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Vice-Chancellor briefing session, 9 September 2020

Vice-Chancellor Robert van der Noort

Thank you to all who watched the Vice-Chancellor’s online briefing on 9 September 2020. 

In this session, Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Van de Noort was joined by chairs of the Major Recovery Team, Professors Parveen Yaqoob and Julian Park, and our newly appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International, Paul Inman.

A video of the session is available below:

Internet Explorer/Edge browser users can access the video on Microsoft Stream.

What was discussed?

The first section of the briefing was a general update from the Vice-Chancellor on Phase One of the Post-Covid-19 Response Programme, including the formal Consultation between the University, the Staff Forum and the University and Colleges Union (UCU) which was set out last month.

The Consultation proposals will be put to a UCU ballot this month. These proposals relate to contingency planning, with cost-saving measures linked to student recruitment. The Vice-Chancellor gave an early impression of student recruitment after the extended Clearing period: although not confirmed, recruitment is estimated to be a little better than anticipated, with current predictions suggesting that we will achieve 92% of our undergraduate home student target and 66-90% of our International target. That said, there is a chance there may be a higher number of students either not enrolling or dropping out this year given the general unease of COVID-19, so we must treat any estimations with caution.

The Vice-Chancellor said that work is progressing on Phase Two of our Post-COVID-19 Response Programme, which focuses on implementing key elements of the University Strategy into our long-term post COVID-19 financial recovery. Further details are expected to be shared over the coming months.    

The next section covered key developments in preparations to return to campus, which was led by Professor Parveen Yaqoob. Parveen explained the key reasons for adapting a ‘blended' teaching model for the Autumn term, which combines online learning with some face-to-face teaching. In response to concerns on why we are not opting for a fully online model, she highlighted that not only are many of our courses not designed for online (such as those with physical elements), but online learning decreases student attainment and increases drop-out rates, especially for the most disadvantaged students.

The main risks of transmission lie in social aspects of university life, not the teaching environment, which is why much work has gone into the student code of conduct and disciplinary procedures, setting out examples of behaviours which would be unacceptable and taking a ‘5Es' approach, which is to set expectations, engage, explain, encourage and enforce.

Parveen said that all of the preparations over the last few months has been focussed on a hierarchy of control measures, from reducing the amount of in-person teaching, to physical changes and safety measures on campus. She explained that there are processes in place to protect colleagues with underlying health concerns that might put them at greater risk - for colleagues, this would include an initial discussion with your line manager and HR partner using a specially designed COVID-19 screening tool, followed up by a referral to Occupational Health and an individual risk assessment if necessary.

Many teams won't be expected to make a full return to campus - some will switch between working flexibly between the home and office, while others will continue to work fully from home for the time being. Decisions will be made locally by line managers and Heads of Schools/Functions. 

Parveen also shared updates on work that has been taking place on outbreak control planning with our local authority and with Public Health England. This included planning for positive cases on campus, and the potential for a testing unit for staff and students to be established on site. Details surrounding this are still being finalised, and information will be shared as soon as possible.  

Next came an introduction from Paul Inman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for International, who provided an outline of his key duties and aims for the coming months ahead. He gave an overview of his experience in the higher education sector, including his most recent role at Oxford Brookes University.

Paul explained that his new role at Reading will be focused on increasing the size and scope of the international student community - a challenge during these unusual times. He said that he wants to work closely with decision makers in Schools, so that the right courses and programmes that work best for international recruitment are in place.

A particular area of interest for Paul is transnational education, especially developmental work within other countries to improve their education and potential partnerships - Paul felt that India and Pakistan could be two territories to explore further.

The next all-staff briefing will take place in early October - details will be shared shortly. 

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