At Brunel, the safety of our staff, students, visitors and local community continues to be our top priority as we have been through a year in which the teaching, learning and broader experience of our students has differed considerably from those of previous generations.
The measures we have put in place mean we can be confident that our campus is Covid-secure, in line with health and safety and government guidance. Our Brunel community prides itself on being diverse, inclusive and supportive, promoting a culture of wellbeing to enable all students to realise their full potential. To help to set clear expectations of our students we have appended a Community Pledge to our Student Code of Conduct, encouraging supportive, appropriate and considerate behaviours both on and off the campus. We are sharing a similar pledge setting expectations for staff. Now more than ever we must work together and look after each other.
And we staff have needed to be flexible and adapt to a very different environment. A year ago, only a small proportion of us were used to remote working and online meetings. Now these are commonplace and have provided challenges and opportunities as we seek to manage the transition through, and hopefully out of, the pandemic. We have all learned a new working language, as phrases such as ‘you are on mute’ have entered the vocabulary, and are very aware of the difficulty of separating work from home life when office and home become the same place.
But through this, universities have demonstrated greater flexibility and willingness to change than we imagined that they possessed, and the speed with which students have adapted to online learning delivered by staff, many of whom would never describe themselves as IT experts, has been extremely impressive.
New challenges arise all the time, but so do new opportunities. How many of our students will now be able to experience virtual international placements, or to join classes from other universities, or to collaborate on projects? How many new research opportunities are there, many of which enable much greater involvement of partners from the Global South than was previously the case? How many staff and students will be able to consider studying or working in universities now that the flexibility to operate from home is commonplace?
As members of an international alliance, YERUN universities are used to co-operation and international engagement. We have opportunities to enhance our collaborations and to create new opportunities. It is also a time to reflect on some of our old ways of working. Can we make our universities more inclusive? Can we reduce our dependence on travel and the associated environmental costs? Can we make the flexibility that we have shown in 2020 part of our normal business, while retaining necessary governance and oversight? When politicians may talk of ‘building back better’, we have the opportunity to deliver on this aspiration, remembering that at the core of our work are our universities as real places where real people meet, learn, research, manage, argue, laugh and develop lifelong relationships.
We send from Brunel to our YERUN partners and friends our very best wishes for a safe and happy Christmas, and we look forward to a 2021 with plenty of opportunities for us to work with and learn from each other.
Article by Prof. Julia Buckingham, Brunel’s Vice-Chancellor and Prof. Trevor Hoey, Brunel’s Vice-Provost for International and Academic Partnerships.