Author Archives: Karen Cox

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

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 21 January 2021

Earlier this week, a report by the Runnymede Trust showed that less than 1% of university professors in the UK are black, a figure that has not changed in five years. Here at Kent, work is underway to address racial inequality and to create a change in culture. We are early in the process of this activity and are committed to working with students and staff as we continue to take it forward. Next week Georgina Randsley de Moura, Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Academic Strategy, Planning and Performance, who is the EG lead on this work, will publish a blog setting out our approach.

As part of this work, we are launching our ‘Challenging Racism’ campaign, which includes a programme of learning and development for staff. We will also provide staff and students with clear and transparent information and updates relating to this work on the website so that we can be held accountable by our community for the actions we take in this area. In the meantime, I would urge all staff to sign-up to a short series of live webinars on ‘Race & Racism’  that have been developed in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University and City, University of London.

With the Spring Term now underway, it was good to hear of the experiences of some of our international students at this week’s Global Showcase event. It was truly heartening to see that that even those who have not been able to join us in person due to Covid-19 feel that they are very much part of our community and have a strong sense of receiving an international experience. My thanks go to all of you who have worked so hard to support our international students alongside with the rest of our student body

Over 130 people took part in the event, and there is no doubt that there is a huge amount of work taking place across the University to develop our international activities and that having to move online has paved the way for innovative thinking around our offer to international students. In addition, while we were all disappointed that the UK will no longer be part of the Erasmus scheme, the new Turing scheme will provide global opportunities for UK students to study and work abroad. We are well placed to engage fully with this scheme as it starts in September 2021, and which targets students from disadvantaged backgrounds among others.

We have now held the second of our Covid-19 staff webchats this week. It was good to hear from a range of staff once again and to see so many of you via the screen! I hope you find the meetings useful. We will continue to do these weekly and post the videos of the meetings afterwards for those who are unable to attend.

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 – 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