The University is working hard to re-open its buildings for research purposes. This will take time and decisions to re-open buildings are dependent on strict protocols about safety being in place. Once it has been determined that a particular building can be re-opened it will then be necessary to determine which members of staff and which research students can be invited back, while ensuring compliance with new, socially-distanced ways of working. I know that many of you are eager to get back to your research in Cambridge as soon as possible. I am writing to you to update you on how we are making this happen. But first I want to be very clear: the default position is still that all students should continue to work from home. No one can enter any University buildings unless they have been given permission to do so by their Head of Department.
The truth is that re-opening buildings, identifying which people can be invited back to work in those buildings and abiding by social distancing requirements is complicated. Our approach must be careful and considered. Not everyone can be invited back at once, and you should wait to hear officially from your Head of Department that you have permission to return to conduct your research in a University building before making any arrangements to do so. I know that many of you will be frustrated by this and will want us to proceed more quickly, but I ask for your cooperation. We are putting together a detailed protocol that will set out the considerations that Faculties and Departments will need to make before agreeing to anyone’s return. As regards the return of postgraduate research students, once the Head of Department has determined that it is appropriate and safe for a student to return to the building, the student’s College will be informed and the College will check with the student that they are able and willing to return to conduct their research in Cambridge and that they have access to appropriate accommodation. Once this has been confirmed, the research student will receive confirmation from their Head of Department that they are permitted to return to the building.
We have to abide by the guidance issued by Public Health England. Guidance on travel is currently that you may travel to work if you cannot work from home but that you may not travel to another household. This means that returning to conduct your research is more simple if you live in Cambridge or within a reasonable distance of Cambridge (and are able to commute safely whilst observing social distancing guidelines). If you do not presently live in or near Cambridge and will need to relocate, a key consideration will be the nature of the accommodation to which you are moving. You will have to live in accommodation that does not entail joining another household for at least two weeks upon your return. Those returning from overseas will be subject to the UK Government’s quarantine rules and students in this group specifically will not be able to start work until the 14 day period is ended. You should discuss with your College what your accommodation arrangements or needs are and whether you can meet Public Health England’s requirements. Your College will do its best to accommodate you or find accommodation for you during this fortnight, but you must not assume that the College will necessarily be able to do so.
I want to make a final point. Your agreement to return to conduct your research in Cambridge is a key part of this process and you should consider all of your own circumstances before agreeing. This will include your own health condition, travel and accommodation needs, and any other personal circumstances affecting your decision. You should discuss any concerns with your supervisor, your Head of Department or your College.
Thank you all for your cooperation in these extraordinary and difficult circumstances.
Keep safe and best wishes,
Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education)