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Video available for VC all-staff briefing session, 14 January 2021

Vice-Chancellor Robert van der Noort

The first of the Vice-Chancellor's termly all-staff briefings took place yesterday (14 January 2021) - thank you to all who took part and submitted questions to the panel. The session was primarily focused on plans for the spring term and the University's ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Summary

In his opening remarks, Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort said that he would like a different start to 2021, but he was grateful to all colleagues for doing the best they can under very challenging circumstances. He acknowledged that many of our colleagues would be balancing work with caring responsibilities and reminded colleagues of wellbeing support services available both on and off campus, including the Wellbeing Peer Support network and Health and Wellbeing webpages.

Robert touched on several topics relating to the fees paid by students; he spoke about a Halls accommodation fee waiver agreed between the University and Halls of Residence provider UPP, and a rent discount by Unite Students to students living in Kendrick Hall. On students living in private accommodation, Robert said that he had written to local landlords to ask for flexibility. He also addressed the recent open letter from RUSU calling for a reduction in tuition fees.

On finances, Robert said he remained cautiously optimistic that the temporary tiered salary cut may not be required  but a final decision on this would only be taken once the University's financial position had been reviewed in February with the UCU and the Staff Forum.

The next stage of the session was led by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Parveen Yaqoob and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation) Dominik Zaum, who each provided detailed updates on COVID-19 transference at the University and plans for the spring term.

Parveen gave an overview of the number of confirmed staff and student cases during the autumn term, seroprevalence amongst the student population, how cases were being successfully managed by the Case Management team, and on-campus testing in December and the spring term. A significant message from her presentation was that our students are, on the whole, taking great care to minimise risks to themselves and their communities, and that they should be commended for their commitment and efforts in keeping our University safe.

Parveen made reference to two recent reports on student behaviour during the pandemic:

ONS: Coronavirus and the impact on students in higher education in England: September to December 2020

HEPI: It’s time to stop assuming students are spreading COVID

The reports highlight the somewhat untold story of how many students across the country are acting responsibly and with consideration to their peers and local communities. 

Dominik's presentation focused on what the national lockdown meant for University activity. He reinforced the government's messages on social distancing and only leaving the home when necessary, and that all colleagues who are not involved in the delivery of teaching or critical on-campus services must work from home. He said that on-campus safety measures were being reviewed, including the 1m+/2m social distancing rule and guidance on where face-coverings should be worn on campus. Dominik also spoke about moving the majority of teaching online, and the ways in which students could continue to access key services such as the Library and support services.

The final section of the session was dedicated to answering questions from colleagues, which also included contributions from Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education and Student Experience) Julian Park and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Paul Inman.

Video

A recording of the video is available below:

You can also watch the video directly on Microsoft Streams.

Next session

The next all-staff briefing will take place on Friday 12 February at 10:00, and will focus on the University's finances. All colleagues will receive an Outlook calendar invite ahead of the session.

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