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Update on planning for 2020/21 academic year

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The Vice-Chancellor spoke to colleagues last week as part of his summer briefings. He outlined the challenges we face as an institution and what steps we are taking to respond to or deal with these challenges. Questions at the session covered five broad themes – furloughingplans for phased returnprocess for considering financial challengesstudent recruitment and COVID-19’s impact on the next academic year.

In the third of the five updates, Pro-Vice-Chancellors (Education & Student Experience) Elizabeth McCrum and Julian Park provide an update on planning for the next academic year.

In writing this update, we have been reflecting back on when we first started our new roles as Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Education and Student Experience in January, which now seems like a lifetime ago. One thing we were both particularly determined to do from the outset was to spend as much time as possible in Schools, Departments and Functions relating to T&L and Student Experience, speaking to you and our students.

While it is disappointing that the disruption arising from the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from doing this, we are hugely grateful for the way our whole T&L community has responded and adapted to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Like all of you, we have found these past few weeks challenging. We have been stretched, personally and professionally, to levels that we could never have previously imagined. However, we have been inspired, time and again, by your positivity, resilience, and determination to provide our students with the best possible support.

We are writing to share some information about our thoughts and plans for different scenarios in relation to teaching and learning for the coming weeks and months, which we hope you will find helpful.

Planning for the start of the 2020/21 academic year

While there is much uncertainty about the academic year ahead, there are many things that we do know. We believe there may be continued travel restrictions, for students living overseas and, potentially, even those in the UK. The UK government is likely to continue to recommend some social distancing measures and changes to the way we would normally work and live our lives. We also need to be mindful that even where restrictions are eased, they may be re-imposed at short notice, should there be a ‘second wave’ of COVID-19. All our decisions will continue to be informed by the latest UK government and Public Health England advice.

We have a rapid-response working group that has been consulting with Heads of School and Function in recent weeks to develop different contingency plans for the next academic year. We are currently planning to deliver a quality supportive learning environment for all our students from the start of term, whether those students are on our campuses or if, in the first instance, they need to join remotely.  In developing our plans, we have been mindful of the following needs:


  • To provide the best possible learning experience for our students and mitigate the impact of the disruption arising from the pandemic as far as we reasonably can
  • To equip our colleagues with the tools and support they need to work effectively remotely, being mindful in particular of the additional demands this term has presented for our wellbeing
  • To develop an approach that takes into consideration the varying needs of different Schools and their discipline-specific teaching and learning practices
  • To minimise further negative impact of the current situation on the University’s finances
  • To establish ourselves as a proactive institution in the sector to maintain our competitive position, while ensuring our plans broadly align with those of other universities in the UK


Following a consultation at Senate on the 6 May, we intend to provide more detailed recommendations and practical support to colleagues and students over the coming weeks to ensure we can deliver this high quality learning experience from the start of the autumn term.

Teaching & Learning developments

Earlier this year, we let you know about three pieces of work being undertaken during 2020 to create capacity and to ensure you have the necessary support:


  1. A review of Quality Assurance policies, processes and structures
  2. A review of ECF policy and processes
  3. An appraisal of the structures and processes that support T&L


Clearly, there will be much to be learned from recent events to input into these. Thanks to the hard work of colleagues, we intend for these critical activities to continue, although the implementation timeframes may be adjusted to recognise the additional staff time currently occupied with COVID-19 work.

Likewise, we are very grateful for the continuing hard work on delivering our T&L strategic projects. Along with our UEB colleagues, we will support those leading these activities to review and adjust delivery timeframes based on current circumstances as required.

Teaching Excellence & Student Outcomes Framework (TEF)

We also wanted to let you know that the OfS has confirmed further delays to the next Teaching Excellence & Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) exercise. The most recent plan was to consult on a new framework during the first half of 2020, after publication of the Independent Review. However, this has now been postponed and there is currently no date for the next exercise. We will of course keep you updated with future developments. 

Looking after our wellbeing

We would like to end by reiterating our thanks, once again, for everything you have done and are continuing to do at this time. Colleagues in Schools and Functions have worked tirelessly to set up online teaching, ‘take home’ exams, and all the associated policies and processes.

With so much uncertainty ahead, please do take the time to look after yourselves and one another. We cannot support our students without first taking care of ourselves. 

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