January return to campus ‘going to be really, really tough’, says CUBO chair

The chair of the College and University Business Officers professional association said staff would find it difficult to safely manage a staggered return to campus

Although a January return to campus is necessary for teaching and learning, it will be “really, really tough” for university professional services staff, the chair of the College and University Business Officers (CUBO) said.

Jo Hardman, head of commercial services at Lancaster University, was speaking on the final day of the CUBO winter conference, which was held online over five days. CUBO is the professional association for senior managers of commercial and campus services in higher education in the UK and Ireland.

Mr Hardman joined the Key Themes Panel Debate with Gillian Almond, director of commercial services at Royal Holloway, University of London; Kirsty Woodward, CUBO vice-chair and director of campus services at the University of Leicester; Jon Greenwood, director of commercial services at the University of York; and Richard Kington, non-executive director at CUBO.

The CUBO panel discussed the latest government guidance on students and the impact it would have on professional services staff.

The guidance on the travel window came as a surprise to us and to regional public health and local public health bodies
Kirsty Woodward, University of Leicester

He said the return to campus was vital “from a teaching point of view” but would “be really, really tough” for professional services staff.

“I think the first challenge is the exhaustion of staff because planning for the new term will probably run through Christmas for many.

“I think the second challenge is student isolation: we’re going to have students who have been in accommodation for the whole of Christmas who may have been on their own. Looking after those students as they return is going to be significant.

“And the third challenge is the risk of infection. The plan is to bring people back through teaching cohorts, but teaching is largely socially distanced and therefore is less likely to be the point where there is a risk of infection. Accommodation is probably higher risk. We are going to be very, very challenged within accommodation to stagger people arriving while making sure we avoid increased rates of infection.”

“The suggestion is that we are going to see a spike,” he continued, adding that there was a chance there would be more infections in the new year.

Panel chair Phil Scott, non-executive director at CUBO, said the winter conference had highlighted concern among CUBO members about government policy-making. “One of the key messages that came out of discussions was the issue of how CUBO can better connect with and inform the local, regional and national government to address upcoming concerns promptly, and get our voice heard.”

CUBO vice-chair Kirsty Woodward echoed concerns about government communication. “I know from [the University of Leicester] that the guidance on the travel window came as a surprise to us and to regional public health and local public health bodies. I’m not quite sure how much collaboration there is between local and national government, but from a CUBO stance, I think, the more regional engagement we can have the better.”

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