Author Archives: Karen Cox

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

 

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 1 October 2020

Our first week of teaching – with lectures online, labs and some small group seminars face-to-face – is now well underway. This is a huge achievement, ensuring we can do our work in a safe way and being flexible in how we have to respond to a changing external context. I would like to express my appreciation for the hard work that continues to be undertaken by all staff across the University. I had the pleasure of seeing colleagues and students around the Canterbury campus this week and, in particular, at an ‘archaeological dig’ near Blean Church. It was great to hear direct from first years, and postgraduates, how they were experiencing their first few weeks at Kent, even if it was at a distance with face masks in situ!

Like most universities, we have a small number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 amongst students in University accommodation at Canterbury. The students are self-isolating in line with Public Health England guidelines and their close contacts are also self-isolating where necessary. We are providing all those affected with academic and wellbeing support and will continue to work closely with the public health bodies who are advising us at this time. The Covid-19 testing centre remains operational on site for staff, students and members of the wider community.

You do not need me to tell you that we are all in a dynamic situation. We will continue to review and adapt how we are working in response to changes in Government policy and our local environment. One thing is clear; we are going to have to live with the uncertainties arising from coronavirus for the foreseeable future. Our Covid response planning continues and we are working hard to ensure we are able to address the challenges in terms of teaching delivery, campus operations and student and staff health and wellbeing we are likely to face over the next few months. We will continue to keep updated.

With thanks and best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 16 September 2020

The start of this new academic year is like no other, and more than ever we need to be conscious of our place and role in the communities in which we work, live and study.

Over the last few months, many of our staff and students have worked hard to support the fight against Covid-19. Some contributed through their research or through the production of essential PPE. Others, including those students who remained living locally, were on the frontline of support for the nation as healthcare workers, delivery drivers, supermarket staff or as volunteers in the community helping those who were shielding. I cannot thank you all enough for your efforts and I am particularly proud of the work done by our students.

As new and returning students join our community, Rama Thirunamachandran, the Vice-Chancellor of Canterbury Christ Church University, and I have written a joint letter to the local press and residents’ associations to stress our ongoing commitment to responding to Covid-19 and keeping our communities safe. Both universities have introduced specific measures in support of our pledge, including starting our Street Marshal scheme earlier than usual to provide additional reassurance to students and to the wider community.

Here at Kent, we are running information campaigns to remind our students of their responsibilities in helping to reduce the transmission of the virus in our region and in acting as our ambassadors in the areas in which they live. We will let them know of any changes to government guidance and legislation as well bringing to their attention our Code of Conduct and Student Disciplinary Procedures.

We are also working with local public health authorities to support the NHS Test and Trace, including hosting local testing sites on our Canterbury and Medway campuses for students, staff and the local community. This is a key part of the strategy of early identification of cases, to enable the prevention of onward transmission.

As well as the public health authorities, we are working with the NHS, and regional and national government to ensure we have appropriate safety measures, guidance and regulations in place across our universities. We will continue to work with other community partners through the HE/FE Community (strategic) Group, which includes representatives from local authorities, the Police and landlords. We will also continue to liaise with our local residents’ associations on a regular basis to ensure we understand their concerns and respond appropriately.  Both Rama and I are confident that the steps we are taking will support the health and wellbeing of our student, staff and local communities as we continue to work together to minimise the impact of Covid-19.

I hope you and your families are keeping well and I wish you an enjoyable start to the beginning of term.

Yours sincerely,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

 

Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 25 August 2020

As I mentioned in last week’s email, we are cautiously optimistic with regard to our undergraduate numbers and I am truly grateful to all those who continue to work tirelessly in our schools and professional services departments to ensure we achieve the best possible outcome.

This has been a Clearing like no other. The uncertainties surrounding the impact of Covid-19 on students’ decision-making was compounded by last week’s change in government policy in the grading of A-levels and BTECs.

From the outset, we have had to change and adapt and then change and adapt again. Given the current situation, we took the decision to run our Clearing in the virtual world. The aim of this was to mitigate against any local lockdown and coronavirus outbreaks on campus, and to combat the very tricky process of trying to run the operation with social distance measures in place. This took an immense amount of planning and a cast of many, and the smoothness of that operation has been remarkable.

Our Clearing campaign, which we relaunched following the government’s announcement, has performed extremely well across a range of platforms including Facebook, Twitter and even TikTok. Content that shows off the campuses, whether through drone footage or campus tours, has done very well and was accompanied by a message highlighting the amount of space we have for our students.

To date, our Clearing hotline has received over 7,710 calls, which is 18.5% higher than we received last year. Yesterday alone, the teams handled over 400 calls. This week, we are holding a series of socially distanced campus tours, which allow small groups of students and their families to experience the campus for themselves.

We are all too aware that students have had to cope with an ever-changing landscape and a level of uncertainty that would throw the best of us, and I thank you all for the help and compassion you have continued to show them despite the hard work and pressures you all face.

With all good wishes,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

 

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 28 July 2020

We have reached the time of year when most of us normally have the chance to draw breath. However, this has been an extraordinary time for the University and I wanted to acknowledge that I am aware of the impact that all the change we are going through is having on you as individuals. I cannot thank you enough for everything you have done this year, particularly in recent months as we navigate our way back to some form of normality as lockdown eases. Your support in this, and in the measures we have taken to mitigate against the financial impact of Covid-19, has been invaluable.

Now that the consultation process has begun in areas going through changes under Organising for Success this summer, I also wanted to acknowledge the impact that this will be having on many colleagues both centrally and across our new academic divisions. There is no doubt that this is a challenging time and, more than ever, we need to support each other and work together through this period.

I end with my very best wishes for the summer, I do hope that you manage to have something of a break with family and friends and are able to re-charge your batteries for the new year.

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 21 July 2020

This week, schools and departments across the University are hosting a week of virtual celebrations for our graduates.

Our students have shown a tremendous strength and resilience in completing their examinations and studies during such a challenging time. I am sure I speak for all of us when I say we are all incredibly proud of their achievements, especially in these extraordinary circumstances.

I know that for many of you this will be a bitter-sweet moment, and that you will miss taking part in our usual ceremonies and celebrations. Seeing our graduates celebrate with their families and friends is undoubtedly one of the highlights of our University Calendar.

I would encourage you to have a look at some of the events taking place throughout the week. Tomorrow, I will confer our finalists’ degrees in absentia in Eliot College, the University’s founding college and location of the first graduation ceremony. And on Friday at 14.00, there will be a joint virtual ceremony with the University of Greenwich for our Medway School of Pharmacy graduates. Graduating students will be invited to join celebration ceremonies in Canterbury and Rochester cathedrals at a later date as and when we are able and safe to do so.

On Monday, we held the Kent Student Awards and, as always, the entrants were simply awe-inspiring. Congratulations to all of those who were shortlisted and, in particular, to Paul-Georg Ender who won the Student of the Year award, and to Kent Islamic Society, winners of the Group of the Year award.

I also want to thank you, our staff, for all your hard work in supporting our students. Thanks to you they have gone on to complete their studies, despite the challenges they have faced as a result of Covid-19. It is through your efforts that our finalists will graduate with a degree they can be proud of and enter into the next phase of their lives with a great university experience to build on.

With all good wishes,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 14 July 2020

It continues to be an incredibly busy time across the University, and I hope that as many of you as possible were able to find a bit of space with the recent rest days last week. I remain appreciative and respectful of the work of colleagues and also recognise the pressure we are all under, in particular those in Professional Services affected by the current consultations that are taking place as part of the Organising for Success changes. Elsewhere, work continues to support a safe, phased return to campus. This will take time, but it is encouraging to see some further facilities open this week, including additional Library services for those studying for August exams and assessments.

I am very aware that the last four months have been a time of great uncertainty and want to draw attention to the policy statement that has been put together, recognising the exceptional circumstances that have arisen as a result of Covid-19 and how this may have had a substantial impact on the ability of staff to perform their job roles as they would wish. We remain committed to ensuring that nobody suffers detriment as a result of the circumstances in which we are now living and working. This will only become more important as we adapt to a ‘hybrid’ approach to on and off-campus work and continue our preparations for next year.

Following on from Alison’s update yesterday, I also wanted to thank you all personally for the careful consideration so many have given to current pay proposals. The proposed pay freeze is something that none of us would have wanted, and I know we are having to ask a lot of everybody in what truly has been a collective response to the impact of Covid-19. I have also written to senior staff this morning with details of a voluntary pay cut scheme which further supports the need for savings. Across the University, I continue to be humbled by the many different ways staff are pulling together at such a challenging time and once again I extend my sincere thanks for all that you are doing.

With all good wishes,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Vice-Chancellor Update: Pay Freeze Staff Poll

I know there has been a lot to take in recently and staff have been under a lot of pressure, both adapting to new ways of working because of Covid-19 and as we make changes within our professional services as part of Organising for Success. Thank you all for your continued hard work for the University – ­I want to assure you that this is hugely appreciated. I am inspired, humbled and proud of the way staff and students have responded.

I am writing to you separately from my usual weekly update this week because I wanted to reiterate the severe challenges we face as a result of the financial impact of Covid-19. We have experienced millions of pounds in one-off losses to income already. We now face huge uncertainty about international student recruitment, along with uncertainty about UK and EU student choices this coming autumn, combined with reductions in income from our other activities such as accommodation and catering. Our financial situation is therefore extremely challenging and we are taking every step available to us to reduce expenditure and commitments as we move into the next academic year, thinking hard about what we can do to protect jobs.

It is in this context that we have proposed a one-year pay freeze for all staff, on top of the reduction in salary a number of senior staff have agreed to take. I know this is a huge ask for every one of you. I know all of you are working incredibly hard at the moment and often in difficult circumstances. However, put bluntly we will simply run out of money if we don’t take drastic steps by making savings – like this. We are already planning to fully utilise our remaining cash reserves but, after the income losses already seen, these are limited and will not stretch far enough; these savings are therefore essential and if we all cannot get behind this proposal, we will have to look to compulsory redundancies, which is something none of us wants to see.

We would not be asking this if our situation wasn’t serious. However, Covid-19 has had a huge impact and these truly are unprecedented times. As I’m sure you will have seen, across the sector universities are facing incredibly difficult challenges and choices as they try to weather this storm and we are not immune from this. I therefore urge you all to complete our staff poll on the pay freeze proposal, which closes at 17.00 tomorrow.

Thank you again for everything you are all doing at the moment, and I hope everybody is able to get a much-needed break with our additional University Covid-19 rest days on Thursday and Friday this week.

Yours sincerely,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President