With just a few days until Freshers’ Week begins, I know we are all looking forward to welcoming our new and returning students to campus; this is an exciting phase at the start of any academic session. I would like to put on record my thanks to everyone who has been working so hard over the summer to plan for our students’ safe return.
As ever, the safety, health and wellbeing of our University community is of paramount importance to us and informs every decision we take. This includes adhering to – and in some cases, going over and above – the Scottish Government’s Beyond Level Zero Guidance, from:
- implementing 1-metre social distancing in activity spaces
- retaining a cap of 50 people for teaching and learning activities
- developing a ventilation strategy for our buildings
- keeping 2-metre physical distancing in place in circulation spaces such as building entrances and exits, stairwells, corridors and lifts
In preparation for the start of the semester, our Estates Services colleagues have been assessing our learning and teaching spaces to ensure that appropriate ventilation is in place. We have also developed a position statement to provide guidance to University staff on our approach to ventilation on campus. More details will be published in Inside Strathclyde in the near future.
As I stressed last week, we all have responsibilities to each other and the wider community. In line with the law and Scottish Government guidance, face coverings must be worn inside all buildings, unless you are exempt, in communal spaces, circulation spaces and activity spaces. Exemptions are permitted in activity spaces where 1-metre distancing is feasible, or where partitions are in place to keep people separated.
If you are working on campus, or are about to return, please be aware that the University’s guidance on physical distancing and the use of face coverings on campus was updated this week. Please ensure you have read the latest guidance on our website, be conscious of the personal space of others, take regular lateral flow tests, and – if you haven’t already done so – install the Protect Scotland and Check In Scotland apps.
I would also like to remind you that, as we transition back onto campus, there will be opportunities to consider new ways of working. We want to retain the benefits we gained over the last year and where appropriate, provide more opportunities for colleagues to work in a blended way between campus and home. You can find full information about the process and requirements to return to campus, as well as our Agile Working Toolkit, online.
On Monday of this week, Benn Rapson, our Strath Union President, and I were delighted to support a shared statement on behalf of Scotland’s universities to encourage students to look after their mental health and wellbeing. We know that the beginning of the academic year is an exciting time for students, many of whom are keen to get started with their studies and meet new people. We also know that for some, there will be a period of readjustment after the long months of lockdown. For others, this will be their first experience of living away from home.
As a University community, we have prioritised each other’s mental health and wellbeing throughout the pandemic. Co-signed by all Scottish University Principals and Student Presidents, the statement encourages students to get involved in university life, stay active, and connect with other people through clubs and societies.
It also encourages students to come forward for help and support if things are not going well, and to look after their mental health. We will be following this up at the beginning of the semester by writing to all students with details of our support services – an email which will also be shared with you. Please do keep a copy to help you direct students to appropriate support if required.
I would also warmly encourage you to consider your own wellbeing – as a reminder, you can find lots of great advice on our Wellbeing and Working from Home Hub.
On Wednesday this week, I was honoured to speak at the inaugural Braemar Summit in Royal Deeside. This was a celebration of the best of science and engineering, and their ability to solve the great challenges of our time. Contributions were taken from leading figures from politics, science and business, including the Prime Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, President for COP26 and Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, the theme was ‘The New Enlightenment’.
Given Strathclyde’s Enlightenment roots, it was fitting that the event was supported by our University and several of our students had the opportunity to take part in proceedings.
With subjects of the summit including energy, space, the environment and the green economy, the University representatives were well placed to make a constructive contribution and underline Strathclyde’s place in working with government and industry to solve global challenges.
Finally, I was delighted to learn this week that Strathclyde honorary graduate and astrophysicist Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell has recently received one of the most prestigious awards in academia – the Royal Society Copley Medal. It is the Royal Society’s highest award, introduced in 1791. Previous recipients include Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Strathclyde’s own Thomas Graham. The medal is awarded for outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science.
This is yet further recognition of Dame Jocelyn’s immense talent, and I very much look forward to welcoming her to campus for the official opening of the Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell Wing of our new Learning and Teaching Building next year.
Have a terrific weekend when it comes.