VC’s update - getting ready for semester one

14 January 2022

Hi everyone 

Happy New Year! I hope everyone has been able to get some downtime. Summer is still here, so I encourage you to make hay while the sun shines. I know the COVID situation and recent storms were an unwelcome disruption to the holiday period for many, but I'm still feeling hopeful about the year ahead - and I can't wait to have our staff and students back on the campus and in our classrooms in semester one. 

Our experts are indicating that the Omicron-wave is likely to be fast and furious and might well be on the wane come February. While it does appear that Omicron is less severe than previous strains - especially for those with three vaccinations - it is still something to be avoided. Easier said than done as we found out just before Christmas. Jenny and I got caught inside during an intense thunderstorm at a party, a perfect place to catch COVID, and she did. I'm not sure if it was that I had just gotten my booster or dumb luck, but I have managed to avoid it. For Jenny, it was unpleasant but she has largely recovered. We were in isolation from 23 December to 2 January - which kind of sucked to put it mildly.  But still others have been less lucky - this is still a very severe disease for many people who catch it.  

Unfortunately, COVID is not going to go away anytime soon. We can hope that the combination of the virus evolution, vaccines and our immune systems will relegate it to become a cold-like annoyance over time, but we are going to need to live with COVID for the time-being. This means taking sensible precautions such as using high-quality masks inside, getting boosted as soon as eligible, and isolating and testing if you suspect you might have COVID. The University is going to do its best to support everyone to do these things. Our Public Health Lead Professor Tracy Smart has put together a very helpful guide to coping with Omicron to dispel some confusion and fear. You can read Tracy's blog here

The ACT Government has recommended that where possible, Canberrans work from home throughout January and we are doing our part to support this. If your work can be done remotely and you are able to work from home, we expect you to be doing this.  

We're finalising the details for our return to campus next month and our focus is firmly on bringing classroom teaching back to campus. I view this as an essential part of the ANU experience - and I know our students feel the same. We will need to do this carefully to ensure we are doing our part to inhibit the spread of Omicron. Classes will be taking place on campus, however, virtual options will be available when they're needed, including when students and teachers find themselves needing to isolate.  

Some ANU services will also be available in hybrid mode. 

In the next few weeks, we'll share some updated COVID guidelines and more information on how work and teaching will look, as well as more on things like testing and ventilation. We'll provide these to staff over the next couple of weeks through the usual channels, so keep an eye on On Campus which returns next week and listen out for updates from your supervisors for local arrangements.  

The ANU COVID Pathway team will be hosting another supervisors forum in the coming weeks to keep this group informed. 

If you're a student, you'll also get updates on how the semester will look via the normal channels. We're really looking forward to having you back. 

A significant number of people in our community will be reading this from isolation and some staff have been asking what they need to do in this situation. We've published answers to some frequently asked questions about COVID related absences, flexibility and leave which I encourage you to read here.  

Our first international students arrived in Canberra over the weekend and it is great to be welcoming them home after so long. The past two years have been challenging for our students both overseas and at home, so I'm energised by the thought of having them back together (COVID safely) in a few weeks' time.  

You may have seen some recent media coverage about six ARC grants that were vetoed by the minister before Christmas. I was one of a number of signatories to an open letter expressing concern about this, and I have been vocal about how political interference in grant-making has no place in an advanced democracy. Curiosity-driven research funded after rigorous scrutiny by experts has given us the great advances in prosperity precisely because we are able to think beyond the politics of the day. I hope future funding rounds will return to the tradition of transparent, timely and independent selection of projects, and I will be working both behind the scenes and in public to ensure this occurs.  

And finally, if you have not had a chance to read about the ANU wonder dog Zorro in the latest edition of ANU Reporter, you should. Zorro might be "a bit of a diva" but his gift for sniffing out owl vomit and other odours the rest of us might avoid is helping conservation researchers better understand his feathered friends. It doesn't get better than this!  

I hope you all have a good weekend. I am up at the beach, making up for my lost Christmas week.