Message from the Principal
Issued: Thu, 30 Jul 2020 16:17:00 BST
I hope you are enjoying the summer, despite the unusual circumstances, and managing to take some time off work with family and friends.
I’d like to update you personally on the current position and our preparations for the new term.
Firstly, I want to thank every member of staff for the way you responded to the onset of the Coronavirus pandemic. We completed academic year 2019/20 in good order; huge amounts of work went into winding down activity on campus, completing academic programmes remotely, supporting students, organising access to the furlough system and ramping up our contribution to Covid-19 testing and research, to name only a few areas of activity. I am sincerely grateful for your dedication and support during this period.
Our preparations for the new academic year will, of course, depend crucially on the public health regulations as applied to Universities. We are in dialogue with Scottish Government on the operating environment which we will be using. At present the guidance from Government is that we should still plan on the basis of the 2m distancing rule, but this is under continuous review. Our timetabling team will plan on the basis of the current regulations unless we are given further guidance in the next few weeks.
Looking forward, we will take a cautious approach to our finances, avoiding unnecessary spending until we have clarity on our financial position. I issued a video message on this topic this week in which I highlighted the UK and Scottish Governments’ stabilisation packages which have been announced to support the University sector through the Covid crisis. As I emphasised, this support, though very welcome, will not offset all the current and potential financial losses which we will face. The UK government package will consist mainly of loans aimed at supporting the research base of the sector.
As previously pledged, we will do everything we can to preserve jobs while positioning the University for the recovery post-Covid, by balancing expenditure on staff, consumables and infrastructure. The extent to which we will be able to do so, depends crucially on our ability to maintain student recruitment, and particularly the recruitment of international and postgraduate taught students in 2020-21 and beyond. As I explained in my video message, there are options to borrow money via the UK Government’s stabilisation package or from the banks. However, any loans would have to be repaid at a later date through increased teaching income or cost-cutting.
On international recruitment, at present, we are still experiencing a good flow of applications from international students. Normally this would have led us to predict strong student recruitment in 2020/21 but there is a very high degree of uncertainty over what will happen in the coming weeks; a resurgence of the virus elsewhere in the world or in the UK could impact on the number of students who enrol, and affect our financial position. We are working very hard to recruit both home and overseas students and to reassure them about the quality of experience they will have at Glasgow. At the same time, we are preparing for a blended learning approach which can be flexed depending on health and safety rules which may vary over the course of the year.
It is vital to the University that we are able to respond flexible to student needs while avoiding creating an intolerable burden for teaching and professional support staff. Because of visa and travel restrictions, some students may not be able to arrive in Glasgow at the start of the first semester; we will need to find ways to support them at a distance so that they can begin their courses without being disadvantaged. Likewise, we will work with specialist support services to ensure that individual needs of students are assessed and catered for as best we can. I don’t underestimate how difficult this will be, particularly for schools with large number of international students joining.
Preparations to allow more staff to return to campus for research, teaching and related activities are well advanced. Our Estates team has worked hard to prepare the campus for the new academic year and for researchers who have already returned to their labs to resume work. Most construction projects are now underway again and making very good progress. As you know, the default will be that staff continue to work from home if they can. I appreciate this is not ideal for everyone, but we think it is the right approach under the circumstances. In addition, we are putting in place measures to protect those that need to be on campus to do their jobs (either full-time or on an occasional basis).
We are also giving serious thought to how we support staff and students during what will be an anxious time for many. Caring responsibilities, travel difficulties, health issues, social isolation, concern about the economic impact of Covid-19 and extra work pressures – all of these and other factors are likely to affect individuals in different ways over the coming months. We will be sensitive to individual needs, providing practical support and advice where needed. We are actively considering how to build and enhance the sense of community and belonging, working with staff groups, the Trade Unions, the SRC and other student bodies.
This is the key message I would like to convey – our people are our greatest strength, and we need to support individuals just as much as we depend on their dedication and commitment. I would encourage you to take care of your colleagues but also to let us know if you need help or support yourself. We won’t get everything right but I am convinced that, by working together and looking out for each other, we will achieve great things in 2020/21 and beyond. My colleagues and I on the senior management group will do whatever we can to make this a reality.
With best wishes
Sir Anton Muscatelli
Principal and Vice Chancellor