Reflections on one year of COVID-19

Over the last year COVID-19 has changed the way we all live and work, causing us to rethink how we deliver core activities across teaching, research, operational and support roles.

Here, some of our Senior Management Group reflect on events of the last year, and how they see the pandemic shaping the University in the future.

Dr David Duncan, University Secretary and Chief Operating Officer

The last year has been hugely challenging in many ways but also very rewarding.  For me, the most inspiring thing has been to see how colleagues across the University have come together as a community, supporting each other and making sure that teaching, research and services to students are maintained.  From the start we have put a heavy emphasis on good communications, keeping in touch with staff and students and sharing information through a variety of media.  It hasn’t always gone perfectly but I’d like to think this has helped to reduce the sense of isolation that inevitably comes with months of disruptions and home working.

We have had to make decisions quickly and sometimes without the careful scrutiny that our governance system requires. On the other hand, regular, informal links with student leaders, trade union representatives, managers and those serving on working groups and committees have been vital.  If there’s one thing I like to think I’ve learnt during the pandemic, it’s to listen more carefully to people throughout the University community and allow their views to inform institution-wide policy and practice. Hopefully this lesson will have a positive impact on the way I do my job going forward.

Prof Moira Fischbacher-Smith - Vice-Principal, Learning & Teaching

I’m writing this on the first birthday of the “Online Support Network” that was created as we prepared to go into lockdown. I mention that because supporting staff and students has been my priority this year and it’s been inspiring to witness and be part of the University-wide networks that have emerged with that focus in mind.

Learning and teaching (not to mention exams!) experienced a huge upheaval in every respect during the last year and the prospects were often daunting. Despite the personal impacts we have all experienced from the pandemic, so much effort has been spent across the University to prioritise teaching and supporting learning.  We’ve not just kept going in a pandemic, but we’ve also developed new approaches to teaching and innovated in so many ways. 

Many of these developments will continue in the future in a range of ways as part of a blended learning experience for students and this will allow us to transform how we make use of physical and digital spaces. I don’t underestimate the energy this has taken, and I couldn’t feel more proud of what has been achieved or thank colleagues across the University enough for all they have done.

Prof Chris Pearce - Vice Principal, Research

A year ago, the majority of our 5,000 researchers had to pause their research, virtually overnight. Between then and now, we have had to manage the impact on our research projects, with no certainty on when things might get back to some kind of normal. With the help of additional funding from the Scottish and UK governments, we introduced several schemes to support our researchers — PGR extensions, furlough top-ups, support for fellowships, grant extensions and measures to mitigate the differential impact of COVID on research careers.

Three things will stay with me, professionally and personally, from the past year. First, when making decisions in the absence of information, as was so often the case, the rule book needs to go out of the window and you make the best call you can. I hope that, on balance, we made the right decisions. Second, I learned the importance of communicating often to both staff and students about the decisions being taken and by whom. I really value this pattern of communication and will take it into the post-COVID future. Third, when we were put to the test, our community worked as a team. It’s been hugely uplifting to see everyone pitch in, showing compassion and collegiality, and an inordinate amount of flexibility.

Rachel Sandison – Vice Principal, External Relations

The past 12 months have been incredibly difficult, but I have been both amazed and inspired by just how much has also been achieved; I have never felt more strongly the power and impact of the TeamUofG community or prouder to be a member. The commitment, tenacity and collegiate spirit shown by our staff and students has been truly exceptional. 

There is no doubt that the past year has brought the sector and our communities untold challenges, creating an environment that has necessitated changes in approach and focus at both a local and global level. However, these peri-Covid times have also provided the opportunity for the University to reinforce our core mission and values, to signal the importance of international partnership, and the chance to drive innovations that have positively impacted on institutional outcomes. 

Communication has been vital in navigating the ever-changing environment, and I’m incredibly proud of the role External Relations has played in supporting both our internal and external communities during this time; advising, reassuring and connecting, whilst also telling our stories, the stories of our world-changing people, to our wider Glasgow family across the globe. 

And whilst we all now hope for a swift end to the pandemic, rebuilding our institutions and our communities shouldn’t necessarily mean a return to what was, but a reimagining of what could now be possible. At Glasgow, agility and adaptability have been fundamental to our approach, and the experience gained and lessons learned will undoubtedly shape our future successes as we embark on the University’s exciting next chapter. 

Christine Barr – Director of People & Organisational Development

Here we are, one year on, most of us still working remotely and the impact of a global pandemic having substantially altered the way we do business while the health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues and students rightly remain enduring features.

Emphasis has been placed on supportive, flexible and inclusive approaches to balancing work and other responsibilities, many of us acquiring new skills and embracing new ways of working thereby enabling greater collaboration across the institution.

Despite the significant challenges we’ve faced in the external environment, the University of Glasgow has performed extremely well on many fronts over the last year.  These extraordinary achievements have been possible through you, our exceptional people and exemplify the whole University community having delivered on a number of key objectives. 

This testifies to the resilience, tenacity and dedication of everyone. I extend my heartfelt thanks and sheer pride in Team UofG and the tremendous support displayed for each other.

As we begin to embark upon a journey out of societal restrictions with agility and flexibility now the norm, our kindness, compassion and commitment will have the chance to flourish and provide an excellent platform for us to move forward in realising our collective ambitions through our new University strategy World Changers Together – it’s a pleasure to be part of such a fantastic team! Thank you!

First published: 12 March 2021