Author Archives: Karen Cox

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 14 January 2021

It’s hard to believe that it is just over a week since the University reopened after the Christmas vacation. During this time, lockdown has meant that, once again, we have had to change how we work, and a tremendous amount of work continues to take place across University to enable us to comply with Government legislation, as well as delivering our day-to-day activities.

I am grateful for all that you continue to do and know that many of you are facing increasing workloads. I would like to reassure you that this is something the Executive Group is taking seriously, and we are looking at how we might reduce the pressure and seeking to provide additional support at this time.

As we begin 2021, I wanted to say a word about our finances. As you know, thanks to the efforts of all staff, considerable progress has been made towards our underlying savings targets. We have also now reached a further long-term agreement with our lenders, which provides us with a platform to complete our Financial Improvement Programme and return our finances to a sustainable footing. Covid, however, continues to present short-term challenges, which we will have to continue to address in the face of ongoing uncertainty. We are now having to manage the impact of the six-week rent refund we have given to students unable to access their campus accommodation. We need to continue to limit expenditure to essential spend only so that we can protect the critical spend needed on income generation through, for example, supporting student recruitment and our research and innovation activities. Given the ongoing national situation we are also conscious that the return to campus remains very unclear and we are going to have to plan for further income losses.

I am pleased, however, to say that last week’s virtual open day attracted nearly 3,000 visitors, including prospective students from more than 100 countries as well as from the UK. While applications across the sector are lower than normal at this point, predominantly as a result of Covid, and we still have a lot of work to do to increase student numbers at this time, this response was really heartening.

Despite the challenges we face, we continue to make a major contribution to our communities and the region. Kent Business School’s fourth business summit on Friday will bring together business leaders, politicians, local government representatives and academics with the aim of developing an economic recovery roadmap for the region. At the same, through our Knowledge Exchange and Innovation department, we have launched a Recovery Innovation Fund which aims to support businesses to innovate and grow following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Kent and Medway Medical School has got off to a great start with over 108 students and continues to receive unwavering support from across the region, not just from healthcare professionals but from the general public. You can read more about its achievements in the Leadership Blog by Professor Chris Holland, the Dean of KMMS.

I was also delighted to learn of Professor Stephen Peckham’s appointment to a new expert panel as a policy advisor by the House of Commons’ cross-party Health and Social Care Select Committee. Stephen, who is Director of the Centre for Health Services Studies, is one of the country’s leading experts in this field.

Finally, at 15.30 today, we will be holding the first of our weekly staff web chats. Chaired by Professor Richard Reece, Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Education and Student Experience, who is leading on our Covid response, these meetings will give all staff the chance to get the latest updates and to ask questions of the senior management team. If you have yet to sign-up, please do so and I look forward to seeing many of you at today’s meeting.

With my very best wishes to you and your family,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 3 December 2020

As you will know from the media, the Government has now released its guidelines for a return to campus after the Christmas vacation for the Spring Term. The guidelines confirm our expectation that there will be a staggered return of students and that continued asymptomatic testing will play a key role in enabling students and staff to come back safely onto campus.

According to the guidance, medical students and those on practical courses requiring face-to-face teaching will be the first to return to campus. Other courses will be initially taught online for a short period before reverting to the combination of face-to-face and online teaching.

We have already developed plans to support this approach, but we need to ensure they meet all the Government’s requirements before we communicate the exact arrangements to staff and students.

One thing I would like to clarify is that the start of Spring term remains 18 January 2021, although KMMS students return on 4 January due to the specific nature on their course.

Thanks to the team responsible for setting up the asymptomatic testing site, we started testing on Monday. We have had an extremely good response from students wanting to be tested before they go home and, by this morning, we will have tested over 1,000 students. I am pleased to be able to say that, at this point in time, all tests have proved negative. We have also extended asymptomatic testing facility until December 15 to accommodate the levels of demand from our students – both undergraduate and postgraduate – as well as staff.

Our plans for testing before and in the Spring Term are also underway. Once again, we will encourage all students to be tested twice before they take part in face-to-face teaching.

We will update you on the plans for the Spring Term as soon as we possibly can as we know this latest Government announcement is potentially confusing as well as concerning. I would like to reiterate that we remain committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all our staff and students and that is at the forefront of all decisions we are making.

I would also like to again acknowledge the amount of hard work that continues to take place across the University, and I thank you all for the support you are showing at this challenging time.

Best wishes

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 26 November 2020

Good news is always welcome and, at the moment, more so than ever. It was simply wonderful therefore to hear of our success in the Guardian University Awards 2020 with the One Hour Degree declared the winner of the Digital Innovation award. Created by the Student Success Project, this is an online game designed to provide the complete university experience for potential students. Congratulations to Alison Webb for her work in developing the game.

Congratulations  also go to those involved the Professional Economist Degree Apprenticeship Programme, runner-up in the Widening Access and Outreach category. Launched in 2018, the programme, co-led by Professor Alastair Bailey and Dr John Pearson at the time of nomination, aims to attract a diverse, new generation of economists into the profession.

I am also pleased to say that we have submitted our pledge to Stand Alone, the charity that supports people who are estranged from their families. I greatly value this opportunity to make this pledge which states our commitments to our estranged students and demonstrates our recognition of the challenges that they may face. I am particularly pleased that we have made this submission during Estranged Students Solidarity Week.

While we have a dedicated package of support in place, there is more we can do. We will continue to engage with our estranged students to better understand what additional support they may need from us, as a University, to enable them to achieve their goals. I would also like to thank Ben Dawkins, Chair of the Chair of the Mature & Part-Time Students Network, for the work he is doing in support of our estranged students.

We have now learned that Kent and Medway will be in Tier 3 and are considering what this means for the University. We will provide further information once the situation is clearer.

The last week has seen work continue at high speed to set up the asymptomatic testing site on the Canterbury campus. I am pleased to say that we are on track to open the doors on Monday 30 November. As you will be aware, these sites play a major role in the government’s plans to enable students to travel home for Christmas, as well as supporting their return in the New Year. A special scheme for the Medway campus has been agreed with the local public health team, which will see the use of the pre-existing Local Testing Site for asymptomatic testing.

We are still waiting for government guidance on what the detailed arrangements are for the start of next term. I continue to engage at a national level on this and other issues and we will update you as soon as we have confirmation of what is required from us and the rest of the sector.

Thank you once again for all your hard work at this challenging time.

My very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 19 November 2020

A huge amount of work continues to take place in the divisions and professional service departments in support of the Government’s plan to enable students to travel home between 3-9 December, designated as the ‘Student Travel Window’. As you will be aware, all face-to-face teaching will be suspended on a temporary basis by 4 December to allow for staggered departure dates from the University.

In addition, following the submission of our ‘expression of interest’ in participating in the national scheme for asymptomatic testing of our students, we continue to liaise with the Department of Health and Social Care and other national agencies over the arrangements to have this in place by the 30 November deadline.  It is our expectation that this scheme will remain in place to support a return to campus after the Christmas vacation.

We are also now looking beyond the end of the current lockdown period. As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Kent and Medway continues to rise, it is clear the region may not return to Tier 1 on 3 December, and we are preparing to respond to the impact of any changes this will bring.

While our own figures remain comparatively low, they do show an increase on previous weeks which, given the regional trend, is not unexpected. As of 16 November, there are currently 57 students and 2 members of staff who have reported as testing positive for Covid-19.  We continue to work closely with, and follow the advice of, the local Health Protection Team.

While my thanks go to all of you who are working so hard during these unprecedented times to support the University, I wanted to say a special thank you to colleagues in Student Services, Commercial Services and Estates who have worked tirelessly to support students who have had to self-isolate in campus accommodation. Staff in the Accommodation and Conference Offices have been amazing and, thanks to the efforts of the Catering team, we have been able to provide an astounding 15,000 meals and 1000 care packs to those in self-isolation.

My very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

 

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 12 November 2020

Colleagues across the University continue to work to respond to the government’s plans to enable students to travel home safely before Christmas and to provide clarity for our students about how this will impact on them.

We are working to ensure those students who wish to travel during the ‘travel window’ of 3-9 December are able to do so. However, we are also very aware that this may not work for everyone, some will have travel arrangements already in place and others will have been planning to remain in their accommodation over the Christmas break. We need to make sure our students are able to decide what works and is the safest option for them and their families.

We have ‘expressed an interest’ in taking part in the national scheme for asymptomatic testing of our students and wait to hear back from the government. We are aware this scheme will be prioritised to those areas with a high incidence of coronavirus cases. We continue to work closely with our local public health team in terms of decisions we are making and on advice to staff and students at this time.

Against this backdrop of Covid-related activity, it is fantastic to hear about great work that continues to take place across the University in support of our core activity of education, research and engagement. I would like to congratulate three colleagues in the Department of Philosophy and School of Arts (Division of Arts and Humanities) who have been shortlisted across three categories in the 2020 Medical Humanities Awards.

Dr Jon Williamson, Professor of Reasoning, Inference and Scientific Method, has been shortlisted in the Best Research category for ‘Evaluating Evidence in Medicine’, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project that aims to broaden the range of evidence considered by evidence-based medicine. Dr Michael Wilde, Lecturer in Philosophy, has been shortlisted in the Best Early Career Research category for ‘Improving evidence evaluation in medicine’. Michael’s research develops a theory of evidence to enhance the understanding of how causal claims are established in medicine. Dr Nicola Shaughnessy, Professor of Performance, has been shortlisted for the Leadership Award. Nicola has been at the forefront of new fields of research around creativity and neurodiversity, in particular, the projects ‘Imagining Autism’ and ‘Playing A/Part’. She has also demonstrated exceptional leadership of PhD students and early career researchers in the field.

The Medical Humanities Awards are a highly renowned collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Wellcome Trust and it testifies to Kent’s strength in the Medical Humanities that ours is the only institution to be shortlisted across three categories in this year’s awards.

My very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Coronavirus

Response to Government end of term announcement

As you will no doubt be aware, the Department for Education has announced its plans to bring students safely home for Christmas. The guidance, released earlier today, makes it clear that students are required to follow current national restrictions until 2 December, with 3-9 December being designated as the ‘Student Travel Window’ with staggered departure dates.  The Government also requires all teaching to be online from 9 December at the latest.

We are now looking at this guidance in detail to assess how it impacts on our existing plans for this term and will issue further updates over the next few days.

We will also continue to update our online guidance for staff and students in response to the latest guidance from the Government.

We have also written to students to let them know of our current position, and to remind them that they need to continue to comply with the current lockdown restrictions and to continue to attend face-to-face and online learning sessions until they hear otherwise.

Please be assured that the health and wellbeing of our students and staff remain our key priority and will inform all our decision-making in response to this latest guidance.

Thank you for your continuing support at this challenging time,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 5 November 2020

The news at the weekend that we were entering into a second period of lockdown meant most of us have spent the week preparing for how we are going to manage it both at work and at home. Many of you have, once again, gone the extra mile to enable the University to respond to the current situation. My greatest thanks go to you for this continuing effort.

I also wanted to thank all those who have worked hard to support the delivery of O4S during this time. We have now reached a major milestone in this significant change programme with new structures in place across the organisation and a new leadership team now in place.

I know, at times, this has been challenging and it has taken a huge amount of effort to get to this point. However, I am confident that the changes we have made are the right ones and the Divisions will play a major part of our future success.

Our focus will now turn to supporting Divisions and wider teams as they come together, ensuring that they have what they need to work well together. This will take time and I know there is still a lot more we need to do – both to manage this ongoing transition period and continue to simplify how we work together.

Staff in the professional services still have a considerable amount of work to do as teams come together, and I would ask that colleagues are mindful of this, particularly over the next few weeks.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to those colleagues who have left us under KVSS, and I know there are others who are due to leave shortly. Thank you for everything you have done to support the University, it is hugely appreciated and you will be greatly missed.

My very best wishes go to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 21 October 2020

As Black History Month reaches its third week, I am pleased to be able to welcome Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, who will give this year’s Annual Race Equality Lecture via Teams Live on Thursday this week. Please do join us if you can. Sir Hilary has a global reputation for his work on social justice and minority empowerment and his lecture, British Universities as Architects of Slavery and Violent Colonialism: Undoing the Harm, will be challenging and thought-provoking. My thanks go to members of the BAME Staff Network for organising this event.

We continue to work on improving the representation of progression and success of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff and students at our University and, earlier this year, signed up as a member of the Race Equality Charter. We know we have more to do and are currently finalising a programme of work which will underpin the changes that we need to make. We will update you on this shortly. My thanks to Professor Georgina Randsley de Moura for progressing this work.

You will no doubt be aware that, over recent weeks, cases of Covid-19 in a number of areas in the country have increased significantly and that, as a result, universities in these areas are having to introduce changes to their teaching arrangements.

Here at Kent, as our weekly summary of current confirmed cases show, on Monday we had 26 students who have reported as testing positive for Covid-19 and no members of staff. These figures represent an increase on previous weeks. However, these numbers remain comparatively low and the local health protection team have advised that we are taking all appropriate steps at this point.

However, we recognise there is no room for complacency and so we continue to prepare for any changes we may have to make to our own teaching arrangements if we are required to do so. These changes will be in line with the Government’s ‘four tiers of restriction’, which outlines specific changes that universities are expected to introduce if circumstances require it. We will continue to keep you informed.

My very best wishes go to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 14 October 2020

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced a new three-tier system to ‘simplify and standardise’ coronavirus lockdown across England.  The new system will see different parts of the country placed in one of three categories dependent on rates of infection.  At present, Canterbury and Medway are still seeing comparatively low rates, and at this point are in the lowest tier of restrictions. I would like to thank all staff and students in our community, who are all contributing to keeping each other safe by continuing to follow guidance on hand-washing, face coverings and keeping social distance. To date, the number of positive cases among our staff and students continues to be low.

We continue to operate in accordance with Government guidelines, combined with Health and Safety advice and support from the local Health Protection teams in Kent and Medway and to deliver a mix of face-to-face and online activities for our students. This approach, of course, varies from programme to programme, colleagues are keeping all of this activity under review and will make adjustments to ensure the safety and wellbeing of both staff and students. We have a range of support in place for both staff and students and will continue to respond to concerns as they arise.  As I mentioned last week, plans are being are being put in place across the University to enable us to respond to any changes we might be required to make in the delivery of our core activities. We will continue to update our Covid webpages on a regular basis.

This week the Government also announced that next year’s GCSEs and A/AS levels will be held three weeks later to help address the disruptions caused by Covid-19. A/AS level results will be on 24 August and we will now begin to look at what this might mean for our admissions processes.

With my greatest thanks for all the hard work that is taking place across the University at this challenging time.

My very best wishes go to you and your families.

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 7 October 2020

I am absolutely delighted to be able to announce that we have now selected our first Signature Research Themes. These are Food Systems, Natural Resources & the Environment; Future Human; and Migration & Movement. All three have a powerful contemporary relevance, and between them they represent some of Kent’s principal strengths in interdisciplinary work; the synergies between our research and teaching; our links with business; and our regional, national and international engagement and partnerships.

I would like to thank all those who took part in the selection process as well as all those who submitted proposals. It was immensely gratifying to see such strong contenders and it was extremely difficult to make the final selection. The themes that were not successful on this occasion will be encouraged to continue their excellent work with a view to their becoming future Signature Research Themes. I would like to thank Dr Tim Hopthrow, Professor Dan Mulvihill and Professor Catherine Richardson, the academic leads for the Themes Task and Finish Group, as well as colleagues from the Office for Scholarly Communication, all of whom have worked tirelessly in support of this initiative.  We will continue keep you updated on the work of the Themes over the coming months. You can find out more here.

On a different note, COVID-19 continues to dominate much of our lives. The number of positive cases of COVID-19 remains very low among our staff and student populations at this point. However, we all know circumstances can change and both Academic Divisions and Professional Service Directorates are working hard to ensure we have robust plans in place to respond to range of scenarios. We have developed a care package to support students who are self-isolating and will ensure we make details available to parents as well as students as we know this is an area of considerable concern.

We also have a framework in place to support the health and wellbeing of all staff during this challenging time and will continue to work closely with our Staff and Trades Union Representatives to ensure we are responding to staff concerns as they arise.

The University’s ‘Gold Command Team’, which oversees our response in terms of teaching delivery, campus operations and student and staff health and wellbeing, is now meeting twice daily. We continue to work in line with Government guidance, and this week received further confirmation that there is a strong commitment to working with universities to enable students to return home at Christmas. We will continue update you on a regular basis and additional information can be found on our Covid webpages for staff and students.

With the greatest of thanks and my very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President