Staff news

Coronavirus (Covid-19) update from the Principal

A staff update on the steps that the University is taking to plan for the long-term future.

I hope you are all managing as well as possible in the current unprecedented circumstances and that you and your loved ones are keeping safe. 

As you know, the Government’s lockdown restrictions have now been formally extended, and I wanted to update you on the steps that we plan for our long-term future and to support you as much as possible throughout the coming months.

Once again, I would like to thank you all for the innovative ways in which you have risen to the challenges that this new system of working has posed. This includes successfully moving our teaching online, putting remote assessments in place and securely closing the majority of our 500 buildings. Our researchers are conducting vital research which is crucial in helping the global effort to better understand and fight Covid-19. I am also incredibly proud of our newly qualified medical and nursing students who have joined the NHS workforce early as part of the UK’s response to the virus. We should all be collectively proud of these achievements and by continuing to work together in this way, we will not only get through this crisis but emerge as strong as ever.

We know that all this is affecting people in different ways, particularly if you are having to juggle work and caring responsibilities. As the weeks continue, supporting each other is going to be increasingly important for your mental health and wellbeing. If you are having any difficulties, please do speak to your line manager in the first instance so that you can be supported in the best way possible.

Like other research-intensive international universities, we will face a major financial impact because of the Covid-19 pandemic and we are not shying away from the magnitude of the challenge that this brings.

Our University was in a stable financial position coming in to this, and we are working hard to ensure that we will emerge from it in the best position we can. However, I do need to emphasise the seriousness of the situation. The higher education sector is already facing large losses of income from accommodation, catering and conferences as well as the substantial additional investment required to support students learning online. Universities are also projecting a significant fall in international students and a potential rise in undergraduate home student deferrals. This in turn threatens the research excellence which underpins our international standing, because research is not adequately funded in the UK and requires cross-subsidy from other forms of income.  

So I want to let you know about some of the steps that the University is taking to mitigate this impact and to protect our long-term future.

We are urgently identifying priorities for how we can continue to effectively adapt our practices for the next academic year. We have taken steps to ensure that staff on Guaranteed Hours do not face a sudden unexpected drop in the income they would have legitimately expected over the next few months. You will also have seen the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, where positions are 'furloughed' or paused, and staff paid 80% of their normal salary through the scheme. We are working across the University to investigate how best to implement this for a number of staff who cannot work from home due to the nature of their roles. Full details will be made available as soon as possible next week. Please be assured that the University will top up the extra 20% so that affected staff will continue to be paid 100% of their salary whilst on furlough. Please do not see this as a sign of greater job insecurity – it is simply a mechanism for the University to legitimately access government support.

The senior leadership team is actively reviewing the timing and criteria for this year’s round of contribution awards. We want to honour our commitment to reward excellence but we also have to recognise the new cost pressures on this year’s and particularly next year’s cashflow. As the hits on our income in the next few years hit home, we will have to think the unthinkable: will we continue increments, promotions etc in the same ways as before? Most organisations are already questioning all these, including our peer universities in the UK. In the same vein, I will be taking a pay cut of 20% for 6 months and all other members of the senior team will take a 10% cut for the same period.  

We will be open in September and delivering high quality education to our students wherever they are at that point. Having the ability to offer high quality online and hybrid learning and teaching will be key. Rest assured that because of our strong and internationally-renowned educational offering we will not be reducing the standards for entry.  

We have already successfully demonstrated that we can react rapidly to changing circumstances, so we will need to keep doing this for the foreseeable future. We will need the ideas, creativity and commitment of everyone in our University community to see our way through this in the best possible way.

Support around mental health and wellbeing is a clear priority, and further guidance is available on our health and wellbeing pages (secured). We have established a Resilience team to investigate how student support can be effectively sustained no matter what the impacts of the pandemic turn out to be.

Edinburgh is a proudly international University and we will continue to welcome students, researchers and staff from all parts of the world to study and work with us. This crisis underlines the necessity for countries to come together and share knowledge, and this is something that we will continue to encourage at Edinburgh for generations to come.

Further information and support is available on our Covid-19 FAQs which we are updating regularly with the latest guidance, so please continue to consult these pages along with the most recent UK Government advice.


Professor Peter Mathieson

Principal and Vice-Chancellor