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President's weekly update

26 March 2020

The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak is the key topic for all of us just now. I hope that you and your family and friends are well, though I know that a number of you are self-isolating.

Following Government advice my colleagues and I will be working from home but are in continual contact over this exceptionally busy time.

I hope that you are also adjusting to working from home, though for some of you balancing work commitments with childcare and home schooling may be challenging. Please contact your line manager to discuss what arrangements can be put in place to support you and read our staff FAQs.

Staff are continuing teaching and engagement with our students, many of whom are understandably distressed by the changes they face. I’m very grateful to our staff who have acted as mentors to those less familiar with online teaching. Our Institute for Teaching and Learning has also published some excellent advice.

I trust that you are all keeping in touch with colleagues and that line managers are in regular contact with their staff. Many have been using Zoom which has worked well for conference calls in my office.

While most University activities have been transferred off-campus or suspended, we still have quite a number of students in our residences who are unable to travel home. We are doing our best to support them. We have informed all students in our residences that if they vacate their hall or have already done so they will not be charged rent beyond 21 March.

Many staff, postgraduate researchers (PGRs) and students are very concerned about their research and funding. Most funders are relaxing deadlines and end of contracts. We have not told any staff or students that they should take unpaid leave. The University coronavirus website has an FAQ section for PGRs and research matters, including the latest updates from major research funders on their contingency arrangements.

Some of our medical and healthcare staff and students are now working on front-line services and care. We will support them in any way we can and we are coordinating requests from the NHS and other organisations for staff volunteers.

I am very grateful to staff who are essential to our operations and who continue to work at the University rather than at home, notably but not exclusively in maintenance, security, animal facilities, our student residences and in our counselling and mental health support services. I want to thank them for their ongoing valued contribution. Other colleagues should not come on to the campus as there is no access to University buildings, but should continue to work at home. We have agreed an additional payment for those staff who we need to continue to be at work and have just announced an extra two days holiday over Easter. Full details are on StaffNet.

At times like this, it is heartening how our University community is working together. Our staff are continuing really important research on coronavirus, including some potential new trials. I am involved in planning a possible trial of a drug that we have worked on for many years in stroke and brain haemorrhage that may now be used in coronavirus patients.

I did manage to take part in many meetings over the past week. Senior colleagues and I ‘met’ every day last week. In addition to the operational actions and communications which are being considered on a daily basis, we are also now thinking about the short, medium and longer term financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic, which will be very significant for the University and more widely.

We had a Zoom meeting with executive members of our Students’ Union which was very positive and we agreed the need for continued communications with all students. We held an emergency virtual meeting of Senate and managed to Zoom with 68 participants. We also had an online meeting with all Heads of Schools. Richard Cotton, Director of Student Recruitment and International Development and I had a Zoom meeting with the Chinese Consul General, and I managed to join part of the COVID-19 Research Rapid Response Team meeting.

I had calls with many staff in the University, with the Vice-Chancellors of the other Greater Manchester universities and with Joanne Roney, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council.

You may have seen that the submission date for REF2021 has been delayed, with no new date as yet, though the census date remains the same.

I will continue to send messages each week but please also look at StaffNet which is being updated daily.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor