Update on staff and student return to campus

Vice Chancellor Karen Cox

Following the meeting of the Senior Leadership Forum earlier this week, I wanted to give you the latest update on the progress being made to support our return to campus. I also want to update you on the impact of COVID-19 on the University’s financial position. Please find a link here to the slides used at the meeting. I set out the key issues below.

May I reiterate that in all we do the health and safety of all our staff and students is the utmost priority. This means that we will take a phased and consistent approach to our return in consultation with JSNCC and in accordance with government guidelines.

New and Returning Students

We have already announced our intention that all of our campuses will be open to students from the start of next academic year. We are therefore actively planning on the assumption that all students will be joining us whether they are at Canterbury, Medway or one of the European Centres. This planning takes account of all necessary social distancing requirements.  If the situation in September requires a change to this, we will prioritise first years as well as postgraduate taught and research students.

As you will appreciate, social distancing regulations limit the numbers of students who would be able to be in a lecture theatre, laboratory or classroom at any one time.  We are continuing to work on the timetabling implications of this but we will have a blended approach to teaching at Canterbury and Medway with lectures being delivered online along with provision for face-to-face teaching in small groups.

Brussels and Paris will operate under guidance from the Belgian and French governments and the plan is that in our European Centres we will deliver teaching primarily face-to-face.

I am also pleased to say there is strong interest from returning students in our campus-based accommodation. We are taking soundings of what they would find most supportive to their overall experience. Accommodation for students at both Canterbury and Medway is being designed around households. We will, of course, be making offers of accommodation as usual to first years.

Phased Staff Return

Throughout the processes of return, we are continuing to work closely with the trade unions and staff representatives on JSNCC, as well as following national health and safety guidance.  We have also organised all the work of returning campus operations and learning, teaching and research through a Covid-19 Programme Board and series of workstreams (Education & Student Experience, Recruitment and Admissions, Infrastructure, Finance, People and Ways of Working and Research). These are joining with colleagues across the university to develop the detail behind these plans and ensure our co-ordinated and consistent approach. We will update Senate on these plans at its meeting in June and will continue to update colleagues on a regular basis.

We will only begin the phased return of staff once all health and safety provisions are in place. Who will return and when will be dependent on a range of factors including building capacity, flexible working arrangements, home working conditions and personal circumstances, including issues related to shielding.

I would ask you therefore, that unless you are already classified as a ‘key worker’ and coming onto campus in your role, you should not be seeking to work from campus at this stage. I realise this may cause frustration, but we must have a University-wide approach to coming out of lockdown and work through the steps required to re-open the University in time for the start of the next academic year.

Opening Buildings:  First Phase Priorities

As we phase our return to campus, we have identified three areas as being the first to re-open – the libraries in Canterbury and Medway, the Registry building (for Central Student Administration), and Research Labs (likely phased as follows: Ingram, Stacey, Jennison, followed by Marlowe and Keynes). However, as I have noted, who will return is dependent on a number of factors and return will not be before the end of June at the earliest, due, in part, to the scale and complexity of the work required to ensure the health and safety of colleagues returning to those areas. For those of you working in those areas, you will of course be advised of these details and dates as soon as they are known.

Financial Impacts of Covid-19

Finally, as you are aware, the financial impact of COVID-19 on the sector has been significant. I have previously flagged that we have already experienced a loss of £13m, partly because of lost accommodation income and a loss of conference and catering income. This figure is set to rise as we move into the next academic year as we scenario plan for a reduction in international student numbers, and home/EU students. This, combined with the possibility that we might not be able to use campus student accommodation to its full capacity, means we are currently planning on a scenario with a further income shortfall of anywhere between £20-35m. These are significant losses and will be challenging for us to address.

In response to this, and the ongoing work to improve financial sustainability, we have taken a number of immediate measures to reduce non-pay spend including restricting use of credit cards, enhancing financial controls, removing budgets, cutting capital spend and ‘furloughed’ staff where we can. We are now starting to talk with the JSNCC on some temporary measures to cut staff costs. We are also looking at accessing one of the government-backed loan schemes (known as CLBILS) that are available (subject to a range of criteria) to all sectors during this period. Again, I will continue to update you on our financial position as it unfolds. As lockdown is gradually lifted, we recognise this situation will continue to be fast-moving and complex as we respond to the external context of the pandemic. I am aware of just how hard all colleagues are working right now and do not under-estimate the additional work arising from COVID-19. I am also aware of the concerns colleagues are raising about the impact on probation, promotion and progression. Georgina Randsley de Moura is collating these concerns and we are looking at how best to reassure staff that, despite our challenges, Kent will continue to provide a positive environment for all staff to develop their careers

Once again, I thank each and every one of you for everything you are doing to support the University, our staff and our students during this difficult time.