Vice-Chancellor’s update – November 2022

Since my last update our political landscape has shifted once again with yet another Secretary of State for Education in Gillian Keegan – our fifth in just over a year. She is joined by another new lead, with Grant Shapps now heading up Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Like many we hope for a bit more stability in both areas, and look forward to seeing what this means for universities and the Levelling Up agenda in particular. 

Student numbers and Academic Freedom 

At our more local level, Senate met this week where, along with regular updates from the key Boards and Committees that run across the University, there were focussed discussions on the NSS, Teaching Excellence Framework and Admissions. We also had updates on new entrants and continuation, which is looking challenging for the University as it seems that this year we have more students not progressing between years.  

Colleagues are actively following up with students to reduce this gap by ensuring everyone registers that can,  but it is looking like there will be consequences for budgets. We will look to manage this through contingency, holding back on capital and non-essential spend, re-prioritising any strategic investment and controls around staff recruitment. We will keep colleagues updated. 

Elsewhere, Senate considered an important paper on an updated policy on Academic Freedom, which is the result of diligent work from across our community and goes right to the heart of our purpose as a University – more updates on this will follow. 

Executive Group priorities 

At Executive Group, we are receiving regular updates on the external and internal work to resolve the performance issues with KentVision that were observed during the Boards of Examiners meetings in June and again at Clearing in August. Our own review has identified what seems to be the root cause of these issues and fixes have been applied. Georgina Randsley de Moura is also sponsoring a Timetabling Task Team to review and improve our approach to timetabling after recent issues for both students and staff – this will be supported by colleagues across central and divisional teams and will draw on a number of other related projects. 

At national level, many will have seen that the University and College Union has a renewed mandate for industrial action across all universities over pay, pensions and working conditions. We are not the only sector faced with these issues, with cost of living pressures felt across the country. While we await the outcome of UCU discussions this week for confirmation of plans, we will do all we can to support national negotiations in the interest of a settlement that works for all. We are also drawing up plans to mitigate the impact of any action on students as far as we can if it comes to it. 

Update on Arts and Humanities 

I also wanted to update you further on the work to review our Arts and Humanities offer. I don’t underestimate how worrying a time it is for colleagues whenever there is talk of reviews or changes. This is why I’m really pleased that by working together on a redundancy avoidance agreement, we’ve been able to make a commitment in this case that there will be no compulsory redundancies for colleagues affected by the current review in Arts and Humanities. This is an approach we want to embed whenever we consider major changes in the future, ensuring people can know there is a job for them here if they want to stay.  

Staff Recognition Awards 

While it is a difficult environment for the sector, the way our community comes together to welcome students each new academic year is always special. Next week sees our annual Staff Recognition Awards where we will hear inspirational stories from across the University.

Kent Sport’s Vice-Chancellor’s Cup also gets underway shortly for a bit of fun and healthy competition across teams, while our staff webchat series returns later this month with a session on the Cost of Living. Do try to catch up on these activities outside of day-to-day work where you can, and thank you to all you for everything you do for our students, staff and the wider community.