Coronavirus and our community

VC Blog - 026 - FORCMS

The resilience of our University community is being tested by global and domestic challenges in a manner that few of us will have experienced in our lifetimes.

I have written previously about the industrial action now in its third week. I continue to urge UCEA, Universities UK and the UCU to maintain their current dialogue and note that efforts are underway at national and local level, which I hope will bring resolution to a dispute that I fully appreciate provokes strong passions.

Also challenging for our University is the extended closure and works to restore Clifton Bridge. This closure continues to disrupt Nottingham’s transport system, and I know many colleagues have experienced dreadful journeys to and from our campuses in the UK. I am pleased that many are using flexible and agile working practices to stagger their journeys, work from home and from alternative locations.

However, it is the global spread of the coronavirus that is undoubtedly presenting the greatest challenge both globally and to our colleagues and students in the UK, Malaysia and most notably in China.

Here I would like to pay tribute to Professor Nick Miles and his colleagues in Ningbo who have made supreme efforts to keep staff and students safe while following the stringent transmission control arrangements set down by the national and regional authorities in China.

While transmission rates are reported to be falling in China and we are hopeful that UNNC may reopen soon, the challenge of the coronavirus is now being faced by the rest of the world. Italy has closed schools and colleges nationwide for at least ten days; this week the UK has seen its largest day-on-day increase in coronavirus cases; and, at the time of writing, worldwide nearly 100,000 cases have been reported.

Faced with increasingly alarmist headlines, it is natural that many will feel anxious about the potential impacts of the coronavirus and will be concerned for families, friends and loved ones at home and overseas. Whatever happens over the coming months, I am sure all of us in the University will wish to support each other and work together to mitigate impacts on our students and staff.

The University is following the latest advice for the UK from the Department for Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and updating advice to staff and students daily on our Coronavirus webpages. I would encourage all colleagues to check these pages regularly.

Incident management teams chaired by Dr Paul Greatrix and Professor Sarah O'Hara are meeting frequently to ensure that the University is taking all necessary precautions and preparing contingency plans for the potential health and academic impacts.

It may be that we will need to research, study and teach in a different way for a period of time. UNNC has led by example in using digital methods to maintain student contact and provide learning opportunities. We may also wish to work in more agile ways to limit opportunities for transmission. While there are many staff whose jobs require them to be in the University to teach, research or provide services, I think we should be creative in considering whether staff could work from home if they have desk work, papers to write or can dial or skype into meetings, rather than be there in person.

The UK government has published its Coronavirus Action Plan aiming to contain, delay, research and mitigate the impact of the virus in the UK. We can only wait to see what the coming days will bring and are studying this carefully to reflect it in local planning.

There are also examples of how this crisis can bring out the best from our community, whether that is the fundraising efforts of Asia Business Centre’s Min Rose or the exhaustive media activity by Professor Jonathan Ball and colleagues at One Virology to keep the public informed of precautions against the coronavirus and preparations for its impacts.

If there is a positive lesson to draw from this unprecedented situation, it is this: whether we are in China, Malaysia or the UK, Nottingham is part of a global community, and our colleagues are all working together in the interests of that community.

On a more positive note, the University took another important step forward this week. To mark our Sustainability Week, we have published a new set of environmental sustainability commitments to tackle climate change and promote environmental sustainability through our research, teaching, campus activity and our work with partners locally and globally.

Over the last decade and more, we have been taking action to support the environment and deliver research to secure a more sustainable future for our planet. Over the next decade, in partnership with our staff and students, these commitments will help us make a step-change in our efforts to mitigate the damages of climate change and deliver our University Strategy goal to support the city of Nottingham’s desire to be a net zero carbon city by 2028.

To help achieve this goal and bring our University Strategy to life, I am establishing a series of staff focus groups so that colleagues can contribute their ideas about how we can deliver it. To be considered, please complete the short application at VC Strategy Focus Groups. Colleagues who have not had the opportunity to submit their ideas through other mechanisms are particularly encouraged to apply.

I also look forward to celebrating the achievement and contribution of women to our University as we once again mark International Women's Day next week. I do hope you will cast a vote in our staff and student poll to name our Teaching & Learning building for a woman who has made a significant contribution to education for women and the city of Nottingham.

Wherever and whenever you may be reading this, I wish you and your loved ones good health in the days to come.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West signature

Professor Shearer West


05 March 2020

University of Nottingham

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