Author Archives: Karen Cox

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

 

 

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 11 March 2021

Dear Colleagues,

This week we welcome a number of students back to campus under the first phase of the Government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions. It’s fantastic to have them back, and I know there has been a great deal of work across the University to make sure both they and staff on campus are safe. We will continue to make sure they have the right support available in the weeks ahead, and will be reiterating safety messages to students to make sure they understand the steps we all need to take to keep each other safe. This includes regular testing, which will be a key part of helping us all get things back to normal as quickly as possible.

This week is British Science Week, and so I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the STEM research and expertise we have across our University. This is an area of strength and one where we want to further raise our profile in the years ahead. We have a number of events taking place this week shining a light on the fantastic work taking place across our Divisions. Do sign-up for the remaining events in the next couple of days if you can.

Monday also marked International Women’s Day, and, while we need to continue to challenge ourselves, I am proud to be part of a university that is determined to celebrate and promote women as part of our wider commitment to equality, diversity and inclusivity. It was fantastic to see research and comment on the day from inspirational women across Kent, from ‘Ten tips on how to succeed as a woman taken from the past’ to the impact of Covid on gender inequality and new research on barriers for women in some STEM areas. Also on Monday Dr Louise Naylor chaired our Women’s Staff Network and our BAME Staff Network hosted the Right Reverend Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, as keynote speaker at an evening event that explored race and gender. Thank you to all who were able to be present at these events.

With all best wishes to you and your families,

Karen Cox

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 4 March 2021

Dear Colleagues, 

Next Monday is significant moment in the government’s roadmap for easing lockdown restrictionsas students who require access to specialist equipment are allowed to return to universities. We are set to welcome around 600 further students back to Kent, and while this is still a long way from normality, it will hopefully be a big lift for all of us to see more life returning to our campuses. I want to once again express my huge gratitude for all the careful work going on across the University to ensure our students can return safely, including those coordinating the regular testing that will support them on their return. 

Next week will also see large number of children returning to school across the country, which I know will have a big impact on the many of you juggling childcare (and teaching!) with the challenges presented by working at home. I hope the transition ‘back to school’ goes safely, and brings some respite for you and your families. 

With today also being University Mental Health daywe have a number of events and initiatives to support our students and I encourage you all to take a moment if you can to check in with a colleague or loved one on how they are feeling. You can also listen again to today’s Staff Webchat, which focused on the support on offer at Kent to help you look after your health and wellbeing at a time when we have all been under so much additional pressure. 

Finally, as some of you may have seen this week, proposed increases in salary contributions have been put forward for those in the USS pension scheme, which would be very challenging for staff and employers alike. We are surprised and disappointed by the proposals and have written to all scheme members at Kent with more information on how we will seek to influence the national negotiation via Universities UK – we will keep affected staff updated throughout as discussions progress. 

With my very best wishes to you and your families, 

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 25 February 2021

As those of you who attended this week’s staff webchat will know, a great deal of work is now underway to put plans in place to respond to the Government announcement earlier this week.

You will no doubt be aware that students on practical or practice-based courses can return to campus from 8 March. This means that the majority of students will continue to be taught online until the end of term. As a result, we will be reviewing our position on rent rebates and communicating this when we are able.

Although some staff will be coming back to campus to support the March return, staff who are already working at home as part of an agreed pattern of work should continue to do so until 21 June at the earliest in line with Government guidance. Meanwhile, any return to campus for staff will remain subject to health and safety procedures.

Following the next Government review of restrictions in mid-April, we are hoping to offer on-campus events for the summer term including a range of extra-curricular activities. It is unlikely that we will offer our ‘traditional’ graduation ceremonies at Canterbury and Rochester Cathedrals this summer but, together with Kent Union and GKSU, we are looking at how we can hold a series of small-scale celebratory events.

We would also like to hold an event – or a series of events – to thank staff for all their hard work over the past year and to mark the start of a return to a more normal way of working. We will update you on this as our thinking develops.

Work has also begun on plans for the next academic year. It is likely that we will retain a remote study option, as we believe that international students in particular may benefit from this due to travel restrictions. In addition, we will be prioritising first year students as they will have had several years of interrupted education and our aim will be to give them a clear and understandable offer which concentrates on the delivery of core modules.

As we continue to make our plans for the coming months, I would like to reassure you that the wellbeing and safety of staff and students will stay at heart of all our decision-making. We are keen to ensure that all staff are able to receive their Covid vaccinations as quickly as possible and have been working with line managers to ensure that staff are able to take time out in order to do this.

I know that many of us – staff and students alike – were hoping for more certainty for the university sector from the Prime Minister’s announcement on Covid. While I share this sense of frustration, the national roadmap does provide us with a strong direction of travel and will enable us to consolidate our plans for the summer and a return to some form of normality.

However, we now need to consider what the ‘new normal’ will look like for the University. Work is beginning on a review of our institutional strategy  to ensure we are well-positioned to respond to the requirements of a post-Covid world both for the University and the wider world.

Over the next few months, the Executive Group will work with colleagues across the University as we move through this process and we will continue to keep staff up to date.

With 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 – 18 February 2021

This week’s staff web chat focused on the financial impact of Covid-19 on the University as well as the ongoing work to deliver our Financial Improvement Programme.

As I have previously mentioned, we have made significant progress in addressing our underlying deficit. My thanks go to you all for the hard work that has been done in support of this.

As a result, we have now secured funding from our lenders through until 2024 which will provide greater stability into the future, enabling us to manage cash flow volatility and move to a sustainable financial position over this period. However, this is contingent on the continued delivery of our financial improvements and move away from a deficit operating position.

You will be aware that Covid-19 has had a considerable impact on our commercial income. Combined with Brexit and associated changes to the fee status of EU students, this creates uncertainty with regard to overall student recruitment as well. Despite improvements to our marketing activity, we are at risk of falling behind our revised targets, especially overseas and postgraduate taught. This means that, in the short term, we continue to face considerable financial risks.

While we have made allowances for Covid-related income loss in our financial forecasts, the situation remains highly volatile. If any income drop is greater than we have contingency planned for, we may have to make additional savings.

We will do everything we can to avoid further losses. Over the coming months, we will continue to monitor our income risks so that we can respond quickly if looks like we won’t be able to meet our financial forecasts. We will continue to keep you updated and in touch as the situation develops. We are committed to being as open and transparent as possible about our financial position.

Our priority is still to deliver our improvement plan, increase our income and provide the stability we need to deliver the best possible teaching, research & innovation and student experience and continue to deliver regional, national and international impact through our work.

I am convinced that, if we continue to work together to overcome the short-term challenges presented by Covid-19, we have a very promising future here at Kent.

Thank you again for your continued work to support this. If you were unable to attend the web chat, please do view the recording which is now available online,

With my very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

 

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 11 February 2021

Work continues to put arrangements in place to support a possible return to campus from 8 March. We are working on the basis that any return to face-to-face teaching will be phased with the prioritisation of specific student groups. However, any return is dependent on public health advice and we are hoping for more certainty when the Government announces the outcome of its review of current restrictions which is scheduled for the week beginning 22 February.

The Office for Students (OfS) has confirmed that it will be providing additional funding of £50m to the sector to help address student hardship. Of this money, £40m is for rent-related hardship, with the remaining £10m being added to the hardship fund previously announced late last year. Together with Kent Union, we are now working hard to ensure students are aware of the Covid-19 Hardship Fund as well as other sources of emergency hardship funds that we have available.

This week’s severe weather has brought us additional challenges and, on behalf of students and staff who are on campus, I would like to say a special thank you all those in Commercial Services and Estates who have been working hard to keep the Canterbury campus running and clear of snow and ice.

I also wanted to flag the work that is being done by members of the LGBT+ Staff Network who, once again, have organised a series of events to mark national LGBT+ History Month. Established in 2005, the Month provides an opportunity to celebrate LGBT+ histories and cultures. This year’s events include LGBT in Lockdown and This Is Not My First Pandemic, which seek to highlight the impact of HIV/AIDS and Coronavirus, drawing parallels between the two. As the University’s LGBT+ champion, I am hugely appreciative of the work done by members of the Network on top of their already considerable workloads and thank them for all that they do for our community.

With my very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 4 February 2021

As many of us continue to feel the strain of living and working with the impact of Covid-19, the Executive Group is actively considering ways we can ease the pressure on staff.

You will know from the email sent to all staff by Alison Ross-Green, Director of HR and Organisational Development, that we now have agreed that RPD paperwork and the requirement for formal probationary paperwork, apart from academic probation plans, should be suspended for this academic year.

We are now looking at what further short-term adjustments can be made and we will keep you updated on this work. In addition, our longer-term project ‘How We Work’ will consider our key processes with the aim of minimising the administrative burden on staff. Please let us know your ideas on the changes we could make in order to achieve this.

This week the staff webchat focused on online learning teaching, practice and advice and covered a wide range of areas including our revised no-detriment policy, the approach to exams and technical support available. If you were unable to attend this meeting, a recording of the meeting has now been included on the webpage.

While much of our focus is inevitably on how we manage the impact of Covid-19, a great deal of work continues across the University in support of our engagement with the wider world.

Last week, we held a ‘Kent in Europe’ special event designed to support our continued commitment to our European partnerships and our links with the world at large. Over 40 of our partner institutions took part including representation from the SGroup Universities in Europe, of which we are a member, and the 3i Network, a new initiative we have formed together with Universiteit Gent, KU Leuven and the Université de Lille.

The event provided us with the opportunity to present our new Signature Research Themes and to explore future collaborative opportunities under Horizon Europe and the new Turing scheme which replaces the UK’s participation in Erasmus+.  My thanks go to all those involved in organising such an exciting event.

Best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 29 January 2021

As you know, the Prime Minister has confirmed that the earliest date for the return of schools and universities in England is Monday 8 March, depending on public health advice. For us, any return to face-to-face teaching is likely to be staggered, with the prioritisation of groups such as finalists or those who need specialist facilities. However, this very much depends on the outcome of the Government’s review of the current restrictions, which is currently scheduled for the week of the 22 February 2021.

To ensure that we are best placed to respond to a possible return to campus from 8 March, if we are allowed to and it is safe to do so, Richard Reece, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education and Student Experience), working through Silver Command, is setting up a task and finish group, comprised of Division Directors of Education and Student Engagement and Experience leads.

This group will build on our previous work and set out plans to enable a safe return.  Part of this work will be engaging with staff to allow them to plan out their teaching and examining activities for the rest of the academic session. We will continue to keep staff and students informed of our progress in this area.

I appreciate that, while this latest news provides us with a direction of travel, it does not give us the certainty we would like to have at this time. There is no doubt that such ongoing uncertainty is affecting both staff and students, and we are committed to ensuring our plans are centered on the need to protect the health and wellbeing of our entire community.

The pandemic has affected all our mental health in one way or another, and I wanted to draw your attention to Time to Talk day which takes place next week. A national initiative, its aim is to show how small conversations about mental health can make a considerable difference and there are several ways you can get involved here at Kent.

A project team including staff from across the University is also putting in place the recommendations from the Stevenson / Farmer Thriving at Work review, which focuses on mental health in the workplace standards. Over the coming months, the team will be raising awareness of resources already in place to support staff, along with establishing networks, training and support. This measure will add to our already considerable range of resources and support for staff that can be found our staff webpages.

I thank you all for your hard work and dedication at this difficult time,

My best wishes go to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President