Message from the Principal

Published: 23 October 2020

Reflecting on a unique and challenging year

With the seasons changing and the clocks about to go back, it feels like the right moment to reflect on what has been a unique and challenging year. 

Firstly, I want to thank every one of you for all that you have done over the last seven months. I know that in so many different ways February feels like another world and I don't underestimate the many challenges you will have faced balancing home life and work commitments over this period. 

From the steps we took to complete the previous academic year remotely, to the preparations for blended learning over the summer and the support you have provided to students since September, our community continues to go above and beyond. I want you to know that these efforts are seen, recognised and appreciated. 

As you are aware, and in common with other universities across the country, last month we experienced an outbreak of COVID-19 within our student residences. I wanted to update you on the situation as it stands. 

The first thing to note is that the vast majority of students have completed their period of self-isolation after making a full recovery. Thankfully, no student who tested positive for the virus has been hospitalised due to their symptoms. 

The outbreak has been brought under control, and numbers of new cases across the student population were down to single figures by the end of September and have averaged 1-2 new cases per day in the last week. Nevertheless, we continue to engage closely with government and public health agencies on related matters, including testing provision. Our first priority remains the health and safety of our University community.

On this, it is important to stress that there are no recorded cases of transmission taking place on-campus. While our guidance remains that staff should continue to work from home where possible, we do have a cohort of colleagues on-site ensuring continued provision of essential services and facilities and delivering elements of student support. Thanks to the robust measures developed and put in place across the University, I am pleased to report that such activity is proceeding safely. 

This notwithstanding, I want to acknowledge all our students who were required to quarantine due to the virus. Their cooperation and understanding was remarkable. So too, the contribution of many colleagues and friends of the University who, along with the SRC, volunteered their time and expertise to support students in our residences and private accommodation. 

With cases increasing across Scotland, I understand that members of the community may be anxious about the period ahead. The University will continue to move in line with all relevant public health guidance and maintain the flexible approach we have adopted since the crisis hit.

This includes our planning for Semester Two. At Glasgow, from the beginning of the academic year, we have sought to empower colleagues and individual Schools to take their own decisions around the balance of online and face-to-face teaching. We have not imposed, and nor will we seek to impose, a particular approach centrally. It is senior colleagues at a local level who are best placed to strike the right balance for each programme. 

And your response, at subject and School level has been tremendous. What could be taught online is being taught online, and on-campus teaching has been prioritised and carefully managed to provide lab-based, practice-based and skills-focused experiences where deemed appropriate by subject leaders.

We also remain in dialogue across the sector and with Scottish Government over student travel around the Christmas and New Year period. These discussions are ongoing and we will keep students, parents and families appraised of any developments.

As we look to the future, I also want us to think more deeply about how the pandemic has changed how we operate. In many respects, we have been on a war footing since the spring. I understand how exhausting this has been and how draining being reactive can be – especially as we head towards a tough winter period where restrictions will once again play an increasing part in our daily lives.

While we all have obligations to others – including a burning desire to do right by a cohort of young people disproportionately impacted by the pandemic – I would encourage you to take the time to look after and be kind to yourselves. Truth be told, although I have been inspired by the dedication and commitment shown by staff in recent months, I am concerned about burnout, about stress and about the toll this is taking on mental health and wellbeing.

All of us are human. We can't do it all – and nor should we be expected to. Please, if you are finding things tough, do reach out to your line manager: there is a range of support, counselling and advice available. More broadly, I would encourage you to take leave and recharge your batteries where possible. I hope the additional four days holiday over the Christmas and New Year break help in this regard.

It is together that we have got through the last seven months and it is together that we will get through the period ahead. Thank you, once again, for the inspiring way in which you have pulled together and for all you have done, and all you are continuing to do, on behalf of the University.

Take care and stay safe,

Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice Chancellor, University of Glasgow

First published: 23 October 2020