Author Archives: Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor Update: Becoming a University of Sanctuary

Spring is always a special time on our campuses as our fantastic spaces come into their own, with blossom, flowers and bluebells seemingly everywhere you turn. We are lucky to have such a wonderful environment to work in and such fantastic assets to offer our students; my thanks to our Estates and Maintenance teams across Canterbury and Medway who do such a brilliant job at making us look our best. 

The Easter break also offers some welcome time for reflection after a busy term and I hope that many of you have been able to step away for a short while in recent weeks. A lot has happened already this year, from the return of in-person graduations to a further period of industrial action; I never lose sight of how much work goes into managing the ups and downs of each term and am hugely appreciative of your continued focus on delivering the best for our students throughout.  

A lot has also been happening outside the University too, as like so many others we have watched with horror at the ongoing fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This, combined with the Government announcements on refugees seeking sanctuary now being ‘processed’ in Rwanda, have kept wider humanitarian issues around safety, dignity and compassion firmly in our minds. Those of us who live in the county will be aware of how closely felt this can be given our region’s deep current and historical links to the movement of people – it’s also an area where I’m keen we use our unique position to have meaningful impact as a University. 

The activity across our community to support those affected by the war in Ukraine is a source of real pride and showcases the ways we work together across areas to benefit others. We are also developing wider recognition for our research expertise in this area through our signature theme of Migration and Movement, with events this year such as the visit of Amal, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s return to campus and workshops with Kent Refugee Action Network adding further depth to our work. 

Bringing all of this together is our ambition to become a University of Sanctuary, with work ongoing on how we can develop a ‘whole university’ approach to opening our doors to those in need across the world. Our campuses are special places and the feeling of connection is real to many of us here; widening that sense of a place of sanctuary to those fleeing war and persecution wherever they are will deepen that further, while also being a compelling example of what a civic University like ourselves should offer. 

I look forward to updating you all further on this important work as it develops and in the meantime which you all the very best for the remainder of the academic year. 

A Graduation Moment Like No Other

Later today at Rochester Cathedral it will be our huge pleasure to welcome our first cohort of returning students for their in-person graduation ceremonies. Graduations are always momentous occasions, marking not just our students’ success but a significant juncture in their lives. However, this first set of ceremonies has a particular poignancy as we mark a year group that faced challenges like no other. I wanted to take this moment to reflect on what they – and we – have all gone through together over the past two years. 

It’s easy to forget that university life for the ‘Class of 2020’ began like any other – the buzz around campus of new friendships being formed; bustling bars filled with excitement; the clatter and chatter of a packed lecture theatre settling down to class. What a contrast to how jarring that first lockdown was, as silence fell across our estate. The resilience, courage and commitment of those students to complete their studies while the whole world changed around them was truly humbling – as was the deeply moving way colleagues across the University pulled together in support. It was the best of our community, as so many adapted to huge personal challenges to ensure our students had the best possible experience we could provide. 

This didn’t come without its difficulties, with having to cancel in-person graduation ceremonies a particular low. For that year group to then graduate online and move into a new world of work, often behind a digital desk, shows just how remarkable they are. Kent graduates are special and throughout this first set of ceremonies we will be celebrating both them and the amazing things they have gone on to – showcasing how employability runs through our work, and how graduates who are ‘Made in Kent’ leave us ready to shape tomorrow’s world. 

Their success is also testament to all of you. Everyone at Kent can look at graduations and feel pride at their contribution. Maybe you sparked someone’s imagination in your tutorials or brought inspiration through your research. You may have been the first smile they saw when they came to collect their keys; a supportive word when they were in need of help; or serving them the food that reminded them of home when they really needed it. Everyone has a part to play, from when a prospective student picks up a prospectus to when they open their first Alumni Newsletter – and I hope you can all take a moment to reflect on your part in this as these wonderful ceremonies return. 

I know many will be volunteering this week and next or taking part through your more ceremonial role. Wherever you are, do look out across our campuses and social media for the smiles, hugs and special family moments as they return once again and know that they are yours to share in too.  

With my thanks to all of you for everything you do. 

Karen 

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President 

Ukraine flag

Our support for Ukraine 

As we continue to view the unfolding events in Ukraine with horror, our thoughts go out to the many bereaved and wounded, those suffering bombardment, homelessness and the destruction of their lives in the region. We express our solidarity with Ukrainian students and colleagues, along with all of those affected by the invasion, and we stand united in unequivocally condemning violence against civilians, hoping that peace can be restored as quickly as possible. 

As communicated last week, we have identified several staff and students from Ukraine and Russia and have taken immediate steps to support these individuals. Additionally, we have been supporting students based in both countries to ensure we can get them to a safe place as quickly as possible. Teams are also tracing any further staff or students who have travelled to the regions to make sure they can access the help they need.

How we can all help

We also look to how we can help as the humanitarian situation escalates in the country and the wider region. As Dr Olena Nizalova, Senior Lecturer in Economics and a member of our staff of Ukrainian origin, has said in a blog post earlier this week, there are practical ways to help, the critical means being the donation of money.

National efforts are focussing on the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) which coordinates efforts across a range of agencies working in the region and we would urge students and staff who wish to donate to contribute to DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. 

At the University, we are already engaged in a number of practical steps to support those impacted by the conflict in Ukraine.

For many years we have provided the Council for At Risk Academics (CARA) funding to support refugees and displaced academics with opportunities for study and research at Kent. You can find out more on the News Centre. 

Wellbeing support

Our Student Support and Wellbeing Team are hosting lunchtime tea and coffee drop-in sessions every Monday for students affected by the Ukrainian and Russian conflict at 13.00 in Keynes (Group Room, I block). This is open to all students and is facilitated by two Mental Health Advisors.

Financial support 

If you require financial support, please get in touch with our Financial Aid Office and see the Emergency Funding webpage.  

If you cannot pay your fees, please contact the Income Office at Canterbury and Medway. 

We are offering students from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, who are currently living in part-catered university accommodation, to stay on campus free of charge for the Spring vacation. To apply for this please email accommodation@kent.ac.uk 

We are also exploring how our hardship mechanisms can be utilised by Ukrainian students, and whether or not we can enable specific donations to support this provision. We will be communicating with students, staff and alumni about this as soon as we have worked through the practical details. 

Fundraising and events 

We are working with students and Kent Union to organise and promote a range of fundraising activities and would urge all students to consider supporting these. Further details on this will be shared shortly. Follow Kent Union’s Instagram for latest updates. 

There will be a Bake and Book Sale on Tuesday 15 March, 12.00-15.00, in the Colyer-Fergusson to raise funds for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

After the wide support offered by Kent staff and students at Kent’s Solidarity with Ukraine event, the next opportunity to feedback on our activity will be held within our forthcoming Global Showcase. This will take place on 16 March from 14.30 to 16.00.  

We would very much like to hear about further ideas as to how the University community can support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people at this extremely difficult time for the country, and if you have any thoughts, please do let us know by emailing ukraine-support@kent.ac.uk

My thanks to all of our community who have pulled together to coordinate our response to this. 

Yours sincerely, 

Karen 

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Ukraine flag

Our support for Ukraine

Please find our latest Continuing Support for Ukraine news story

As we continue to view the unfolding events in Ukraine with horror, our thoughts go out to the many bereaved and wounded, those suffering bombardment, homelessness and the destruction of their lives in the region. We express our solidarity with Ukrainian students and colleagues, along with all of those affected by the invasion, and we stand united in unequivocally condemning violence against civilians, hoping that peace can be restored as quickly as possible.  

We also look to how we can help as the humanitarian situation escalates in the country and the wider region. As Dr Olena Nizalova, Senior Lecturer in Economics and a member of our staff of Ukrainian origin, has said in a blog post earlier this week, there are practical ways to help, the critical means being the donation of money. 

National efforts are focussing on the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee which coordinates efforts across a range of agencies working in the region and we would urge students and staff who wish to donate to contribute to DEC’s Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. 

At the University, we are already engaged in a number of practical steps to support those impacted by the conflict in Ukraine.  

For many years we have provided the Council for At Risk Academics (CARA) funding to support refugee and displaced academics with opportunities for study and research at Kent. We have been in touch with them this week to confirm that this funding is available for Ukrainian academics and to explore ways in which we might extend our contribution via this route. We have also been in touch with the worldwide #ScienceForUkraine initiative to ensure that they are aware of our support through CARA and to publicise it through that venue. 

As communicated last week, we have identified several staff and students from Ukraine and Russia and have taken immediate steps to support these individuals. Additionally, we have been supporting students based in both countries to ensure we can get them to a safe place as quickly as possible. Teams are also tracing any further staff or students who have travelled to the regions to make sure they can access the help they need. 

We are working with our students and with Kent Union to organise and promote a range of fundraising activities and would urge all staff to consider supporting these. Further details on this will be shared shortly. 

We are also exploring how our hardship mechanisms can be utilised by Ukrainian students, and whether or not we can enable specific donations to support this provision. We will be communicating with students, staff and alumni about this as soon as we have worked through the practical details.  

After the wide support offered by Kent staff and students at Kent’s Solidarity with Ukraine event, the next opportunity to feedback on our activity will be held within our forthcoming Global Showcase. This will take place on 16 March from 14.30 to 16.00.  

We would very much like to hear about further ideas as to how the university community can support Ukraine and the Ukrainian people at this extremely difficult time for the country, and if you have any thoughts, please do let us know by emailing ukraine-support@kent.ac.uk. 

My thanks to all of our community who have pulled together to coordinate our response to this. 

Yours sincerely, 

Karen 

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 30 June 2021

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,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Vice-Chancellor’s update – May 2021

Dear Colleagues,

This week gives cause to reflect once again on an extraordinary year as we welcome the latest relaxation of the Government lockdown restrictions. Students across the country have missed out on so many experiences due to the pandemic, so it is now very encouraging to have more students on campus and the chance to look forward to something to celebrate together at KentSummer as things (hopefully!) relax further and exams are out of the way!

Balancing the desire to get back to some form of normality with a need to exercise caution as society opens up again has been at the forefront of my mind as we’ve prepared our plans for the next academic yearOpening our campuses in the autumn and prioritising face-to-face teaching where it makes a real difference are central to our plans – however, we have to balance this with keeping student and staff safety as our number one concern. Planning for large group lectures to remain online is key to this and will add agility to our planning, while allowing us to build on what we’ve learnt over the past year. I know we are having to navigate a range of views here but this approach does give us flexibility and will allow us to move quickly to adapt if we need to.

Covid continues to impact our wider planning and current budget setting too. As a large, complex organisation operating in what is still a global crisis we simply cannot predict all of the outside factors that could impact upon us next year, something which I appreciate is unsettling for everyoneIt remains an unstable time for the sectorrecruitment challenges both home and international have not gone away; regulation continues to increase and costs continue to escalate, alongside cuts in our core grants. However, the way we have collaborated in the face of adversity over the last year has shown the best of us as a university.

In addition, the discussions I know are underway to prioritise our strategic ambitions and target investment to deliver on our plan for a more sustainable and successful university are starting to bear fruit, and while we have challenges ahead it is really positive to start being able to look to the future again. I hope we can continue to work together in this spirit into next year.

I hope you are able to get a chance to meet up with friends and family over the coming weeks, whether inside or outside – and thank you to everyone working to keep both students and staff safe on our campuses.

With my best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 22 April 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As we continue to follow the Government’s roadmap for ending lockdown, we are looking ahead to how and when we will be able to welcome more staff back to campusA number of you joined our staff webchat earlier today where our incoming Director of HR Martin Atkinson talked through our overall approach to this, which centres on gradually relaxing criteria for returning to campus in line with key changes to Government guidance 

We have now written to Directors of Divisions and Departments with new guidance in place from 10 May to align with the start of the summer term, with more options for coming back on site for those that want to and whose home setup is causing them difficultiesThis is another important moment for us and, all being well later in the summer, we will be able to open our doors more widely as lockdown eases and more life returns to our campuses ahead of next year. 

These changes will need to go hand-in-hand with associated plans for more staff to able to split their working week both on and off campus. These are currently being finalised and will require careful consideration across a number of areas to ensure we get the balance right, including drawing on insights from our Future of Work survey. However, I hope the option of more remote working will be of real benefit to many of you as we think about the ways we want to work in future.  

Throughout lockdown, we have also tried to broaden some of our staff communications to help keep everyone fully informed at an especially busy time. As more staff return to campus, we are thinking about how to keep this going in the right way, including ways to evolve the current staff webchats into a regular series throughout the year so we all keep having the chance to come together and talk things through.  

We will share more plans on this shortly – in the meantime, thank you for your continued hard work and I hope to see more of you over the summer term as we open up our campuses further. 

With my best wishes to you and your families, 

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 1 April 2021

Dear colleagues, 

This week I want to pass on huge thanks to colleagues across the University for their enormous effort in submitting to the Research Excellence Framework 2021 on Monday. It’s amazing to see the incredible impact of our research brought together in one place, and I fully appreciate how much work goes into it – I encourage you all to read our DVC Research & Innovation Shane Weller’s blog with more detail on how far we’ve come since the last submission seven years ago. 

Related to this, it was great to see one of our research projects from the School of Psychology on BBC South East last night that really encapsulates the benefit our work has to the wider community. Those of you who have driven round Canterbury may have seen signs up at level crossing encouraging you to switch your engine off; this was part of some careful testing to see what could best prompt a change in behaviour, and has already led to changes being put in place by Canterbury City Council that will be part of ensuring better air quality for all. 

I also want to thank all of those both centrally and in Divisions who are working on today’s Undergraduate Open Day. This a fantastic opportunity to show people what we’re all about, and are a key moment in the recruitment calendar so I fully appreciate the effort that goes into them. While we look forward to holding these on campus again in future, the adaptability in bringing these online is an example of the kind of creative thinking we might want to keep from last year – if you haven’t already, then please do take a moment to fill out our Future of Work survey, which will help us work out how we all want to balance old and new as Government restrictions ease. 

Lastly, I hope everyone enjoys the long weekend and that those that can get to meet up with someone outdoors now that rules allow. I hope all of you can get a bit of a break over the next few days, and thank you once again for your continued hard work this term. 

With my best wishes to you and your families, 

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Vice-Chancellor’s Update: A Day of Reflection

Dear Colleagues,

Today marks the first anniversary of the UK going into national lockdown. The last 12 months have challenged us in ways none of us could have imagined, and as people across the country unite for a day of reflection, I wanted to write to all of you to thank you for your remarkable response across the University.

Covid has impacted all of our lives in some way. Some will have personally suffered with what is a horrible illness, or gone through the worry of seeing loved ones unwell; some, I know, will have lost people close to them, and I offer my sincere condolences to those whose families are grieving.

Alongside all of this, we have had to adapt to incredibly disruptive changes at home and at work. Laptops have become lecture theatres; bedrooms have doubled up as boardrooms. Boundaries have inevitably been blurred as a result, and I fully appreciate the enormous impact this has had on many of you as you’ve juggled huge demands across both home and university life.

I have been incredibly moved by the way you have worked to support each other and our students throughout. Whether at home or on campus, all of you have played a part both in keeping our community safe and keeping the University going. Much of this has shown the very best of what we do, from adapting rapidly to changes in technology and working practices to supporting our wider community through volunteering and providing PPE to the NHS.

As restrictions continue to relax in line with the Government’s roadmap for coming out of lockdown, this is also a time of mixed emotion as we look, with hope, towards brighter times ahead. Yesterday we launched a new staff survey looking at the future of work, and I encourage all of you to let us know your thoughts as we plan for a return to some sort of normality. We will continue to keep you updated on plans and, all being well, I look forward to welcoming as many of you as possible back to campus later in the summer when all are ready to do so.

I hope you all get a chance to reflect today on what has been a year like no other and thank you all again for everything you continue to do for the University.

With all best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 18 March 2021

Dear Colleagues, 

This time last year, many of us were adapting parts of our homes to become offices at the start of a year of unprecedented change that none of us could have imagined. As we start to turn our attention to what a return to some sort of normality may look like, we will shortly be launching a staff survey looking at the future of work so we make sure we find the right balance between new and old approaches once more of us are able to be back on campus. While much of remote working remains challenging, we have also found new ways to collaborate and share across the University, so I encourage as many of you as possible to share your views via the survey so we get a really good sense of how we want to approach this in future. 

Another key part of looking ahead will be how we incorporate a range of student voices into our plans more widely as we return. On Monday, I was delighted to have our Kent Union officer team join us at Executive Group to share their plans for the weeks and months ahead, with a number of areas identified where we can collaborate and develop shared strategies between us. Congratulations to our new President-elect Aisha and her team, and we look forward to developing these plans together. 

We also continue to step up our focus on attracting next year’s intake, with virtual Applicant Days taking place this weekend for Canterbury and Medway. A huge thank you to colleagues both centrally and in Divisions for all of the work that goes into these fantastic events, which offer a real showcase for the best of what we do. 

With best wishes to you and your families, 

Karen Cox

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President