A message to staff from the Vice-Chancellor about the easing of restrictions and University planning for the rest of the summer and Michaelmas Term

Dear colleagues,

I am writing to share some of the University’s plans following the government’s latest announcements on the lifting of most COVID-related restrictions from 19 July. The changes in national policy will not only affect what the University is able to do over the next few weeks, but also how we plan for the Michaelmas term.

From prescription to risk assessment
The government’s announcements signal a move from a prescriptive approach – where measures such as social distancing and the use of face-coverings were legally mandated – to one based on continuing workplace risk assessment and advice on best-practice. This is in line with our plans for the Collegiate University to operate in a fuller way in the autumn. 

However, while the easing of restrictions may have operational benefits, Department for Education (DfE) guidance is clear that the University must undertake risk assessments to minimise the transmission of COVID-19. These assessments will consider elements such as adequate ventilation in buildings, the need to manage “pinch points” that might otherwise lead to physical contacts, and the need for building occupants to maintain a degree of social distance and use of face-coverings.

Despite the generalised lifting of restriction on July 19, the University’s Gold Team has agreed to a transitional approach that is more cautious than might be expected by some, but will be subject to regular and frequent re-evaluation. It is less challenging, from an operational point of view, to keep some restrictions in place and ease them when appropriate, than to jettison all restrictions only to have to re-introduce them later. The transitional phase will also allow more colleagues to be fully vaccinated before restrictions are eased.

The University’s COVID Gold Team has therefore recommended that during this transitional phase:

  • all University activities continue with ongoing consideration for social distancing of 1 metre, except where appropriate mitigating factors have been identified and agreed; and
  • the use of face-coverings be strongly encouraged in indoor work settings, except where appropriate mitigating factors have been identified and agreed.

These and other measures will be kept under constant review. 

Specific tools to help University institutions with their assessment of risk, including appropriate mitigation measures, are being prepared by the University’s Safety Office, and will be released soon. 

Later this week, our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Institutional Relations will be writing to staff about the practicalities of the new working arrangements from 19 July, including the return to the workplace for those staff who are currently working from home, as well as plans to test the long-term feasibility of hybrid working.

We continue to urge students and staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible to increase their protection and decrease the likelihood of transmission in the autumn. The local authority is running various walk-in vaccinations clinics across Cambridge.

Planning for Michaelmas term
It is impossible, at this moment, to predict what the public health circumstances will be in October. National restrictions are being lifted at a time of increased transmission. This makes any planning for October very challenging. Yet plan we must – I know that students and staff expect clarity regarding the University’s operations. In addition, the University is legally required to let students know what it will deliver in terms of education in the next academic year.

In light of the government’s announcements and the DfE’s latest guidance, the University’s COVID Gold Team has determined that we should plan for in-person teaching without social distancing from the start of the new academic year. This is subject to three important caveats:

  • If the public health situation worsens or government guidance changes, we will need to implement contingency plans. To avoid colleagues having to plan two distinct timetables (one for regular in-person teaching and one for socially distanced teaching), it would be appropriate to move to on-line teaching should the local public health situation require a change, with a return to in-person teaching once the local public health situation improves.
  • It is appropriate for a Faculty or Department to decide, for pedagogical reasons, that it wishes to adopt a blended teaching format, involving recorded lectures with a significant in-person teaching component.
  • Provision will still need to be made for recording of lectures and other teaching resources for international students who are not able to travel to Cambridge. We anticipate that this number might grow over the next few weeks and will be monitoring the situation carefully.

Detailed advice regarding teaching arrangements will be shared later this week.

I am grateful to all of you for your patience as we navigate through this period of transition. We want to provide Cambridge students with the best educational experience. We want to offer Cambridge staff the best working environment. We will continue to do this with safety as a primary consideration.

Best wishes, 

Stephen

Professor Stephen J Toope
Vice-Chancellor