Dear Colleagues,

Many of us have now been working from home, whenever possible, for over five weeks. For some of you this comes on top of the extra burden of home schooling or other caring responsibilities. While other colleagues have been conducting or supporting essential research, volunteer activity, clinical support and the move to remote learning and assessment.  We have done a lot.  There is a lot more to be done. 

In this message, we focus on: (i) our plans for the next phase of social distancing and how we can, in a limited and safe way, resume some of our activities; (ii) our scenarios for the financial impacts of the pandemic on Imperial and efforts to mitigate these impacts; and (iii) our support for all of our mental health and wellbeing, as the way forward will remain challenging.

The next phase of social distancing

The Vice-Provost (Research & Enterprise), Deans, Vice-Deans for Research, Campus Services, ICT and Faculty Operating Officers have started planning for the next phase when we can begin to restart some of the most laboratory-intensive research on campus.  While we are all eager to get our research going, our paramount priority is making sure our community is safe and that our activities will meet requirements for continued social distancing, provision of protective equipment and upholding cleaning protocols. While we expect the government to begin refining lockdown measures in the coming days and weeks, it is clear that all who can work from home will need to continue to do so. We are launching a few pilot efforts in the coming weeks to have several critical laboratories restart and help us to develop appropriate social distancing, scheduling and staff rotation processes. 

Preparing for future scenarios

The President’s Board and Council Finance Committee have been reviewing scenarios based on enrolments of international students in the Autumn. We are aware that surveys of students around the world are indicating that a sizeable fraction of students may wish to defer their attendance at university. Student fees have a significant impact on the College’s cash balance.  A 10% drop in student numbers results in a £30m drop in cashflow. This represents almost half of what we would normally spend on laboratory and classroom renovation each year. 

The UK government is providing the Covid Corporate Financing Facility to support public services, people and businesses through this period of disruption caused by Covid-19. The Council has given College approval to seek loans like this to protect our liquidity through this period.

Many of our colleagues are working extremely hard to ensure that our offer-holders feel valued, safe and inspired to attend in the Autumn, and our current students are reassured about returning. We have student recruitment groups working out how we deliver high quality courses remotely, teach safely on campus and provide a compelling student experience.  Others are pro-actively connecting with students to keep them informed of our plans for the year to come and to address their concerns.

Each department is taking student recruitment very seriously and we are all working towards ensuring that we provide excellent education and student experience in this new environment.  Please send your ideas for our educational provision, student experience and how to communicate to current and prospective students to your Head of Department.

Support for all of our mental health

Working from home, we have held over a million Teams meetings, calls and chats, we are doing a lot, but it’s not the same as being together.  We miss the casual chat, the greeting and smile, the side conversation at the tea point. 

The expression “cabin fever” seemed to us to be a somewhat abstract phrase from northern America where people react to being cooped up in the winter.  Now we have real experience of it.  We are all feeling the strain.  Some of us find ourselves with an odd sense of unease, we worry. It is important to acknowledge and alleviate this stress before it leads to anxiety and depression.  Please consider your own and your colleagues’ health and wellbeing and seek help when needed. 

As we are working remotely, we rely on technology for our communications. We have new resources on our web pages and we encourage everyone to make use of the resources you will find there.  Our mental health first-aiders are available online. You will find links to ideas for work-life balance, working at home with children, managing remotely, and physical and mental wellbeing.

Yet, web-based resources are not enough by themselves.  Please take stock of your connections with friends, colleagues, working partners. Who have you, and who have you not been in touch with?  Who seems less engaged? While Teams, Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, WebX, Whatsapp are tedious at times, they provide valuable ways to connect with colleagues.  Ring up and check on those people you would normally see on campus.

Uncertainty

It is also important to acknowledge how taxing it is to be working in such an extraordinary period of uncertainty.  We want to assure you that the College is in robust shape and a strong team of dedicated people are working diligently to prepare us for whatever the future will bring.  We are navigating our needs and aspirations despite the unknowns ahead and by continuing to work together, and acting prudently, we will find the right ways forward and we will keep you informed.

With sincere best wishes,

Alice and Ian

Professor Alice P. Gast, President

Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost