Vice-Chancellor’s start of term message

I have to start with my continued thanks and appreciation to each and every one of you for all that you have done to support each other, our university and our students over the past few weeks. We are now at the beginning of the summer term and it has been a couple of extraordinary months as we have had to adapt as a community as best we can in response to a range of restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 situation. At the same time, we have all been preparing for the summer term. I know this has not been easy.

Given how much is going on, I thought it might be helpful to summarise some of the work we have each been doing over the past few weeks and the planning that is under-way to prepare for the coming academic year. Our planning is to be operating as per our published term dates. In this, we will place the health, safety and well-being of staff, and that of our students, at the heart of what we do.

 COVID-19 response 

  • Over the Easter period Professor Christina Hughes has continued as the lead co-ordinator for our response to the COVID-19 situation. A priority has been working with colleagues to progress actions associated with examinations and assessments. We have also continued communications with students on this, as well as the University’s no detriment/no disadvantage policy relating to recognition of the impact of the pandemic on completion and progression.
  • The summer term will involve a significant amount of work to deliver online examinations and the associated administration, marking, moderating and being involved in exam boards, and I know many of you are giving considerable preparation to this.
  • We have taken the decision to postpone summer graduation ceremonies and combine these with the later winter ones.
  • We have put together a resource pack for staff and managers to help find ways to adjust and cope with our new and challenging environment.
  • There remain over 700 students on the Canterbury Campus and 130 at Medway. Colleagues in Security, student accommodation, Catering, the College Offices and Student Support and Wellbeing continue to support them and keep the campuses safe and accessible. Kent Union are also keeping open the Co-Op, the Student Advice Centre and the Foodbank.

 Planning for the autumn term

  • The beginning of the summer term will initiate the next planning phase and is designed to ensure that student recruitment and progression, teaching, research and knowledge exchange will continue to be delivered from the start of the new academic year in September 2020.
  • We are clear that our priority remains the health and safety of all staff and students and these issues are at the front of our planning. We will address what this means for the delivery of teaching and research and for campus accommodation and visitor and commercial impacts. This work will be managed through a series of workstreams with an EG lead and we will be setting up some web-based discussion forums to update colleagues on this work:
    • Education & Student Experience (Richard Reece)
    • Recruitment & Admissions (Georgina Randsley de Moura)
    • People and Ways of Working (Alison Ross-Green)
    • Infrastructure (Denise Everitt)
    • Finance (Jane Higham)  

 Financial support 

  • We cannot deny that the pandemic has impacted across the whole of the University sector as it has for most sectors of the economy. For us, here at Kent, this includes loss of accommodation income as we released students from their Term 3 accommodation contracts for those unable to use their rooms, as well as loss of conferencing and catering, as events were cancelled for the summer period. This has amounted to approximately £13m so far. As we move into 2020/21, these losses will magnify and current estimates, dependent on how the pandemic impacts student recruitment and the restrictions in place, are that further income shortfalls will range from £20-35m.
  • To mitigate this we have put in place a number of immediate actions. We are pulling back on non-pay spend, only spending where absolutely essential, further reducing capital spend and we are in the process of applying to the government job retention scheme. I have taken a 12-month 20% reduction in my pay.
  • We already have an engaged sub-JSNCC that includes our Staff and Trades Union Representatives, looking at alternative forms of staff cost savings. This is proving a really constructive and helpful dialogue and progress has already been made in this area. We are not running the process for discretionary pay awards for senior staff this year, and EG colleagues have frozen their pay. We will be asking the sub-JSNCC to look at new ideas for savings with us over the next few weeks. As colleagues are aware, we were already having to take significant steps to manage our finances – the impact of COVID-19 places a further challenge on us at this time.
  • Our recruitment and marketing activities go from strength to strength to support our ’20/21 entry. The announcement that we will be operating from our autumn start of term date, whatever form this takes (online, blended learning or face-to-face), is very important in this respect as it provides assurance to future and to current students and enables each of us to plan. We have seen positive responses in terms of applications and students making us their ‘firm choice’. We are also scenario-planning to ensure we have as full as possible an understanding of the likely recruitment outcomes so that appropriate planning is in place to realise the most optimal outcome. We do though remain very concerned about international student recruitment.
  • We are still awaiting the outcome of the UUK ‘ask’ of Government for sector support as this will shape any further actions we may need to take.

Wider University response

  • We have had an incredible response to the research and community support that we have provided across the county as well as contributing to the national COVID-19 response. Our latest news and updates can be found here. A massive thanks to all involved in this work.
  • Our concerns remain with our students who are most disadvantaged through the impact of COVID-19 as well as ensuring that our world-leading research is contributing to the national effort. With this in mind, we will be launching a fundraising campaign, supported by our Chancellor Gavin Esler, to promote this work. Please feel free to share details of the campaign with your friends, family and local community.
  • Through Careers and Employability, we are also linking our students with local needs and over 150 of our students have signed up to support the local agricultural economy as fruit-pickers!
  • I remain in close contact with UUK (weekly TEAMS and CEO daily briefings) and other VCs across the sector. These discussions fed into the UUK ask of government for support but are also promoting the considerable impact that universities have in their local and regional communities as well as nationally and internationally. Universities play a vital role in public, social, and economic life and will have a huge part to play in the recovery of our society and economy post COVID-19 and we need to ensure we are able to continue to do this into the future.

I can never sufficiently convey to you how much you are delivering fantastic opportunities and support for thousands of students every day, making discoveries with global impact and bringing positive change to our communities. And, at the same time looking out for each other. All I can say is thank you. I look forward to continuing to work with you all as we enter into a new period of working differently and I wish you, your family and friends well.