Dear Colleagues,

Another week down of lock down and closer to the finish line.

Like many of you, it was impossible not to be alarmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report (IPCC) released earlier this week. I want to ensure staff that UOW takes its commitment to achieving the milestones set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals very seriously. We are making significant progress in this area by contributing world-leading research, equipping our students with the skills to be leaders in this space, and of course, ensuring our campuses are environmentally sustainable. We are currently working with the Student Advisory Council to develop a UOW-endorsed statement and further commitments in this area ahead of the 16th UN Climate Change Conference of Youth to be held later in the year, as the pre-cursor to the vitally important UN Climate Change conference in Glasgow this October. We are also working to coordinate more on our sustainability position, including leveraging the research and advocacy of our students and staff. I will keep you updated on UOW developments in this critically important area. Future generations are depending on us.

As many of you know, the annual student experience survey is currently open. This survey compares the student experience offered at all Australian universities. Pleasingly the response rate from UOW students is often higher than the sector average, as our academic and professional services teams work hard to encourage student participation and the inclusion of a broad range of student voices. The survey is a crucial way of helping us to improve the student experience, so we can make the time our students have at UOW as fulfilling and transformative as we can. As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has created substantial challenges for students and significantly impacted their student experience. This has been reflected in the 2020 survey results across the sector, which will likely be the case again in 2021. We are working hard to show that student feedback is valued and prompts action to improve the student experience. The work we are doing now to drive significant changes and improvements in student support, technology-enhanced learning, and learning flexibility is key to improving our results for 2022. The survey results feed into a university comparison website, a key tool used by prospective students and their influencers when reviewing university options. I encourage teaching staff to continue reminding students about participating in the survey, which closes on 29 August.

I recognise the substantial efforts of staff and students at this challenging time. I am also continually impressed and inspired by the innovation and commitment of our staff. This week, I was asked by Rosalind De Sailly what sustains me in the pandemic. I spoke about the power of universities and this speaks to the work you do each and every day.

I would also like to ask staff to take a moment to review the new and improved Safe and Respectful Communities (SARC) page on the UOW intranet. This page has been developed as a reference for UOW staff when supporting students on SARC issues. Please take the time to view the page and familiarise yourself with the processes, protocols, and resources to help keep both our students and staff safe.

And as we come to the close of another week, I wanted to share with you some comments made yesterday at the NSW Government COVID-19 briefing by Dr Murray Wright, the Chief Psychiatrist of NSW Health;

“… this is probably the most sustained and serious stress that many of us are going to face in our lifetimes and how this impacts on us and how we manage it is going to be really important in minimising the wellbeing and mental health impacts of the stress.…. in simple terms what people need to do is to have a plan to manage their stress and to monitor it and review it on a regular basis. It is straightforward, you have all heard about this before but it bears repeating and it actually bears repeating almost on a daily basis, it’s like a reset. It is also helpful to assume that everyone you come into contact with is also dealing with the stress and is impacted by the stress and may not be responding to the things around them in their usual way, and if at all possible, cut them a bit of slack on that basis.

The simple things we can all do is firstly have a plan and to create structure in your lives, particularly in a lockdown, many of us have lost that structure and it is important to recreate it. That includes having regular daily exercise of some kind, having contact with the people who are important in your life and talking about meaningful things including how they are coping and how you are coping. It is important to monitor things like your diet, like your sleep, like your alcohol intake, and also to set goals every day and review that.

None of us always execute the perfect plan, but it’s important to review it and renew it on a daily basis. If things are not working, and the signs of things not working include difficulties with sleep, difficulties with concentration, feeling unduly fatigued, feeling overwhelmed, irritable, or consuming too much alcohol, and if any of those things are happening either to you or people around you, you should make it a subject of consideration. What can I do to change how I am approaching the day or do I need help? Ask people if they are OK. That never does harm, it often does a world of good and making it a regular subject, as well as talking about the pandemic and talking about wellbeing is really critical for all of us.”

There is an end in sight, we just have to hang in there and support each other. Let’s make a commitment to reach out to one of our work colleagues over the next week.

Over 20% of the Illawarra is now fully vaccinated, and I was pleased to see the Illawarra and Shoalhaven mass vaccination centre open in the Wollongong CBD this week. Campus Pharmacy is also administering the Astra Zeneca vaccine. For more information on local options to receive the vaccine and how to make a booking, please visit our Vaccination Information Centre.

My thanks go to our colleagues, family and friends who are on the frontline of this pandemic, we are thankful for all that you do to keep us safe.

Be safe and well and have a restful weekend.