Delivering our response to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic

Our response has and continues to place the health and safety of all members of our University community as our key priority. In this specific situation we are supported by Public Health England, who continue to provide daily advice and guidance to the public and specialist advice which the university is acting upon. In doing this we also aim to ensure that as a civic institution, we both protect the health and safety of our community and ensure that we make the right contribution, at the right time, to wider societal efforts to most effectively manage the rate and extent of infection locally, nationally and internationally. This includes ensuring that our actions do not inhibit efforts designed to reduce some of the more serious effects of infection.

Last updated: 16 March 2020

Our existing management structures within the University have and will continue to form the basis of how we develop, make, decide and implement our policies and decisions. These are supported by existing emergency procedures for handling of pandemics impacting the University community. These have been supplemented with a specific protocol for guiding our response to the current situation.

To further support our established management structures in their decision making we have established 2 specific groups:

  • An Operational Response Group (chaired by the Chief Operating Officer) to enable the management and response to immediate issues and ensure the continuing operation of the University;
  • An Academic Response Group (chaired by the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Provost) to develop and execute plans to ensure continued delivery of our educational and research programmes;  

These groups have been meeting regularly for several weeks and they are executing a programme of work to manage our immediate responses and longer-term planning. The operational group is made up of professional service colleagues from key professional services in the University, including Human Resources, Academic & Student Services, Estates & Development, Strategic Communications and the Students’ Union. The academic response group includes all three Executive Deans, The Pro Vice Chancellor for Education, Academic Registrar and other members of Student & Academic Services.

To inform plans, both groups have undertaken two programmes of scenario planning: (1) containment of infection; and (2) delay to infection, both mirroring the approach of the UK government response.

A total of eight containment scenarios have guided how we have delivered and plan to deliver support for staff, students, visitors and others who are:

  • On campus at risk of infection or having been infected
  • Off campus at risk of infection or having been infected
  • Overseas
  • On health care placements
  • In Science Park businesses
  • In our residential community

A further ten scenarios have been used to plan and deliver our responses to delaying the rate and spread of infection, as directed by Public Health England in their specific guidance to universities and other educational settings. These have guided how we have delivered and plan to deliver responses, which may include (on their own or in combination):

  • Protecting the health, safety and wellbeing of all people in the university community
  • Ensuring the continuation of our educational programmes and assessment
  • Supporting levels of staff absence due to direct infection of up to 20%
  • Supporting levels of staff absence due to caring responsibilities
  • A requirement to reduce levels of operation
  • A requirement to restrict the movement of staff and students from/to campus
  • Supporting staff and students with respect to UKVI requirements
  • A requirement to restrict the holding of large public gatherings
  • Impacts on our ability to carry out research activities (including clinical research)
  • Impacts on a wide range of supply chains to the university
  • Short and longer term negative financial impacts on the institution

In large part, each of these scenarios have been developed to ensure the University is able to respond fully to a range of potential directions from Public Health England and other UK Government agencies and departments. In doing so, this aims to ensure the University can respond to what might be a statutory requirement or advice aimed at having the most significant impact possible in the national effort to reduce the rate and spread of infection and that no responses are made which could undermine these efforts.

Each scenario has enabled the senior leadership teams to consider:

  • The major issues arising as a result of such a scenario
  • How that issue should be responded to
  • The current ability of the University to respond in this way
  • Any additional action required to improve the University’s ability to respond
  • Who at both operational and strategic levels should take ownership of the action

This approach has led to the development of a wide range of very detailed plans and responses. Some of these are now being deployed and others are ready to be enacted when they are needed. In the main, these plans and guidance are provided in a way that is appropriate for different members of the University community. This has, and continues to include:

  • Significant use of the KLE (for students) and staff intranet (for staff)
  • Written and verbal updates to operational staff
  • Regular email updates to members of the University Leadership Group
  • The extensive use of Microsoft Teams
  • Posters and digital screens
  • Briefings from a range of staff at a range of staff meetings
  • The significant and agile use of FAQs to convey information

This will continue to be the way in which policy and guidance in provided to all members of the University community.

Ensuring we can continue to operate in supporting the whole university community

In being ready to respond to a range of delay scenarios and the likely prospect of being asked to reduce its level of on campus activities, the University has focused its planning on maintaining business continuity during this period, in addition to the continuing health, safety and wellbeing of all members of its community. In particular:

  • Supporting our staff, students and wider members of the community
  • Maintaining educational programme delivery
  • Maintaining services to enable the continued functioning of the University

Detailed plans for all of these are in place and are summarised here.

We have well established mechanisms for providing advice, guidance and direction to both staff and students and these will continue to operate. This now includes a range of temporary measures to manage current and future impacts, informed by our scenario planning.

Guidance for Students

For all non-subject- specific matters, guidance is and will continue to be provided by our Student Services Centre. The centre has been providing access to advice and guidance to all students via a regularly updated FAQs section on a website requiring university login credentials, signposted from the KLE. Guidance provides a range of information on:

  • Studying abroad
  • Advice and guidance for parents
  • Accommodation arrangements
  • Travel
  • Visa compliance requirements for international students
  • Specific advice for students on healthcare placements
  • Health advice, including advice relating to self-isolation

Guidance relating to subject-specific matters (particularly in respect of continued educational delivery) will be provided by Schools.

Guidance for Staff

Guidance is and will continue to be provided by Human Resources. HR has been providing access to advice and guidance to all staff via a regularly updated section on a website requiring university login credentials, signposted from the KLE. Guidance provides a range of information on:

  • Travel
  • Visa compliance requirements
  • Health advice
  • Individual circumstances e.g. caring responsibilities and high-risk groups

Human Resources are providing additional guidance to enquiries. This is now available as a series of FAQs. These provide specific guidance relating to pay and other arrangements for staff, including:

  • Absence reporting
  • Absence and pay arrangements due to self-isolation while fit to work
  • Absence and pay arrangements due to illness
  • Advice for staff with underlying health conditions
  • Revised arrangements relating to statutory sick pay
  • Flexibility around the need for medical certification
  • Arrangements for accessing occupational health services
  • Flexible working and absence due to school closures
  • Flexible working and absence for staff with caring responsibilities for high risk groups
  • Arrangements and guidance to support home working

The approach taken by our HR policies aims to ensure that staff incur no detriment as a result of the current situation and are able to follow advice and guidance provided by healthcare professionals and to the general public, and in doing so, support the business continuing of the University.

Our guidance aims to ensure that in some way, we will be able to continue delivery, both in the short and longer term, of our educational programmes. The overall approach aims to provide Schools with an overall guidance framework in which to develop and deliver subject-specific solutions, on the basis that the University will need to bring face-to-face teaching to an end, wherever possible, by Friday 20th March.

Delivery of remainder of teaching this semester

For most undergraduate and postgraduate students, noting exceptions around field courses and placements, the last teaching sessions before the Easter period break are on Friday 27th March and in some cases before then.

The highest priority for academic delivery and assessment is around our final year (Level 6 and 7) students due to graduate this summer.

Programme teams are now requested to develop plans for how remaining face to face teaching sessions can be delivered by some means, including remotely online, for example through narrated PowerPoints, placing additional learning materials on the KLE, webinars and/or the use of chat facility on the KLE.

KIITE has established a dedicated space on the Education Intranet site called "Contingency Advice for Online Teaching". This site will have basic advice with links through to further guidance, as well as links to a range of more sophisticated advice and guidance for those with more experience or who want to go further as they increase in confidence in remote delivery.

A drop-in service for academic staff with Learning Technology Officers for academic staff to get individual support will also be established this week.

Exams and alternative Assessments

At the moment exams are still scheduled, unless otherwise agreed. However, all Schools should be reviewing their Semester 2 assessments and Semester 1 reassessments, especially for final year students to ensure wherever possible they can graduate. In some situations, for example, Medicine, this means altering / bringing forward assessment dates.

A paper to Senate on Wednesday 18th March will, if approved, give Schools (Programme Director / Director of Education / Head of School) the authority to approve, at School level, alternative assessment arrangements to upcoming exams and other assessments which cannot be delivered if students are not on campus. Any further assessment or teaching contingencies requiring Senate approval, will after Senate on Wednesday 18th March, be provided by the Vice-Chancellor as Chair of Senate.

Resources and guidance about alternative assessments are currently being put together and will be ready later this week. It is recognised that there may be some exams which are closely linked to regulatory body requirements and Schools are asked to seek advice from their regulator regarding any flexibility around examination arrangements.

The highest priority around exams and alternative assessment is final year (Level 6 and 7) students due to graduate this summer. The University already has an approved approach to deal with disruption to normal timescales and incomplete credit with our ‘INT Policy’. However, as the situation develops, it may be necessary to consider how we deal with, without any detriment, incomplete:

  • Credits at Level 6/7 in terms of degree classification
  • Credits at Level 5 in terms of degree classification and progression, and
  • Credits at Level 4 in terms of progression.

Placements

Placement primarily concern, but not exclusively, a significant number of students in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, particularly Medicine and Nursing and Midwifery students. Specific arrangements are in place and have been made available separately to provide guidance to staff and students working in a range of partner organisations, most notably, the NHS.

Placement management is ongoing with guidance to students being updated on the KLE as needed. Medicine and Nursing students on placements will not be asked to work in isolation wards/areas – agreed with Trust.

Following discussion and agreement with NHS providers, students will be advised about the type of placement activity they are able to undertake. 

Discussions with relevant professional bodies around completion of placements are ongoing in order to ensure no detriment to students. The School of Medicine have brought forward final year medical student Objective Structured Clinical Examples (OSCE), bringing students off placements early.

Field courses

We have taken the decision that all international snd UK based field courses cannot take place at this time. Your Dean should be in contact with Heads of Schools who will relay information to programme leads. Head of Schools will update all individual affected students around their specific field courses week commencing 16th March.

Taught postgraduate and continuing professional development provision

A significant amount of our provision relates to NHS staff and we are seeing increasing withdrawals from courses. The NHS is asking staff not to attend meetings or gatherings and some Trusts including local ones have cancelled any study leave for a period of 4 weeks. As a result, some programmes planned for the next few weeks are being postponed.

Study Abroad students

The impact on students overseas or those at Keele from overseas institutions is being actively managed by both Schools and our Global Opportunities Team, working closely with all our partners around the world and detailed guidance has been developed through a series of FAQs. In addition to this, a detailed contingency plan has been developed for our partnership with Beijing Foreign Studies University and Keele is working closely with colleagues in Beijing to ensure that our students there can complete the academic year and progress to their next level of study, particularly those intending to transfer to Keele in September.

Maintaining services to enable the continued functioning of the University

Approach

The approach developed makes a level of reasonable assumption that staff and students have a willingness and ability to use home set-ups to access services. These assumptions will become important at some point in the future where we may be required to enable as many people as possible to work from home (in addition to those self-isolating now or working flexibly due to being in a high risk group or caring for someone in such a group).

This includes using personal machines and devices, home broadband and in doing so, being able to manage specific risks relating to our ability to continue to effectively deliver our statutory requirements relating to data protection.

Technical Support

We expect many technical support queries and calls from staff and students. These will be managed through a combination of self-service on a SharePoint website and support through TopDesk. This will require that all the IT Support staff have remote access to TopDesk. This usually requires access t be provided via our VPN (Virtual Private Network). However due to licensing limitations direct, non-VPN access will be enabled. The increase in support may necessitate more people having access to TopDesk outside of the directorate. Technical support will move to a remote model of delivery. The general approach is to move (in priority order to) a model of:

  • Remote Service desk
  • Remote field service
  • Remote email support
  • Remote infrastructure support
  • Remote applications support

Telephony

Currently the telephony system is campus-based and there is limited functionality for off-campus provision. Staff are asked to: (1) forward desk handsets to their mobile devices (the staff help desk can be contacted if a person does not know how to do this); or (2) set an out-of-office voice message on their desk-phone referring callers to an appropriate email address. Staff with university mobile phones will continue to use these phones.

Collaboration platforms

For non-teaching activities, collaboration will be supported via the expanded use of Microsoft Teams. This includes video conferencing functionality. Support and guidance on using Microsoft Teams will be available to all staff and this will include how access is granted, controlled and organised. This capability will develop over the next two weeks to enable home working for larger groups of people who work together in teams/Schools/professional service areas.

Access to IT systems while off-campus

The summary for the most used services and their off-site availability is as below: 

System 

Remote Access 

VPN Required 

Bluqube (Finance)_ 

Yes 

Yes 

iTrent 

Yes 

Yes 

BlackBoard 

Yes 

No 

SITS 

Yes 

Yes (Client) No eVision 

WPM (Payments system) 

Yes 

Yes 

QlikView 

Yes 

Yes 

CampusM 

Yes 

No 

Kinetics 

Yes - Remoteapp 

Yes 

Several services are available only via VPN (see above). In addition to the proposed VPN measure above, we are now also working with our cloud computing providers, to setup remote workstations for key staff to access high performance desktop environments to perform tasks which may usually be done on desktop workstations based on Campus. This would mitigate the risk of University (and student) data being held on home devices.

The Keele Learning Environment

The primary system in this regard is the virtual learning environment, Blackboard. This is hosted on campus and is available remotely; therefore, students and staff can access this system irrespective of any restrictions on the campus.

Essential staffing to maintain systems 

Most services provided through IDS can be maintained and delivered by IDS staff off-campus. Indeed, some software upgrades will still be possible, however areas such as back-ups require physical tape changes, and other elements of network maintenance frequently require manual interventions. Several systems upgrades are planned, and these will need to be reviewed. IT Helpdesk will move to a remote support model and no walk-in support at the Library or desk-based support for staff will be provided.

Approach

The approach to date has aimed to: sustain the operational capacity of estate services for as long as possible and sustaining ‘business as usual’; manage the impact of reducing resources (particularly human resources); and adapting the estate and the services provided to respond to the range of scenarios which have been developed.

Maintaining essential services

As the University moves to be prepared to reduce its level of operations, additional work has now been completed to support continued service delivery. This has included a number of stress tests on key services to assess ability to sustain service with significantly reduced human resources. This includes:

  • Confirmed ability to maintain a full security presence
  • Maintaining mechanical and electrical infrastructures
  • Basic grounds maintenance, bin emptying and pest control
  • Maintaining access to retail catering facilities
  • Maintaining access to other retail services e.g. supermarket
  • Maintained provision of domestic services

These tests suggest that services could be maintained at significantly reduced levels of staffing (than those predicted) for several weeks.

Contingency Planning

Contingency planning has been carried out by a specific Estates & Development Response Team to interpret directions from the Operational Response Group and drive implementation, and; to specifically oversee the Estates Services Contingency Planning Process. This has included:

  • Reprioritised workloads to release capacity
  • Reassignment of some responsibilities which are not skill specific
  • Assessment of additional in—house delivery of services currently sub-contracted
  • Assessing the risks and potential for short term management of non-compliance
  • Relaxation of certain maintenance and/or operational regimes
  • Reviewing the plans being put in place by critical suppliers
  • Reprioritise and possibly delay work associated with internal requests
  • Cancellation of planned events

Approach

All cross-institution core services (essentially those delivered by central services) have been audited with respect to their resilience due to staff resources being reduced (due to illness) and ability to be delivered remotely (via homeworking). Each directorate (in addition to those outlined above) have completed audits to assess:

  • Existing access to key IT systems
  • Identified needs for VPN and central file store access
  • Access to appropriate IT, telephony and broadband at home
  • Experience of engaging in video conferencing
  • Any consideration of operations which cannot (easily) be carried out remotely

Initial audits have established a very high level of ability to work remotely in the Directorates of Research, Innovation & Engagement, Finance, Information & Digital Services, Marketing & Communications; and Student & Academic Services.

While most activities carried out by operational staff cannot be carried out via home working, separate arrangements are developed to manage their deployment and pay arrangements in order to ensure no detriment. Should the University be required to reduce operations on campus, front-line student and staff professional services will be provided for by non-face-to-face remote means, including via telephone and on-line (self-service and via chat functions).

No other significant functions across core services have been identified at this stage, should the University significantly reduce its level of operations.

Student recruitment

While Public Health England did not advise against holding our planned Offer Holder Day, understandable concerns in some staff raised the prospect of the University not being able to deliver a successful offer holder day on 14 March 2020. Following cancellation of the event, arrangements are now being put in place to contact all attendees to survey their information requirements. These requests will be provided to relevant Schools and services with a request that applicants are contacted no later than Monday 23 March with an appropriate response.

The Offer Holder Day on 4 April will be cancelled. Alternative arrangements will be put in place to enable a replacement ‘virtual’ day to take place.

Library

The Library will remain open.

Research support

Contingency planning in relation to our ability to continue to deliver our programmes of research during the current situation include:

  • Modelling impacts of delays to grant activity employing staff on fixed term contracts
  • Liaison with funders to confirm no cost extensions
  • Modelling the impact of delays to fieldwork (UK and international)
  • Reduced engagement from participants in clinical research
  • Impact on GCRF-funded portfolio
  • Impacts of potential delays to funding submissions
  • Interim plans to maintain statutory functions of key research facilities
  • Consideration of any amendments needed to PGR delivery

Strategic Communications

All communications management relating to the overall responses from the University will be led by the Strategic Communications function now based within Claus Moser. This includes:

  • All communications in all forms to staff and students
  • Communication link with Public Health England
  • All website/intranet/KLE communications and appropriate structures
  • Management of phone enquires (via a dedicated ‘crisis’ line)
  • Crisis communications
  • Formal notification processes around infection (which may be discontinued)