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Teaching and Research capacity for the 2020/21 academic year

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A message from Elizabeth McCrum and Julian Park (Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Education & Student Experience) and Parveen Yaqoob and Dominik Zaum (Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Research & Innovation)


Dear colleagues,

As the plans for how we reopen our Reading campuses progress, it becomes clearer how the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the ways we need to work far into the next academic year. Many of you have asked how we can balance the work that will be required next year to teach students both on campus and remotely with other responsibilities, in particular research, but also with colleagues' wellbeing. In light of next year's pressures, some have also asked what kind of university we want to be as we start to plan for how we can develop and thrive as we emerge from the pandemic, and whether we will remain a research intensive university given the greater demands from teaching on colleagues' time next year.

The answer to the latter question is an emphatic "Yes". Our new University Strategy, which we developed last year with intensive debate and input from colleagues and students all across the University, emphasises that we want to be an institution that is both research intensive and provides excellent education and student experience. We are not pursuing one at the expense of the other. This principle has not changed because of the pandemic. It guides us as we work together to face the challenges of next year. It is at the heart of the work of our post-COVID-19 response programme, looking at how we emerge from and rebuild the University after the pandemic, as outlined in the Vice-Chancellor's recent briefing sessions.

That said, it is an inescapable reality that managing the impact of COVID-19 on our students' learning experience, as set out in our Autumn 2020 Teaching & Learning Framework, does mean that we have to create temporary additional capacity for teaching. In the short term, we can do that in a range of different ways, both by focusing our T&L resources on core activities, and by temporarily shifting some research time to teaching. We recognise that, reflecting the diversity of our institution, the impact of the teaching changes will vary, and Schools will have different ways to best manage it. We are therefore not adopting a one-size fits all approach but will support Schools in identifying and implementing the most appropriate measures for them. 

As outlined earlier this year, we have already been working hard to create further capacity for teaching. Significant areas of this work include streamlining our quality assurance mechanisms, reviewing our extenuating circumstances process to reduce the significant administrative burden it currently demands of colleagues in Schools and Functions, and appraising our T&L structures and processes to provide colleagues with the best possible support. We know that programme teams are also looking carefully at what and how they teach, as well as teaching allocations, to use our resources in the most efficient way. 

However, addressing the specific challenges next year will also require temporarily weighing some workloads more towards teaching, at the expense of unfunded research time. While these will vary in detail across Schools, the following principles should inform such shifts:

  • Given the impact of research leave that is not externally or RETF funded on the workload of other colleagues, we are expecting that Schools suspend internally funded research leave for 2020/21 unless there are strong strategic reasons for this leave. For example, this may be due to research and impact work still feeding into REF2021, or the development of significant research grant applications. We ask Heads of School to consult with relevant Research Division Leaders, and Research Deans as to the strategic importance of particular cases.
  • We are expecting that Heads of Schools and Departments ensure that research time associated with externally funded research projects is protected, and then prioritise internally funded pump priming projects (e.g. RETF open calls).
  • Noting these priorities, we expect that Heads of School will have to vary the time for unfunded research.
  • It is critical that any decisions give appropriate consideration to equality and diversity concerns, and to the development of Early Career Researchers.

We recognise that some colleagues will be concerned about the impact that such temporary changes will have on their research productivity, and thus potentially on probation and promotion processes in future years. Both probation and promotion processes have mechanisms to address that, in particular through the contextual statements that accompany them.

We also recognise the risk of different groups of staff being differentially affected by these changes.  The University Committee for Research & Innovation (UCRI) has already started to discuss how we can collect data that captures the impact of COVID-19 on research activity, and importantly whether and how different groups of staff have been affected differently by it. UCRI will then ensure that this is available to fully inform relevant decision-making bodies. There has already been wide reporting with regard to a publication gender gap that appears to be opening up as a result of the unequal distribution of childcare responsibilities. We will conduct an Equality Impact Assessment (EIA), to see where and how we can to mitigate any impact.

Given the unprecedented challenges arising from the pandemic, which the Vice-Chancellor discussed at the recent briefing sessions, we have a demanding year ahead. We are acutely aware that we are asking for ongoing flexibility when colleagues are already feeling the pressure of these challenges. In working together to prioritise our activities in this way in the short term, we are contributing to the efforts to secure our financial position over the longer term and protect our wider portfolio of activities - both research and teaching.

We will regularly review these temporary measures, responding as required to any internal or external changes, and we will keep you updated with any significant developments. If you have any queries please do contact us.

Best wishes,

Dominik, Elizabeth, Julian and Parveen

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