We are all continuing to adjust to this difficult new environment we find ourselves in, while being acutely aware, too, of the challenges our NHS colleagues - many of which we count as alumni and friends - continue to face as they tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here at St George's, the senior team and I continue to prioritise ensuring the University is in robust shape to successfully weather this crisis. At the same time, we are also beginning to look ahead and planning for how we might restore 'business as usual' once its most acute phase begins to pass, although there is no clarity on timings for this as yet.
Furlough scheme update
Following our implementation last week of a furlough scheme at St George's, we have already seen managers and staff from across the University work to begin to implement the scheme and in doing so, are making a significant contribution to safeguarding our financial stability. FAQs on the scheme can be found here.
I want to reassure affected staff that being on furlough is a much appreciated step and genuinely helps St George's at this challenging time. Being furloughed is in no way a personal reflection on performance and nor is it any indication of how the organisation views your role or the contribution you are making – it is simply that how we work, in the short term, has been altered.
It is one important way for us to recoup some of our staff costs where work has diminished as a result of Covid-19 and set this against our sizeable debts. We are, of course, also looking at other means of reducing our expenditure. Our expectation is that once we return to business as usual, workloads will return to former levels and roles will continue to function as before.
For managers, I would reiterate that considering relevant staff to furlough is an important responsibility at this time and you should give it priority. Workloads for your team or individuals may have been significantly impacted by the pandemic, so please do have the necessary conversations with those individuals and with HR as soon as you can. If you intend to rotate anybody on furlough, the first rotation would need to be on furlough by Monday 20 April in order to complete two furlough periods of three weeks each.
Returning to 'business as usual'
We will be looking in the next few weeks to begin restoring some of the usual structures which have been superseded for a time by the University's business continuity processes. This will begin with our convening Senate and also Executive Board. We have also adjusted how we report to Council and its Committees. What is vital is that we carefully document the changes we have made to our regular processes, in order to maintain our functions in this most peculiar of times. The actions we have taken will formally be reported to Senate and, as the consequences of this period may reverberate for some time to come, a good record of what we did - and when and why - is vital.
While we anticipate several more weeks of measures which will continue to curtail the normal functioning of the University, we're already beginning to plan for how we might begin to restore key in-person functions. Again, we will circulate more information as soon as we can.
Looking ahead to the new academic year
I know that many of you will already be thinking ahead to the new academic year and wondering how the University will operate in circumstances which, even from what we know now, are very difficult to anticipate. Please rest assured that while there is much that we still don't know looking that far ahead, the senior team and I are already considering this issue.
I remain incredibly grateful for the forbearance of all staff during this time – no one is unaffected and I am sure I was not alone feeling anxious about how people would cope when a minimum of another three weeks of lockdown was announced. I do know that I am very fortunate to be part of the St George’s family and you views, ideas and inspirations continue to be very welcome.
Professor Jenny Higham
St George's, University of London