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Vice-Chancellor's summer term update

Vice-Chancellor Robert van der Noort

This message from Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort has been sent to all colleagues at the University

 

Dear colleagues

I hope you and your loved ones are keeping safe and well. It feels strange to be writing an email about the summer term from home. That said, there has been a huge amount of activity in recent weeks and although it means a fairly lengthy email, I would like to take the opportunity to update you on some of this work.

I also plan to go ahead with our Summer term briefing sessions for colleagues, using Microsoft Teams. There is more detail on this below. We have been running three Leadership Group briefings a week using Teams, and I have found it to be an excellent tool for keeping in touch, so I hope you can join me next week.

Before turning to these updates, though, I would like to acknowledge how much we have achieved in such a short period of time, adapting to working remotely and keeping the University's activities going as best we can. I am proud of how everyone has come together on this. In particular, I would like to acknowledge the work of colleagues in Student Services, Estates and Campus Commerce in supporting this change, particularly for our students, including the more than 1,000 students remaining in Halls.

 

University strategy

Although the meeting of the University Council on 16 March feels like a lot longer than a month ago, I am very pleased to report that Council has signed off on our new University Strategy. While the principles were confirmed some time ago, and have started to form the basis of a lot of our work - including through the planning process - it is good to have final confirmation from our governing body that they continue to see this as a positive model for the future of our institution.

Since then, the world has obviously changed dramatically, but I believe that the principles and objectives set out in the Strategy continue to reflect how we want to work together. In fact, it is more important than ever that we have a shared blueprint for how we tackle the short- and long-term challenges created by COVID-19.

 

Coordinating our COVID-19 response

The University's Major Incident Team (MIT) continues to coordinate our response to COVID-19, led jointly by UEB members Parveen Yaqoob, Dominik Zaum and Julian Park. It now has four sub-groups to support activities in key areas. These groups are:

  • Student Academic and Welfare Support (co-chaired by Paddy Woodman and Matthew White)
  • Staff Welfare and Resources (co-chaired by John Brady and Claire Rolstone)
  • Estates and Infrastructure (c0-chaired by Janis Pich and Stuart Brown)
  • NHS Support (chaired by Parveen Yaqoob)

Other important areas of work, including exams and assessments, events and recruitment, and communications, have been absorbed into business as usual work but those work streams continue to report into the MIT.

A critical area of work has been minimising the impact on our students and responding to their concerns. We have already put in place an individualised ‘safety net' on marks so that students can still demonstrate their academic achievement and gain the full benefit of their studies. However, all students, particularly finalists and Masters, will need to complete their summer term exams and assessment to benefit from the safety net. You can read more on the Essentials coronavirus guidance webpages for students. You can also find all communications that have gone to students by email on the University updates page there.

While the government advice continues to be for UK citizens to stay at home, we are looking ahead to how we will ‘reawaken' our campuses. Any easing of the restrictions is likely to be phased, so your Head of School or Function will work with the MIT to identify key areas and activities to guide how we manage this process as quickly and safely as possible. When government advice is updated, I ask that you wait for specific advice from the MIT before returning to work, as we will need to do this in a phased and coordinated way and ensure that we comply with any ongoing social distancing requirements.

Many colleagues are also working with local partners and community. From studying the virus to supporting NHS staff to food donations, our University is contributing to efforts to protect people from the disease and help them deal with the many impacts it is having on our community. You can read more about this work on our #WeAreTogether webpage. If any of you are looking for an opportunity to help, please take a moment to look at our Staff Portal page about volunteering for Royal Berkshire Hospital.

 

UUK's package to government of requested support measures

You may have read about Universities UK's package of measures proposed to government to allow universities to continue playing a critical role in supporting the nation. The paper highlights the significant financial implications of the COVID-19 crisis for universities and how the government could support our recovery.

I do not know yet with any certainty what the exact impact on our University will be, but we anticipate that it will be serious. Any financial support from government for the sector would be welcome and UEB is also considering previously-announced government support mechanisms like the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to manage some of the short-term impact. Where colleagues are unable to do any work at all, this job retention scheme (known as ‘furloughing') means that government would cover 80% of their salary and we as an employer are committed to making up the remaining 20%. Furloughing is a temporary measure, and we will be confirming this in writing with any affected colleagues shortly.

Despite any government support, however, the financial impact of coronavirus will compound those challenges we were already facing, and we are considering a range of scenarios based on the potential impacts outlined in the UUK note. Those members of UEB not directly involved in the University's COVID-19 response are working with the Leadership Group to consider the short- and longer-term implications and actions that will need to be taken to ensure the financial sustainability of the University.

I would like to talk through this in a bit more detail, and give you an update on our coronavirus response work, at our summer term briefing sessions next week. These will be delivered via Teams and so may not be quite as interactive as they would be in person, but we will do all we can to facilitate your questions. I would encourage you to attend if you can. There will be four sessions, each of which can accommodate up to 200 attendees, and we will record a session for those who cannot attend:

  • Monday 27 April - 13:00-14:00
  • Tuesday 28 April - 10:00-11:00
  • Tuesday 28 April - 13:00-14:00
  • Thursday 30 April - 13:00-14:00

The sessions will be conducted over Teams and you can register your place using this short online form.

 

In closing, I would like to reiterate my thanks to everyone for what they are doing for our University and our community. Even though we are dispersed and working from our own individual spaces, I believe our commitment to our students and each other is stronger than ever.

Kind regards

Robert

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