This week brings us to the final stages of our current academic year, and like many of you, I am looking forward to celebrating the achievements of the graduating Class of 2021 next Wednesday, 30 June. While we are unable to gather in the Barony in the traditional way, we will again confer degrees online, and I will be joined by the Convener of Court and our Executive Deans to offer the new graduates our congratulations on behalf of the entire University community.
This year’s students have shown incredible determination, resilience and courage, and their success is made all the more remarkable against the backdrop of the global pandemic. As they go out into the world as graduates, they will join our ever-growing community of more than 180,000 Strathclyders internationally. I have no doubt the skills and experience they have gained at our university, with your guidance and support, will help them to make a positive impact on the world around them and to develop successful careers.
This week, we also met Strathclyders at the very beginning of their University journey at our first summer online undergraduate Open Day. The well-attended event on Wednesday was developed in addition to our usual Open Days in Autumn and was made possible by the hard work and engagement of colleagues across the Faculties and in the Recruitment and International Office. Many thanks to everyone who was involved in planning and delivering this event.
Meanwhile, I have very much enjoyed seeing many of you at my Principal’s Engagement Sessions this week. The sessions are a great opportunity to hear an update from our Executive Team on progress towards our ambitious Vision 2025 strategy, as well as a chance for you to ask questions.
A key question for many of you has been around the evolving coronavirus restrictions and what they might mean for the University and our staff. In her most recent statement to Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister underlined that the Scottish Government will do everything it can to minimise further COVID-19 disruption in the coming academic year, and will work over the summer to plan for the return of universities, colleges and schools. She also paid particular tribute to everyone working in education, and the efforts made in difficult circumstances.
By the end of this week, Scotland will have completed vaccination for well over half the adult population – a fantastic milestone. The decision to maintain current COVID-19 protection levels for another three weeks will enable the vaccination programme to be rolled out further still before restrictions are eased.
The First Minister had indicated that if vaccination targets are met, and we reach a position of alleviating the harms of the virus, all of Scotland could move to Level 0 as soon as 19 July. Confirmation of the position will be communicated a week in advance as usual.
If gateway conditions are met, Scotland could then move beyond Level 0 from 9 August, meaning all level restrictions would be removed, including physical distancing, although baseline mitigation measures like face coverings in certain areas and Test and Protect would still be in place. The Scottish Government is working on guidance for universities and colleges for this period, and we will continue to keep you updated on the latest as it arrives.
I would like to add my own special thanks to the staff and volunteers of our COVID-19 Asymptomatic Test Centre, which has been in operation in the Barony since December last year. The centre has carried out many thousands of lateral flow tests for those of you studying, working and living on campus.
As we move into the quieter summer period, and with lateral flow tests now freely available for home delivery from the Scottish Government’s website, the centre will close from Friday 25th June. Instead, staff and students are encouraged to continue to access lateral flow tests by ordering them online or picking them up at a community collection point.
The hard work and commitment of the test centre team have allowed the whole Strathclyde community to feel safer during difficult times. I am extremely proud and appreciative of their achievements.
At our Engagement Sessions, I also committed to updating you on the progress we have made since we issued our first Staff Wellbeing Survey in February. Almost 700 colleagues responded to the survey, which asked key questions around: the Wellbeing and Working from Home Hub; Meeting-Free Fridays; and, Rest and Recuperation Fridays. In April, we published the survey results alongside the actions we were planning to take in response to survey feedback. I am delighted to update you on the actions already taken in response to your feedback.
Finally, I am pleased to tell you that the University won two awards at The Herald Higher Education awards last week. Strathclyde was named the winner of the Outstanding Business Engagement in Universities award, for Robert van der Meer and team’s work with NHS Lanarkshire in responding to the pandemic. The University also won the Marketing/PR Campaign of the Year Award for our ‘1796 Minutes to Give’ fundraising campaign led by Alumni and Development. Many congratulations to the winning teams, and all of our shortlisted entrants.
Have a wonderful weekend when it comes, and if you are taking annual leave soon to coincide with the school holidays, have a restful and enjoyable break.