Messages from Professor Stuart WJ Reid, Principal of the RVC, (primarily to students and staff of the RVC) during the COVID-19 outbreak. Read previous messages from 2021 here and previous messages from 2020 here.

September 2022

Message from the Principal 19th September 2022

World events do seem to accelerate the passage of time and here we are on the threshold of a new academic cycle with all the excitement, planning and major effort that goes into ensuring everything happens when, and in the way, it is supposed to… and as we watch the days of summer and the momentous events of the last few weeks fade into memories.

There is no doubt that the economic challenges facing the nation will impact on all of us, both professionally and personally, regardless of our role in the RVC community. We will be doing everything we can to support those experiencing hardship and we will seek to minimise burdens where we can.  As a sector, the resilience we called upon during the pandemic will again be required – and I have no doubt that together we will ensure we keep our business of education, research and clinical care open to all those who call upon our skills and services, as they too face challenge.

New starts are a time for fresh resolution and recommitment and, as we continue to adapt to new patterns of work and study, it will be important we remain alert to the advantages and new opportunities presented to us – blended learning and telemedicine were with us before the pandemic but the investment of effort and resources have accelerated our potential offering almost to the point of out-stripping regulatory and governance frameworks and we should continue to press for the advantages and efficiencies our diverse and flexible approaches now enable.

For a while, the international travel restrictions seemed to make our world a bigger place, albeit offset by digital communications, but now with a renewed freedom, we will need to consider carefully how our global reputation and impact is maintained and worldwide communities of learners and collaborators can come together in the face of fuel costs and a push towards ”Net Zero”. I have no doubt we will find ways of making all the important things happen even if it means we find new ways or adapt old habits.

But most important of all, and perhaps having witnessed the way a loss can bring people together from different backgrounds, beliefs and cultures, the coming year must be one in which we embrace our differences, protect our freedoms, nurture our disadvantaged and respect each other as we take the RVC into a new academic year and a new era, together

As ever,

Stuart

June 2022

Message from the Principal 1st June 2022

It has been a while….

Pantomimes are usually something associated with the winter season and whether you regard the events, the handling of them or reporting of them as a pantomime, or perhaps Brian Rix farce (look it up), there can be no doubt that the time, effort and column inches dedicated to happenings during the pandemic have painted a very peculiar picture of the UK to an international audience.  Almost regardless of the events themselves and the transparency, or otherwise, with which they have been dealt, from a disaster management or business continuity point of view the apparent lack of physical separation of key leadership figures at the time remains troubling not least as this was all pre-vaccines and when we knew we had a pandemic, but did not fully understand its epidemiology or the health consequences. Yet here we are. Evidence based-decision or decision-based evidence making; you choose.

And evidence is what is being amassed as we see the emergence, or more accurately, re-emergence of Monkeypox. As it stands it seems the informed opinion is that this is unlikely to be of pandemic proportions but as with any pathogen finding its way into naïve populations we must be vigilant. The One Health aspect of the epidemic is without doubt and the two-way transmission (animals to humans and vice versa) may yet see the narrative change. What is for sure is that infectious disease spreads when people congregate in large numbers in close/intimate proximity – but then hopefully that is a lesson we have all learned over the last two difficult years. Or is it?

Turning to happier matters which are disputed less though still divide opinion, as many in the country prepare to celebrate Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, there can be no doubt that a 70-year tenure in any position is a remarkable achievement. Whether or not one thinks a constitutional monarchy is appropriate in the 21st century, the very fact that as most others in other countries have dwindled in the face of popular opinion, ours has not. Thick and thin, war and peace, boom and bust, her dedication to service in a position she did not choose is surely something to be admired and celebrated. To a supporter of the RVC and our work over many years, our public message is here.

Whether you are celebrating or not and recognising many will be studying hard and others will be busy at work, enjoy the long weekend if you can.

As ever,

Stuart 

May 2022

Message from the Principal 13th May 2022

A few updates for you this week…..

1. COVID-19
First, and mostly importantly, Symptomatic Testing. Despite compulsory COVID restrictions/precautions now being lifted, the need to protect our RVC community and those who come to us for veterinary care remains as important as ever. To that end we are continuing with symptomatic testing in clinical environments for another two months (until the end of term). Professor Dan Chan will be messaging those staff and students affected.

For the rest of the community, as a reminder, if you feel unwell and test positive, please report as follows:

  • Clinical students - contact your Rotation Office
  • All other students - contact your course director / year leader / programme support co-ordinator (course support) for advice as per the pre-COVID process
  • Staff - contact your Line Manager (using the usual sickness reporting system rather than that created for reporting positive COVID cases).

As always, please do not come in to work or study if you are unwell or experiencing COVID symptoms. If you feel unwell whilst on campus test kits are still available, so please do use one. They can be collected from reception on both campuses.
Testing at home using your own kits remains a personal choice.

2. Mental Health Awareness Week
As you may be aware, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week and this year’s theme is ‘loneliness’.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, loneliness is more prevalent than ever in the UK. One in four adults feel lonely some or all the time. Feeling lonely can affect your mental health, and poor mental health can make you feel lonely. For all there’s no single cause and no one solution but there are things we can do to help ourselves.

I would encourage you to spend some time considering this help and advice sheet from the Mental Health Foundation, which has some good tips:

Mental Health Foundation – help and advice on how to cope with loneliness and improve your mental health

Student’s can also read ‘A Student Guide to Loneliness’ here.

If you are struggling it is really important that you talk to someone. Students can book an appointment with the RVC Advice Centre here and can find information about accessing urgent support on the RVC website.

Further information on useful resources to maintain staff mental health and wellbeing can be found by following this link to the intranet.

3. New Vice-Principal Appointment
I am delighted that Dr Christine Thuranira-McKeever has been appointed as Vice Principal for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) – alongside her existing roles as Director of Distance Learning Programmes and Chair of the Equality and Diversity Committee.

I have every confidence that Christine will enhance the visibility of EDI and drive forward strategic development, existing initiatives, new policies, and collaboration in this critical aspect of life at the RC.

Further details about Christine's new role can be found on the news section of the website.

4. New RVC Honorary Fellowship Awarded
Emeritus Professor Peter Bedford was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the RVC, at a dinner held on 27th April, for his continued dedication to both the RVC and the wider veterinary profession, specifically with regard to his research and work in ophthalmology.

Further details about Professor Bedford and his achievements that led to this recognition can be found on the news section of the website.

5. May Ball
Huge congratulations to the SU for creating a wonderful event for our student community to enjoy last Saturday. I am aware that an enormous amount of effort went into making the May Ball the success that it was and I am sure all those in attendance enjoyed it.

6. REF 2021
And last but by no means least, some more good news. You may have seen Professor Jonathan Elliott’s recent communication, which shared the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) exercise 2021 (below), following assessment of the quality of our research over a seven-year period from 2014 to 2020.

REF 2021 Research Score 4* Research Scored 3* Research Scored 2* Research Score 1* Research Score U No of Staff FTE
Overall 44% 44% 10% 2% 0% 159.75

Outputs (60%)

20.1% 59.8% 17.3% 2% 0.8%
Impact (25%) 83.3% 16.7% 0% 0% 0%
Environment (15%)  75% 25% 0% 0% 0%

Needless to say, I am delighted with the outcome – as a specialist institution with a clinical focus, the challenge of addressing the scientific spectrum, from fundamental research to clinical application, is at the very core of our mission. Knowing that we are assessed as delivering to that agenda by our peers is important and encourages us to continue our efforts of making meaningful impact on animal and human health globally.  Well done to everyone involved in the very many roles that contribute to the strength, breadth and depth our research activities – you should be proud and rightly so!  

Wishing you all a good weekend

As ever, Stuart  

April 2022

Message from Principal 14th April 2022

No specific updates. Writing blogs like this one treads a fine line when they can be both personal and professional, and sometimes it is difficult to keep one’s counsel when apparent injustices emerge. The way in which the RVC community has behaved throughout the pandemic remains a source of great pride to me, both personally and professionally, and has allowed us to deliver education and pursue careers within the regulations, but often at great cost to individuals. I am grateful for all your continued efforts in what, I know, remain demanding circumstances as the prevalence of infection remains high and we cope with absences. I’ll leave it there.

QS rankings

Recognising the awkward juxtaposition of good news in a world in turmoil, last week nevertheless saw the announcement of the QS World University Rankings by Subject and, as many will know, we retained our position ahead of some truly excellent organisations. As I said in our press release, the “first amongst equals” aspect is an honour, especially as part of the system considers the views of our competitors on our standing. For sure, there are other league tables in which we do less well, and it behoves us to be mindful of that …. but we should enjoy the most recent success in the QS rankings. Well done everybody!

New Strategic Plan

To a large extent our performance in assessments like the QS is built upon the shoulders and efforts of those who have gone before and are many years in the making. Although learning from the past is the important starting point, our focus must be on tomorrow and in this regard the development of our new 5-year Strategic Plan has been a critical task over the last two years. Without doubt hampered by the pandemic, the consultations and discussions involved in producing our new road map have been more involved than for any previous version and, whilst ambition must be tempered by the context in which we live and work, the new plan is one of which we can all be proud. Signed off by our Council at its most recent meeting, the Strategic Plan 2022-2026 can be found here. I hope you like it.

They say leadership is about pointing towards a better and brighter future regardless of current circumstances. I am sure that there will be occasions when this will be much more difficult than others and there are many elsewhere who are facing very uncertain futures. However, I hope the new plan provides you with the confidence and security that the RVC will continue to evolve, continue to meet its challenges, continue to innovate and continue deliver for those who work and study here and for those communities we serve.

I wish you well over this short break and, whether your activities are faith-related or otherwise, I hope you get to enjoy some down-time with those closest to you.

As ever,

Stuart

Message from the Principal 7th April 2022

For some time now, a team has been working on our response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. Here is an outline of the work of the group in relation to refugees resulting from this and other conflicts. 

Whilst this disaster has simulated a desire to assist – and most current UK Government schemes focus on refugees from Ukraine - it is important that in doing this work we recognise the need for us to have a more organised way of reacting to similar crises elsewhere, and important that we learn how we can provide wider support in the future.

  • The RVC has joined Cara, the Council for at Risk Academics which facilitates Fellowships and support for academics at risk from any conflict zone.
  • We have created a Task Group to deal with the immediate needs - this is being led by Nina Davies, with input from colleagues and students from across the RVC, and forms part of a wider organised humanitarian response.
  • We are committed to developing pathways for those fleeing conflict to come to the RVC - we are using tools provided by the UK Government and we will keep you updated as and when information becomes available.
  • Working with UUK, London Higher and the Veterinary Schools Council, we are supporting lobbying for the opening up of the schemes to other colleagues and students displaced by conflict, as well as driving for further clarity and flexibility in terms of Ukraine.
  • Our clinical colleagues have been supporting fundraising schemes centred around CPD.
  • We set up a depot for BritishVetsforUkraine gathering medical supplies to send to Ukraine.
  • The RVC has signed up to a UUK backed twinning scheme with the Ukrainian HE sector.

Some people have already signed up with the government “Homes for Ukraine” scheme which requires hosts to be connected with potential guests.  We are doing our best to facilitate a matchmaking service between members of the RVC community and displaced Ukrainian university colleagues and students. 

And finally, in order to ensure swift and accurate responses to your feedback or queries, please use humanitarianresponse@rvc.ac.uk for any related correspondence.

Many thanks,

Stuart 

March 2022

Message from the Principal 22nd March 2022

This posting relates only to COVID-19.

The end of March marks a change in the way England is addressing the ongoing pandemic. I am going to spare you my personal views today, save to say that case numbers are higher than ever and this is against a background of reduced testing. It is certainly the case that the prevalence is higher than is being reported. Whilst we are fortunate that the current variant appears to cause mild to moderate symptoms in the vaccinated and the young, there are still people being hospitalised and the most vulnerable may succumb. There is absolutely no doubt that there will be subsequent variants and in removing the protections we have in place as a society, we must remain vigilant.

The points that follow set out our general approach to the relaxation of measures from today, 25th March. However, there are going to be specific circumstances where testing and mask wearing will still be required – this is to keep key facilities and activities operational and reduce the likelihood of people becoming infected and having to take days of sick leave. As I have said before, we can’t teach, consult, treat, research, learn etc if we cannot come to campus to do the things we need to do in person.

From today, 25th March:

  • Masks are still strongly encouraged in common indoor public spaces, as currently. There is, however, no general mask mandate.
  • Masks will still be required in most clinical settings and on certain rotations for BVetMed 4th and Final Year students.
  • Masks may be required in other settings, and you will be informed of this locally.
  • Regular asymptomatic testing is similarly no longer required. However, testing will still be required in some clinical settings and on certain rotations for staff and BVetMed 4th and Final Year students.
  • Unless specifically directed otherwise, no regular reporting of all test results is required. If you have a positive result, please report as follows:
    • Clinical students - contact your Rotation Office
    • All other students - contact the Advice Centre
    • Staff - contact your Line Manager (utilising the usual sickness reporting system rather than that created for reporting positive COVID cases).
  • A limited number of tests are available for staff and students; these will either be distributed to you when required or can be sourced on request from the main reception desks at either Campus.
  • All other COVID-19 related protective measures are being relaxed or removed (social distancing, events policy restrictions etc.)

Given all of the foregoing, these next points are important:

  • It is critical that you do not attend work or study in person if you test positive or if you have symptoms that might be COVID-19. It is your personal responsibility to protect others and reduce the likelihood of virus spreading in our community.
  • Finally, we reserve the right to reinstate in part or full, any of the measures we have used to date in our response to the pandemic, regardless of what national guidelines might be.

It has been a long, hard and frustrating journey to this point, but your response has been as magnificent as it has been humbling. I know that anxieties remain and that you will respect the needs of those around you as we continue to cope with a changed world. I didn’t ever expect “epidemiology” to be a word that appeared on the front pages of national newspapers, but it is true that we have all learned a lot about infectious diseases, their impact and, most importantly, their control. Let’s make the most of those lessons and keep the RVC as safe as we can, whether from SARS-CoV-2 or any other pathogen.

Thank you so much.

Have a great weekend.

As ever,

Stuart

Message from the Principal 8th March 2022

It is very difficult to believe that it is a week since my posting regarding the unimaginable tragedy that is occurring in Ukraine. A week, however, is a long time – most especially for those caught under bombardment or being displaced from their home and country.

I am sure we have all been wondering what we can do to assist those in need, and I listed a few of the things we were initiating last week. Whilst we are lagging behind some of our near neighbours in Europe in the admission of refugees (in a way that is really difficult to understand) and there appear to be barriers to getting direct aid out of the UK to where it is needed, it remains the case that the most effective way to support victims of the war is to provide financial contribution to those organisations established to do this work. They have the infrastructure, skills and experience in doing so and there are several charities and NGOs who have launched appeals and, on a personal level, I encourage you to consider donating to them. The DEC, which brings 15 UK aid charities together, is one significant example.

For the RVC, we continue to work with our professional bodies and associations, like EAEVE, AAVMC, and UUK, and with organisations that co-ordinate placement of those associated with academia. As I mentioned, the key to access remains visa status which simply must be addressed. Our colleague Renate Weller, now Dean at the University of Calgary has been promoting the role of one – Scholars at Risk where individual labs can register their capacity to offer support (see here for more details).

And on this, International Women’s Day, I am so pleased to promote the work of Nina Babchuk, a 2018 BVetMed graduate who has Ukrainian grandparents, who has set up a social media profile and appeal asking for veterinary supplies and is working with the Ukrainian Medical Association to gather a list of items suitable for human use to be sent urgently to those in need. We, and other veterinary schools, are acting as depots so that the supplies can be collated before onward transport to the UMA, subject to export regulations of course. For more details see https://www.facebook.com/groups/britishvetsforukraine .

We continue to hope for peace to come as soon as possible but know that support will be required for years to come.

As ever,

Stuart

Message from the Principal 1st March 2022

Ukraine

I am not often lost for words but watching, with utter horror, the events unfolding in Ukraine, I am struggling.

I join with our many cognate organisations and, frankly, the rest of civilised world, in condemning the actions of aggression initiated by Putin and the Russian government, and our support goes out to the Ukrainian people and those who are protesting within Russia.

I did not think I would see, in my lifetime, the scenes we have witnessed recently, but conscious that war is not a stranger in other parts of the globe, we do well to reflect on how thin the veneer of respectable society can be. We ignore threats and warnings at our peril.

In the fervent hope that escalation is avoided and negotiation leads to a cessation of hostilities, there will, however, be consequences and impact on those in Ukraine for some time. Over the weekend the sector has been assessing how best we can support any refugees that manage to gain access to the UK through a system that can surely be simplified.

For the RVC, the provision of space for scientists and students will be on offer and we are looking at how best this might be accommodated. Ukraine is also home to an EAEVE accredited veterinary school which means that their graduates can work as veterinarians in the UK - and the RCVS supports those refugees from other schools through the statutory exam process. Again, we will do what we can to offer employment for these colleagues.

We have also made contact with those either from or with family in Ukraine and are working with our regulators and associations to ensure we are as joined up as we can be to assist those facing displacement and in crisis. I realise these are small offerings in the face of war.

I also realise that many will be feeling stressed and anxious about the global tensions that have been triggered by these events. We must do what we can to comfort each other in these fraught times but particularly we must support those caught in the middle of the chaos and suffering caused by these acts of madness.

Stuart

February 2022

Message from the Principal 22nd February 2022

With the Prime Minister making the views of Government on the pandemic abundantly clear, albeit flanked by senior advisors who continue to urge caution and forecast future challenges, the university sector must now adapt to the new requirements.

With the lifting of compulsory protective measures such as masks, distancing and self-isolation, the personal and professional obligation to protect each other is even more acute. We remain committed to ensuring we can deliver time-sensitive education to our students and, therefore, we ask that you continue to work as a community to enable us to meet our obligations.

  1. Please do not come into the company of others if you feel ill or have symptoms that might be COVID. If you can, please keep testing for as long as tests are available. If the result is positive, up to 1st April, you should follow the Government’s advice and avoid the company of others for 5 full days and then two days of negative results.
  2. We ask that you continue to follow our current mask requirements until 25th March. This is a requirement in all indoor teaching spaces and a recommendation in non-teaching and social spaces.
  3. We encourage you to use Lateral Flow Tests until the end of this term, as you have been previously. We do not require you to report any results to us. We have a limited supply of tests and they should remain available through pharmacies and online until 1st April.
  4. We and our partners may require tests to be taken in specific settings. You will be informed locally if this is the case. We absolutely require continued testing for those on clinical rotations until 19th March – the high stakes nature (in terms of risk of time out) and the vulnerability of the activity (small groups in very close contact) make this the only sensible option until we see what the next few weeks bring as society in general removes the protective measures. There may also be some requirement for continued reporting in the short term. Professor Chan will be in contact with relevant cohorts.

We will continue with our return to face-to-face teaching in all formats where appropriate, and with access to digital resources for those unable to attend. Whilst it would appear to be the case that for most vaccinated people, infection with the currently circulating variants causes only mild symptoms, the reality is that we do have some vulnerable people in our midst and there are some who cannot be vaccinated.

As we have experienced previously, undoing arrangements is every bit as tricky as putting them in place in the first instance. I am enormously grateful for all your efforts in minimising the impact of the pandemic on the RVC community and keeping our show on the road for these last two years. Whatever your personal view on the most recent announcements, I am sure we will continue to work together to keep the RVC a safe place where we can all pursue our studies, careers and lives. We will be working to update all our published guidance over the next few days. Please do bear with us as we make these amendments. In the meantime, students should contact their Year or Course Leader if they have any queries.

With all best wishes, as ever,

Stuart

Message from the Principal 18th February 2022

IMPORTANT Red Weather Alert RVC 18.0.2022

With the weather alert now red, the following applies for today, Friday 18th February:

  • Campuses will remain open with essential services maintained.
  • All live face-to-face teaching and rotations are suspended for the rest of today.
  • People should work from home if they can.
  • Clinics remain open but colleagues are advised to exercise discretion in their individual circumstances.
  • There may be disruption to clinical services and clients are advised to contact our clinics before attempting to travel.

Message from the Principal 4th February 2022

It’s really, really great to see so many people back on our campuses. A very brief note today. We are trying really hard to keep our campuses fully open and all of our teaching, laboratories, clinical services and student support fully staffed. We will only achieve this if:

  1. As many people as possible are fully vaccinated. We have amazing coverage at the RVC, so thank you for minimising the risk for everyone.
  2. We continue to test and report as required by Government.
  3. We wear face masks. Masks do work. We have very clear guidelines on when and where for everyone - of particular importance are:
    • Lecture theatres (unless exempt or teaching and distanced) and other teaching and learning environments like the libraries.
    • Social learning spaces such as the Lightwell at Camden and the Eclipse building at Hawkshead. Sitting studying or working with a cup of coffee still requires masks to be worn!
    • Moving to and from offices through public spaces.

I am sure I don’t need to remind you, but infections are taking people out of our workforce and student population which, despite our best efforts, may well end up delaying progression for some. Today, there are about 100 positive cases we know of at the RVC and another 150 people affected by being in contact.

Please do your bit and get fully vaccinated, boosted, and wear a mask, unless you are exempt on either count.

Have a good weekend.

As ever,

Stuart


January 2022

Message from the Principal 21st January 2022

As promised, I am writing to you today to provide an update following the recent announcements and guidance from Westminster. Below are listed the changes we will be introducing from the 31st January. As you can see, this is not an exhaustive list and there is much work to be done as we adapt, once again, to the challenges of maintaining a sustainable educational and workplace model with the expectations and restraints placed upon us. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, we cannot teach if we do not have people free from infection and able to come to campus.

Although the popular focus on the PM’s messages is about the lifting of restrictions, the reality is more subtle. What is happening is the majority of mandated restrictions are now being replaced by recommendations and there is a clear shift away from legal obligation to personal responsibility. Institutional risk assessments are still required and, in some areas, our own restrictions are focused on preventing spread and the consequent impact on attendance and service delivery. As things stand today, over 140 ‘RVC people’ are affected either directly or indirectly by a positive test result – and this is only among those who take the trouble to report to us. 

In the points that follow, I cannot stress enough that we all have a personal responsibility not to place our colleagues and wider community at risk of infection, regardless of superficial interpretation of Government statements. It is worth noting that the recommendations in the PM’s statement still focus on face masks in crowded situations and the need for continued vigilance, testing and self-isolation.

In short, each one of us has a professional responsibility and moral duty to:

  • Be vaccinated unless exempt.
  • Stay away from others if we are symptomatic - whether you are testing or not.
  • Continue to protect others by the appropriate use of face masks.

From the 31st of January:

  • As planned for the start of Term 2, all lectures will be offered face-to-face unless there is either a pedagogical reason for this not to be the case or where staffing is impacted by positive cases of COVID-19 or other illness.
  • For those students who do not wish to attend lectures in person, digital alternatives will be on offer.  These may vary slightly from course to course and from subject to subject, but will allow students to achieve the learning objectives if they choose not to attend in-person lectures.
  • As currently, all other activities scheduled to be delivered face-to-face will continue as previously announced – i.e., in person.
  • Note that it may take through the early days of February to pivot back fully to our pre break plans, but the expectation is quite clear. During this transition period it is especially important that students read and take heed of communications from course, year, module and strand leaders as these will outline details of which classes will be held in person.  Late notice of changes to teaching may unfortunately occur in the event of staff becoming unavailable due to COVID.
  • We will be doing away with the need for social distancing but, as a consequence, face masks will be required in all learning environments including lecture halls, classrooms or social learning spaces.
  • As per the Minister’s direction, twice-weekly testing and reporting for the rest of Term 2 will be required - we have a professional responsibility to take and report the tests, and to act on the results.
  • We will continue to check individual tests for those students in clinical areas.
  • With regard to social activities, the SU have done a remarkable job through the “Return to Play” initiative. We will be supporting the SU as they consider how best to organise social activities in light of the new guidance.
  • For events and activities with participants from outside the RVC community, we will be maintaining the need for testing and checking/declarations for these individuals.
  • Staff members with an agreed working pattern under the Working from Home pilot will revert to those arrangements, subject to all the foregoing, from Monday 24 January, as per the COO’s message yesterday.

As I mentioned earlier, we are now working to make specific arrangements on a year-by-year, course-by-course basis but, in line with the undertakings we gave previously, and to allow you to plan, I thought it appropriate that this update makes clear our direction of travel. If you are a student, and have specific queries or questions about your programme, please do not respond with enquiries to this email but direct them to the relevant year or course leader.  Members of staff should liaise, in the first instance, with their line manager.

I hope all this is helpful. Have a great weekend.

As ever,

Stuart

Message from the Principal 10th January 2022

With the majority of students starting back today and with a significant number of people taking leave in the first week of January, today seems an appropriate day to say welcome back and also a huge thank you to those of you who were working during the festive season.

Two things to look out for in these early days of 2022:
A new vaccination status survey, required by the Department for Education; please do complete this when you receive it.
Updates and news from Year Leaders relating to teaching delivery.

We will be continuing with some temporary adjustments for January and in short, although we were expecting some announcement from the PM/DfE/OfS over the break with respect to additional restrictions, nothing new surfaced. Our arrangements are therefore as published before the break and updated on 29th December.

I appreciate that there may be some frustration around both our own changes and the sometimes confusing messaging coming from the authorities, but here is why we have made the decisions we have made and why we have taken the actions we have taken.

The key points are:

  • The new arrangements are temporary (to 28th Jan as it stands)
  • Safety and wellbeing are our first priority
  • Ensuring we have staff available to run teaching and services is critical
  • Ensuring we protect those classes which are less amenable to digital delivery is essential
  • Through points 1-4, ensuring progression and graduation are not compromised

In common with many other businesses, our biggest challenge is workforce shortage due to positive cases and self-isolations – in the last week before the break, we were approaching 10 percent of staff directly or indirectly affected. This was at least double any figure we had seen in the previous wave and the number was increasing rapidly. The fact that this may not have been associated with a high prevalence of serious illness (as now appears to be the view of SAGE and the Government) did not mitigate the fact that these staff members could not attend campus even if they felt well enough to do so. Add to this the number of staff who may be caring for family members (whether associated with COVID or not) or have children sent home from schools because of high Omicron prevalence, and we have a “perfect storm”. Importantly, this is in a population that we believe to be 94-97 percent vaccinated.

While there is no evidence of transmission occurring within our clinical facilities or indeed from any teaching related activities, in the face of this increasing prevalence we felt reducing campus densities to prevent spread within the RVC community was again a priority, particularly with people returning from the break from all around the world. Fundamentally, we cannot teach if we cannot get staff in to do so.

As a consequence, we have:

  • Where possible, staff working from home to depopulate our campuses
  • Moved lectures *ONLY* to digital format
  • Maintained all other classes (labs, practicals, Directed Learning, clinical scenarios, rotations, placements) as in person (as far as is possible)
  • Reinforced the use of PPE

Through Veterinary Schools Council, I know that most, if not all, other universities with similar programmes are taking the same approach.


Inevitably, there will be disappointment and frustration in some quarters and the reality is that we know that opinion is divided on digital versus in person lectures – from our surveying of the student community, half, or slightly more, either prefer asynchronous delivery or are cautious about returning to full lecture theatres; the other half desire a return to face-to-face lecturing and many clearly find the absence of in person lectures compromises mental wellbeing. I can only stress again that the return digital lectures is a temporary arrangement that is designed to protect the overall delivery of our programmes.

We have managed these challenges through 2021 and we are confident we can do so again. I should also add that no group is more frustrated than our teaching staff who had spent several months preparing to return to full face-to-face teaching, and were then, over a holiday period, asked to pivot back to online lectures.

I hope this is helpful – I am enormously grateful to our SU who met with us before and after the break in order that our advice and support is consistent.

With the most recent statements from Government now referring to the endemic nature of SARS-CoV-2 and with the booster roll out progressing rapidly, I am sure we will be returning to more normal life in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we continue to monitor our case numbers and work with the authorities and their latest advice; we will be providing an update by 21st January at the latest.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

As ever,

Stuart

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