Students Staff
University of Essex

March 9, 2020

Responding to the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus)

As COVID-19 spreads further across the globe and in the UK, I will be providing a weekly update on how the University is responding to the spread and impact of the virus. My updates will supplement the weekly emails being sent at the end of each week, the dedicated pages on our website for staff and students and the information available from trusted sources, such as Public Health England, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the World Health Organisation.

I know that many people are anxious about the impact of COVID-19 on both our work-place and our home life. It is a serious global health threat, but the University is well placed to meet this challenge, and I want to keep you up to date with what we are doing.

There are three work streams under way, led by senior members of the University, all of which report to our executive group (USG). The work streams are: business continuity (led by Bryn Morris, our Registrar and Secretary); student recruitment mitigation planning for the autumn term 2020 (led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony); and a work stream looking at financial resilience (led by the Director of Finance, Planning and Data Insight, Andrew Keeble). The University leadership team are in close touch with the Chair of Council and the Chair of our Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee and we continue to work very closely with our Students’ Union to ensure that we keep our student community well informed. Alongside University-wide activities, business continuity and mitigation planning is also under way locally within Faculties, Departments and Sections. This collective endeavour will be supported by all members of our staff community.

We took early action to manage our response to COVID-19 and this initial work is at an advanced stage. Phase 1 is drawing to a close and amongst other things this has included: recognising this is an exceptional situation requiring an exceptional response; putting into effect a ‘clear the decks’ approach to the work of some staff  so that we stop non-essential activities; cancelling or postponing a number of events/activities to free up leadership time in faculties, departments and sections to allow a focus on mission critical priorities; refining our working from home policies; and identifying critical IT infrastructure needs to support different ways of working.

We have also rolled out plans for on-line/blended learning, so that should we need to restrict face-to-face teaching (whilst keeping our campuses open) we can ensure students can continue with their courses. We have also updated our plans should staff and students need to self-isolate or we have a confirmed case of COVID-19.

As well as planning for our standard September/October start to the academic year, we are also putting in place planning to support deferred entry for next academic year in order to ensure students can join courses as and when they are permitted.

We are now moving into a second phase of preparedness, which will include: trialling the use of virtual meetings; and rolling out ‘working from home’ across teams where possible to allow us to test the effectiveness of our systems and to ensure resilience in teams.

We are also looking at the interface between business continuity and student recruitment. The pace and scale of the changes that we need have also led us to schedule more frequent check-in points to review progress. I will be seeking approval from Council for an additional budget to support our preparedness work. We are also stepping up our communications with our webpages for staff and students being updated daily and a new “latest changes” feature added to enable readers to see how the site is developing each day.

I hope these steps go some way towards reassuring you that the University is taking COVID-19 seriously and that we are taking a comprehensive, focused and phased approach in our response to the virus, which may last many weeks and months.

Finally, I know that this is requiring us to embrace new ways of thinking, different ways of working, and to respond in some cases to considerable disruption. I want to thank everyone for your overwhelmingly positive response. Our Essex Spirit – a strong sense of community and a heightened awareness that we need to look out for each other – feels stronger than ever. I am sure this will be key to us staying the course over the coming weeks and months.

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