection.  We are currently in Advanced Protection.

Since moving into the Advanced Protection stage, we have been working to enhance our business continuity plan by developing two further proposed levels of protection. These outline the different arrangements that we would put in place as we bring more activities back onto campus and progressively lift restrictions on how we study, live and work. As a consequence, our plan now comprises five levels of operation:

  1. Advanced Protection, where essential services only are delivered on campus with all activities that are not essential to support the needs of students remaining on our campuses being delivered remotely;
  2. Enhanced Protection, with the majority of activities still being delivered remotely, but where limited services may be available safely on campus, with strict limits on the numbers of staff coming onto campus at any one time to facilitate rigorous social distancing;
  3. Sustained Protection, a new stage, providing measures that enable more elements of on-campus activity to resume than within Enhanced Protection but retaining arrangements where a significant number of staff will continue to be working from home; once we are confident that it is appropriate to move to this level it would, if circumstances deem necessary, be possible to remain in this mode for an extended period of time, given the risks of further waves of infection that might occur;
  4. Targeted Protection, a stage in which most activities would be able to resume on campus, but where we may need to continue to restrict very high risk activities from being undertaken, where we could not be confident, for example, that social distancing or other protective measures would be adequate to mitigate risks of infection;
  5. Steady State, a new form of business as usual, as yet undefined but which may encompass aspects of our working and learning experiences over the recent months where these have worked well for staff, students and the delivery of our mission.

As the Vice-Chancellor has advocated, whatever level of protection we operate in, the individual circumstances of our staff and students will be taken into account. This means that extra care will be taken in relation to those with underlying medical conditions, or those with risks to members of their households who may be shielding, self-isolating or, themselves, have underlying conditions.

The Government’s timeline indicates an intention for further easing of lockdown measures from 1 June. We are working to a longer timetable than this. We do not expect to be moving away from Advanced Protection and into Enhanced Protection until Monday 6 July at the earliest. We also do not expect that circumstances will enable us to move into Sustained Protection measures until at least Monday 7 September. Both of these dates could be moved further back but will not be brought forward. Pacing ourselves in this way will not only give us time to evaluate the broader societal impact of derestriction, but also to take soundings from colleagues and union representatives to ensure our plans are the best that they can be.

Our proposed approach is published in the revised Business Continuity Plan (.docx) and applied in draft to the detail of the activities (.docx) we undertake across our campuses.

We are also developing separate guidelines on the management of social distancing across our campuses and guidance on undertaking risk assessments for staff before returning to campus-based work while the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains. I expect these to be made available next week.

I really would value your views. Please send any comments to registrar@essex.ac.uk. Many thanks indeed to all those who have already contributed. We will re-publish an updated version of the Business Continuity Plan in the week beginning 15 June, and so any comments would be gratefully received by 8 June so that we can give them careful consideration and make revisions as appropriate. Thank you again for all your support and contributions.

I wish you all a good weekend, and hope that you and your families stay safe and well.

With best wishes,

Bryn Morris
Registrar & Secretary

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