Update from the Vice-Chancellor

Thursday 9 April 2020

With two weeks of lockdown now behind us, you may be interested to know more about the University’s plans for when the Government lowers the COVID-19 Alert Level to Level 3, or even Level 2, in the coming weeks.

A great deal of work has gone into the University’s scenario planning for this, and I want to share our decisions with you now so that you have a level of certainty for your own planning.


Maintain remote learning until at least the start of Semester 2

In the event that the Government moves the country back to Level 3 in the coming weeks (or even Level 2, although that’s unlikely), the University will maintain its current remote learning mode until at least the start of Semester 2 (27 July).

The rationale for this decision is that there is more to consider than just the alert level – we also need to take into account the stability of the alert level and the practicalities of re-opening our campuses.

The Government has made it clear that, if at Level 3 we see a return to increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases (i.e. the virus hasn’t been successfully contained), then we would return to Level 4 rapidly. This carries a significant risk that the University would re-open its campuses only to have to close them again at short notice, with all the obvious difficulties and disruption this would create.

In addition, at Level 3 some campus-based activities would in theory be able to resume, but there would still be stringent restrictions applied to physical distancing and sizes of groups, which we believe would severely disrupt effective on-campus teaching and learning.

There is also an important equity concern here. Some staff and students will find it much more difficult than others – due to personal circumstances, home environments and other factors – to shift between on-campus and off-campus modes of work and study. We need to make sure we do not unfairly disadvantage some people over others.

Finally, we would need a significant amount of time (up to ten days for all our campuses) to recommission buildings and make other practical arrangements for re-opening, even for very limited on-campus activity. To take that step, we would need to be very sure that there was little or no risk of returning imminently to a Level 4 closure.

For these reasons, we want to give our staff and students clarity and certainty by making the commitment now to continue remote learning and closed campuses for the rest of Semester 1, regardless of the Government’s alert level.


Possible exceptions

There will be some exceptions allowable at Level 3, such as particular post graduate activities, and a small number of other on-campus activities. However, these exceptions would only be permitted if we are fully confident that physical distancing and health and safety requirements can be met.


Research

At Level 3, research activity will remain mainly off campus where possible. Some on-campus research activity may be permissible where Deans approve resumption on the basis that Level 3 operating protocols, including physical distancing and health and safety requirements, can be met. Caution will be needed as any time sensitive work can only be undertaken when the return to Level 3 is stable and likely to last.

We will share a more detailed plan for our operations under Level 3 and Level 2 scenarios in the coming weeks. In the meantime, staff and students can work and plan on the basis that we will continue with remote learning until at least the start of Semester 2, with a few possible exceptions as outlined above.

We will plan for a full resumption of on-campus activities from the start of Semester 2 (27 July), that is if we are at a sustained Level 2 or below, otherwise the plans outlined above will continue to apply.


Summary of the University’s position

  • Alert Level 4: remote learning and closed campuses as currently.
  • Alert Level 3: As above, with the possibility of some permitted teaching and learning activities on campus if we are confident that Level 3 is stable and sustainable (applies to Semester 1 and 2); research activity permissible where Deans approve resumption as Level 3 operating protocols can be met.
  • Alert Level 2: Campuses re-opened for all activities (but no earlier than beginning of Semester 2) but with physical distancing and other precautionary measures.
  • Alert Level 1: Same as for Level 2.


I am aware that over the recent weeks our lives have been dominated by adapting almost everything that makes the University and our lives tick on a day to day basis. As the holiday weekend beckons, I hope that you and those close to you remain safe and well, and that you enjoy a restorative break.


Kia kaha

Dawn

Professor Dawn Freshwater
Vice-Chancellor