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Questions from our Covid-19 briefings

Below are answers to frequently asked questions from staff. We will always try to update the information on our pages to reflect questions asked at our briefings, but if you have any further questions please send them to covidstaffing@brunel.ac.uk and we will try to answer them directly:

Information reviewed: 3 March 2021

General Covid-19 advice

What is the current government guidance?

On Monday 22 February the government announced its plan for ending the nationwide lockdown of England. You can find the full set of guidelines on the government’s website. 

From Monday 8 March, English universities are able to invite some students taking practical subjects back to campus for learning activities. Students will only be asked to return if their course cannot reasonably be continued online. 

There will continue to be restrictions on international travel, but travel to the UK from abroad for education purposes is permitted. Find information on all the things you might need to know when you arrive in the UK from overseas here.

If you are showing coronavirus symptoms, you should get a test and stay at home until you get the result - this is critical to staying safe and saving lives.

The NHS 111 online coronavirus service, 111.nhs.uk/covid-19, can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.

What should I do if I develop cold or flu-like symptoms?

The most common symptoms of Covid-19 are a recent onset of:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

If you have symptoms of Covid-19 however mild, self-isolate for at least 10 days from when your symptoms started. You should arrange to have a test to see if you have Covid-19 – go to testing to arrange. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms, then you must stay at home for 10 days, but all other household members who remain well must stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days. The 14-day period starts from the day when the first person in the house became ill. 

After 10 days, if you still have a temperature you should continue to self-isolate and seek medical advice. You do not need to self-isolate after 10 days if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell or taste, as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

If you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home, or your condition gets worse, or your symptoms do not get better after seven days, then use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service. If you do not have internet access, call NHS 111. For a medical emergency dial 999.

Students and staff may want to consult a doctor, however because NHS services are under pressure people are being told to call NHS24 (111) in the first instance. Please don't contact or visit the Medical Centre on campus. The online coronavirus service, 111.nhs.uk/covid-19, can tell you if you need medical help and advise you what to do.

Follow the Government guidance on staying at home here. The official NHS pages are an excellent source of reliable, up to date information and guidance on symptoms and the measures you can take to protect yourself and others.

What is the procedure if I or a member of my team need to quarantine?

Quarantine guidance is available here for: 

  • Managers of staff travelling abroad
  • Staff members who are travelling abroad
  • Recruiting managers of new staff who need to quarantine
  • New staff joining Brunel from overseas

Who is allowed to be on campus?

Our campus is in national lockdown until Monday 8 March, which means that  it isoperating with limited on-site services and under national lockdown rules, preventing social mixing between households.

Campus only remains open to:

  • staff who cannot do their work from home as outlined here
  • doctoral researchers who are living in halls, cannot do their research off-site and who are teaching in one of the subjects which is allowed to continue face-to-face teaching - outlined here
  • students who live in halls, attend face-to-face teaching in a few circumstances as defined by the government or who can’t remain at home as outlined here.

What is open on campus?

  • Some buildings are open. Please be aware that while a building may be ready for occupation it doesn’t mean all staff should return to campus, this should be managed by departments in discussion with individuals. 
  • The Library will remain open for pre-booked individual study, but with reduced opening hours (Monday to Friday 9am - 9pm, Saturday & Sunday 12 noon - 9pm)
  • Access to materials will be on a request basis using Click & Collect
  • Click & Collect service for print stock will be available for staff, in-Library users and for students living in campus accommodation only
  • Click & Post service will be available for Brunel users living off-site
  • Face-to-face enquiry support will be replaced by virtual enquiry support (including enquiries to our Records, Archives and Special Collections team) – please see our Contact us page
  • Scan & Send electronic document delivery service is available to the Brunel community
  • Costcutter is open Monday – Friday: 8am – 8:45pm ,  Saturday: 9:30am – 4pm  Sunday: 10am – 4pm . 
  • 1966, Subway, Hollo Pollo and Izzi's Pizza are open for takeaway only and offer click ‘n’ collect, delivery and self-isolation services to those living on campus through the Time2Eat app

Do staff and students have to have a lateral flow test to come onto campus?

Everyone who comes to campus should get tested twice a week at our Covid-safe Asymptomatic Testing Centre in the Newton Room. Find out more here.

We all have a duty of care to protect each other, so if you are on campus we are asking you to play your part and get tested twice a week or when you are due on campus infrequently.

On-going testing will enable us to spot outbreaks quickly and ensure everyone can live, work and study together safely and help us all return to normal as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Is campus safe?

A great deal of work has been done across campus to ensure staff and students are safe, which includes working to social distancing restrictions, installing Perspex shields, hand sanitisers and wipes in office spaces, and re-engineering teaching, office and communal spaces, as well as changing the way we flow around campus and in and out of buildings.

How are we enforcing social distancing?

A huge part of our response to the current circumstances is to work with staff and students to take personal responsibility for their own actions. We have all become familiar with the behaviours that are expected of us during this crisis and we would expect staff and students to continue to adhere to these practices. We have put in place a variety of measures to mitigate the risk, but of course we can’t eliminate it entirely should people choose to behave in a way not in keeping with the current climate. We have directional signage across campus and our security team will monitor and remind people to adhere to the guidance where needed.

Do I need to wear a face covering?

We continue to follow government guidance on face coverings. The most recent guidance is that face coverings should be worn in all indoor areas on campus where it does not impact on teaching and learning. They are mandatory in retail and catering outlets and the library. Some individuals are exempt from wearing face coverings and we expect staff and students to be sensitive to those needs.

Further government guidance on face coverings is available here.

What happens if we have a Covid-19 case on campus?

If a student or member of staff tests positive for Covid-19 they will be immediately advised to self-isolate. If they are living in Halls of Residence, they will be asked to self-isolate with all other members of their flat for 14 days, in line with current Government guidelines. During that time, our support services will monitor all students impacted and provide food, drink and essential supplies.

We'll collect information about the individual's movements on campus in the 14 days before testing positive through a variety of methods – card access, track and trace in our catering outlets, lectures on campus, etc. Anyone who has been in close contact with the affected student or staff member will be contacted and advised to self-isolate for 14 days.

The University will only contact those that have been in close contact. Staff and students that are not contacted directly do not need to self-isolate. 

If you do have symptoms and suspect it’s Covid-19 or if you have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19 or who has symptoms, please follow the latest government guidance and tell your Line Manager, who will complete the process outlined below and in this Internal Track and Trace Form.

  • If you have tested positive for Covid-19: Report this to your line manager immediately and complete the Internal Track & Trace Form and email it to healthandsafety@brunel.ac.uk,  terry.vass@brunel.ac.uk and your Associate HR Business Partner as other colleagues may need to be contacted and deep cleaning arranged.
  • If you or someone in your household has been in contact with someone with Covid-19 Report this to your line manager immediately and complete the Internal Track & Trace form.  You must self-isolate as required by the Government and seek advice from the NHS 111 helpline.  You will not be able to return to work on campus until you have the completed the required self-isolation period or you receive a negative result from a Covid-19 test.
  • If you have suspected Covid-19 symptoms: Report this to your line manager immediately, you will need to self-isolate until the test result is known, and take extra care to social distance and to use good hygiene.
    Your line manager will advise colleagues that you have been in contact with over the previous 48 hours that you may have coronavirus, are having a test and waiting for outcome of the test result. Please speak to your HR Business Partner, the Care First EAP team, your GP or the NHS if you have concerns.

Will our parking charges be refunded?

There are difficulties in refunding staff for unused parking on campus, and it’s not that we don’t believe staff or require proof that they haven’t been using the car parks – the main issue is the difficulty we would have in claiming back this money because it’s attached to how much tax is paid and to reverse that is extremely complicated.

If the money being spent on parking is a real concern please speak to your HR business partner. You can also leave the scheme through reception online, but remember to reapply when you return to campus.

Can I continue working from home?

In line with Government advice, our guidance is that if you can work from home you should do so. All staff should have had a discussion with their line manager about their working arrangements and agreed an approach that works for individuals and teams. 

The Government has published a limited list of permitted courses where face-to-face education can continue, and this will be extended from Monday 8 March. There are services we provide for our students that have to be delivered on campus because they can't be done remotely, and in these circumstances some staff will need to be on campus to provide those services. Any member of staff who feels uncomfortable working on campus should talk to their line manager about any alternative arrangements that could be put in place to help. 

How are you supporting home working?

One of the positive outcomes of Covid-19 is that we’ve found that many of us are able to work from home at least some of the time and that brings a much greater degree of flexibility to everyone, however taking a long-term view, we know that there will also need to be a balance as it’s also important to many of us that we have the interaction of working in a team. There will also always be some jobs that simply can’t be done from home. 

Our Homeworking policy draws on the lessons we have learnt over recent months to enable homeworking to continue where it is appropriate for both the University and individuals. We recognise that, while some may welcome a return to working on campus, others will have anxieties and concerns about doing so. Not all roles can be carried out from home, but where appropriate, it may be required and/or possible for you to work from home until informed otherwise. This will allow us to maximise health and safety measures on site, including social distancing. 

Our Home working policy and guidance covers:

  • The requirements to work from home
  • Prioritising working from home 
  • Equipment needs
  • Data security and confidentiality
  • Health, safety and wellbeing

I’m in a vulnerable category – will I be expected to return?

Our home working policy includes guidance for managers on prioritisation of working from home based on a needs framework. This will help us to ensure that we can continue to support our vulnerable members of staff. Members of staff who consider themselves high risk should let their line manager know in the first instance. 

The latest Government guidance is that if you are clinically extremely vulnerable you should not attend work and limit the amount of time spent outside the home. You should only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. 

I have to care for others – do I have to return to campus?

This is an area which will need to be teased out through conversations between individual members of staff and their line managers. We will do our best to accommodate. HR is currently developing a checklist to help managers and to encourage discussions with staff prior to returning to campus.

I’m feeling anxious – do I have to return to campus?

We would encourage staff who find themselves in this position to talk to their line manager, or their HR Business Partner if preferable, so that we can look at what can be done to support you. This is a really difficult time for many and there may be some anxiety about returning to the campus, and there is support available from counselling to occupational health. The most important thing is to have that initial conversation and to raise your concerns.

I’m feeling overworked – how can we reduce the pressure?

This is a challenging time for staff anyway, without having the additional increase in workload, and we are extremely grateful for everyone’s effort and commitment. It is important that line managers have suitable discussions with staff about how the workload is impacting on them and we should all work hard to prioritise those areas that we need to focus on as part of the Covid recovery, while deprioritising areas that are not currently as critical to the university.

We are a large and diverse workforce with varying roles and requirements across teams. This makes it difficult to recommend any single actions that would be workable in all teams but the following suggestions have been made by colleagues and could be applied in individual teams where appropriate: 

  • Use the 'send delay' feature when sending somebody an email outside their usual working hours - this can help to reduce the pressure on people receiving emails when not working who feel compelled to respond
  • Consider muting notifications to your phone outside of your own working hours
  • While it's not always possible to influence the timing and frequency of University wide meetings, we can make decisions within our teams. Some suggestions include: 'No meeting Fridays', 50-minute time limits to allow time between meetings, cutting out meetings that duplicate others or could be easily handled via a quick Teams chat
  • Plan and coordinate work across your team to enable people to take their annual leave and any TOIL earned
  • Give all team members an opportunity to contribute their suggestions for where improvements could be made
  • Talk to colleagues or your manager if you need support

The Covid Recovery pages have resources available to all staff about support you can get, both internal and external, but no staff member should suffer in silence – please talk to your line manager or HR business partner if you are worried.

How are you supporting line managers?

We recognise that, while some staff may welcome a return to working on campus, others will have anxieties and concerns about doing so. Some may have individual circumstances which make their return to campus inappropriate or more difficult at this time.  The way you’re treated by your line manager can makes a big difference to your mental wellbeing but a manager also has a gatekeeper role and it’s key to being able to spot changes in mood and behaviour within your team. It really comes down to having a culture of openness, where managers ask staff how are you, having 1-2-1 chats and noticing when staff aren’t in a good place.

If individuals don’t feel able to approach their line manager then you can go to your HR business partner and speak to people in confidence. All of us have a line manager and that means the onus is on all of us to be talking to our teams and making sure they have the support they need, while recognising if staff are having difficulties in what is an anxious time for everyone.

Managers have a key role to play in discussing and resolving any individual circumstances and concerns, taking in to account the wider impacts on their team, as well as in ensuring that staff understand and comply with the measures which the university is putting in place to mitigate and control the risk of transmission of the virus.

We have prepared guidance for managers that details considerations for discussion with their team members about working from home and attending campus. The guidance covers six areas:

  1. Discussion about returning to campus/home working and completing self-assessments
  2. Prepare and prioritise activities to return to campus and continued home working
  3. Identifying any resources required
  4. Considering individual circumstances
  5. Supporting mental health and wellbeing
  6. Regular reviews

Will we support more flexible working long-term?

As well as supporting staff to work from home in the short-term, we are looking at business as usual and long-term options for staff who have found they are able to work from home effectively. There are a number of benefits here not just to staff but also to the University as we are tight on space in some instances, so this is something we’ll be looking at closely. Line managers will be involved in making these kind of decisions, but there are various things that need to be taken into consideration. For example, can the individual work from home effectively without impacting on the experience of our students or on research? Can the individual work from home safely? And what’s going on with the rest of the team? Vulnerable members of staff would need to take priority when discussing working from home and this may have an impact on the arrangements the team can make.

Should I still be taking annual leave?

We know that going on holiday isn’t something that everyone wants to or is able to do right now. However, we would encourage staff to continue to take leave because it is really important for your health and wellbeing and particularly as the difference between work life and home life become less well defined. You may not wish to book a week off when you can't travel away but even a day or two away from your desk can be beneficial. 

Can I carry over leave if I can't take it?

The University has increased the amount of leave that can be carried over by staff from five to 10 days (pro rata for part time employees up to a maximum of two of your normal working weeks). We have had requests to increase this even further but there are reasons why this is not possible. Most importantly we want to encourage people to take a break from work where they can for their health and wellbeing.

We know that in some teams it has been difficult to schedule time off for a variety of reasons. Where leave really cannot be taken, we will consider individual circumstances on a case by case basis but we will not be adding to the carry over leave amount outlined above as a general rule, if you are really struggling to take leave, please discuss your situation with your line manager and HR Business Partner. 

When will the additional carry over annual leave be added to CHIME?

The HR and ERP team are reviewing the outstanding annual leave balances for the 20/21 leave year ending 31 March 2021. However, as employees can still book and take leave up to and including that date, the outstanding annual leave balances will not be fully accurate until 1 April 2021. 

We are therefore aiming to implement the additional annual leave carry over in CHIME, for the annual leave year April 2020 to March 2021, in April 2021. 

Will we have a pay freeze this year?

The University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has confirmed, as expected, that there will be no nationally negotiated cost of living increase in the national pay spine for 2020-21. While salaries at Brunel for Readers, Professors and senior management positions aren’t covered by national pay bargaining, the pay award is used as a guide. To be fair to all staff, it has been agreed that salary reviews for senior staff and those paid ‘off-scale’ should also be postponed this year. UCEA, which represents universities in the annual national pay negotiations, has made its decision against a backdrop of huge financial challenges in the sector. The uncertainty created by Covid-19 means that many universities are facing shortfalls in income over the 2020-21 academic year.  

We know that this is disappointing news for all Brunel staff affected, particularly in light of everything that is happening in the world and the incredible amount of effort and hard work everyone has put into the last few months to meet the challenges created by the pandemic. It’s not something that we would want to do and we understand that staff are working really hard at the minute and that we need to reprioritise our workload so that staff are not overloaded.

Will we be facing job cuts?

Brunel doesn’t have any plans for redundancies at the moment, but we can’t say never because we can’t be sure what the next few months will hold. If difficult decisions did need to be made in the future, voluntary severance would be one of the options available.

How are we preparing for further waves of the pandemic?

It is very difficult to know how long current social distancing measures will remain in place, never mind what will happen in the future and how this will impact on the country as well as the university. One thing we know from experience is that we are very capable of adapting quickly as a community and working together to ensure operations can continue where possible. The changes to the way the campus and we work and teach is being designed with flexibility in mind and this will be vital as we cope with further waves of the pandemic. 

Will our current/ future building projects go ahead?

The Learning & Teaching Centre has bee delayed, and it’s very likely it will be delayed further. We are looking very closely at all capital projects to see how they can best be managed during what is a very difficult time and making recommendations to Council.

Will senior staff be taking a pay cut?

There are a number of options being discussed currently, and pay cuts for senior staff is among them. How the university responds to the financial impact of coronavirus will very much depend on the extent of that impact, and because that is intrinsically linked to our student recruitment activity this autumn we will need to wait until then to understand what measures will be needed. We are certainly planning for all eventualities.

What will be the long-term impact of Covid-19?

It’s extremely difficult to say and we have tried to show staff in recent weeks the very difficult financial situation the University might be in. We will be lucky if we don’t make a loss this year and much relies on how many students we get in this coming academic year. Although we are planning for all eventualities, there is a degree of uncertainty as to how exactly Covid-19 will impact us all.

Are we adapting our business model to reflect?

One of the Task & Finish Groups – concerned with our academic portfolio and resource implications - is looking at this very closely. As has previously been said, our recruitment activity this year is crucial and the success of that will give us a much clearer indication of our future plans as a University.

How are we delivering teaching?

As set out in the latest Government guidance, only a limited number of courses are currently permitted to continue with in-person teaching on campus, this will be extended to include more practical subjects from Monday 8 March. For all other courses we will be delivering online.

When permitted, our dual delivery approach will offer a combination of on-campus and virtual learning options. Specific details of how teaching is delivered are managed at a departmental level in consultation with module leaders.

How are we accommodating on-campus teaching?

When permitted, with social distancing measures in our teaching spaces we have introduced a booking system to help manage numbers of students on campus, students to reserve their space in on-campus teaching sessions. 

How are we keeping students informed?

We have been sharing regular updates with students throughout the pandemic through direct emails, newsletters, social media, the student intranet and departmental communications. We have also introduced live Q&A support sessions for students to ask questions and get them answered in real time. 

What specific support is there for international students?

International students were able to book on to our international orientation programme from August, designed to give them specific support about studying in the UK and starting at Brunel. Information and welcome guides reflect the impact of Covid-19 and are the means through which international students receive guides relevant to their experience.

Will we be reducing student fees?

No. The Universities minister has indicated that the Government does not expect students to be reimbursed if the quality of teaching, learning and assessment is there. Our focus must be on providing a high-quality experience and continuing to offer value for money to our students.