This week was another reminder of the disruptive impact of Covid-19 as we took the difficult decision to end much of our campus activity a week early. None of us wanted this and I know how hard many have worked to give our students the send-off they deserve. However, adapting quickly to fast-moving events has been critical all year and once the rise in cases became apparent, we had little choice but to switch to supporting students to return home safely. This takes a huge combined effort and I cannot express enough my appreciation for what all of you are doing to keep our community safe.
This marks a strange end to another unprecedented term. At Council on Friday we reflected on both the unpredictable environment we continue to operate in and, importantly, the progress we’ve managed to make in spite of it – including our recent Silver Athena SWAN Award, which reflects fantastic work to further equality and diversity across the University.
While I know it has been far from easy, we have also made significant steps to improve our financial position this year and I’m pleased that we will be able to take the brakes off some of our more immediate restraints from last year, such as the pay freeze. We do, though, continue to carry an underlying deficit and face challenges ahead, from planned pension changes to the Government’s much anticipated spending review. Keeping within our means will remain critical as we turn our focus more and more to growing our income, implementing the priorities set out in Kent 2025 and continue towards a more sustainable position and successful future.
Friday’s Council discussion also touched on our political environment, with the continued focus on the impact of universities and issues surrounding freedom of expression. Academic freedom and freedom of speech are fundamental to our work and we have a statutory duty to uphold them; similarly, equality, diversity and respect are our central values, backed by legal obligations under the Equalities Act. It is within this context that Council as our governing body approved adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, following a formal Government request. They also approved usage of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism to support with interpretation after feedback from staff, students, Senate and wider legal advice. This is an important step in ensuring our Jewish community feel safe on campus and we will be shortly sharing more information on implementation as part of our continued work to tackle discrimination and racism.
Finally, I know that recent weeks have included challenges for many as work continues to bed in KentVision. This has had a big impact on exam boards in particular, and I want to apologise for the extra pressure this has placed on staff and to thank all those involved for the way they have responded to a difficult situation. The KentVision team are working hard to address these initial issues and relieve any additional workload as quickly as possible. I also wanted to point to our upcoming Clearing efforts later in the summer, where we will need a university-wide approach to support our Marketing and Recruitment colleagues and teams in the academic Divisions to ensure a successful outcome; more details on how we can all help with this will be shared shortly.
In the meantime, my thanks once again for all that you have contributed over this last year. I wish you all the very best for the summer.
With my best wishes to you and your families,
Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President