Author Archives: Karen Cox

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

Professor Karen Cox

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 26 November 2020

Good news is always welcome and, at the moment, more so than ever. It was simply wonderful therefore to hear of our success in the Guardian University Awards 2020 with the One Hour Degree declared the winner of the Digital Innovation award. Created by the Student Success Project, this is an online game designed to provide the complete university experience for potential students. Congratulations to Alison Webb for her work in developing the game.

Congratulations  also go to those involved the Professional Economist Degree Apprenticeship Programme, runner-up in the Widening Access and Outreach category. Launched in 2018, the programme, co-led by Professor Alastair Bailey and Dr John Pearson at the time of nomination, aims to attract a diverse, new generation of economists into the profession.

I am also pleased to say that we have submitted our pledge to Stand Alone, the charity that supports people who are estranged from their families. I greatly value this opportunity to make this pledge which states our commitments to our estranged students and demonstrates our recognition of the challenges that they may face. I am particularly pleased that we have made this submission during Estranged Students Solidarity Week.

While we have a dedicated package of support in place, there is more we can do. We will continue to engage with our estranged students to better understand what additional support they may need from us, as a University, to enable them to achieve their goals. I would also like to thank Ben Dawkins, Chair of the Chair of the Mature & Part-Time Students Network, for the work he is doing in support of our estranged students.

We have now learned that Kent and Medway will be in Tier 3 and are considering what this means for the University. We will provide further information once the situation is clearer.

The last week has seen work continue at high speed to set up the asymptomatic testing site on the Canterbury campus. I am pleased to say that we are on track to open the doors on Monday 30 November. As you will be aware, these sites play a major role in the government’s plans to enable students to travel home for Christmas, as well as supporting their return in the New Year. A special scheme for the Medway campus has been agreed with the local public health team, which will see the use of the pre-existing Local Testing Site for asymptomatic testing.

We are still waiting for government guidance on what the detailed arrangements are for the start of next term. I continue to engage at a national level on this and other issues and we will update you as soon as we have confirmation of what is required from us and the rest of the sector.

Thank you once again for all your hard work at this challenging time.

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 – 19 November 2020

A huge amount of work continues to take place in the divisions and professional service departments in support of the Government’s plan to enable students to travel home between 3-9 December, designated as the ‘Student Travel Window’. As you will be aware, all face-to-face teaching will be suspended on a temporary basis by 4 December to allow for staggered departure dates from the University.

In addition, following the submission of our ‘expression of interest’ in participating in the national scheme for asymptomatic testing of our students, we continue to liaise with the Department of Health and Social Care and other national agencies over the arrangements to have this in place by the 30 November deadline.  It is our expectation that this scheme will remain in place to support a return to campus after the Christmas vacation.

We are also now looking beyond the end of the current lockdown period. As the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Kent and Medway continues to rise, it is clear the region may not return to Tier 1 on 3 December, and we are preparing to respond to the impact of any changes this will bring.

While our own figures remain comparatively low, they do show an increase on previous weeks which, given the regional trend, is not unexpected. As of 16 November, there are currently 57 students and 2 members of staff who have reported as testing positive for Covid-19.  We continue to work closely with, and follow the advice of, the local Health Protection Team.

While my thanks go to all of you who are working so hard during these unprecedented times to support the University, I wanted to say a special thank you to colleagues in Student Services, Commercial Services and Estates who have worked tirelessly to support students who have had to self-isolate in campus accommodation. Staff in the Accommodation and Conference Offices have been amazing and, thanks to the efforts of the Catering team, we have been able to provide an astounding 15,000 meals and 1000 care packs to those in self-isolation.

My very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

 

Vice-Chancellor’s update – 12 November 2020

Colleagues across the University continue to work to respond to the government’s plans to enable students to travel home safely before Christmas and to provide clarity for our students about how this will impact on them.

We are working to ensure those students who wish to travel during the ‘travel window’ of 3-9 December are able to do so. However, we are also very aware that this may not work for everyone, some will have travel arrangements already in place and others will have been planning to remain in their accommodation over the Christmas break. We need to make sure our students are able to decide what works and is the safest option for them and their families.

We have ‘expressed an interest’ in taking part in the national scheme for asymptomatic testing of our students and wait to hear back from the government. We are aware this scheme will be prioritised to those areas with a high incidence of coronavirus cases. We continue to work closely with our local public health team in terms of decisions we are making and on advice to staff and students at this time.

Against this backdrop of Covid-related activity, it is fantastic to hear about great work that continues to take place across the University in support of our core activity of education, research and engagement. I would like to congratulate three colleagues in the Department of Philosophy and School of Arts (Division of Arts and Humanities) who have been shortlisted across three categories in the 2020 Medical Humanities Awards.

Dr Jon Williamson, Professor of Reasoning, Inference and Scientific Method, has been shortlisted in the Best Research category for ‘Evaluating Evidence in Medicine’, an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project that aims to broaden the range of evidence considered by evidence-based medicine. Dr Michael Wilde, Lecturer in Philosophy, has been shortlisted in the Best Early Career Research category for ‘Improving evidence evaluation in medicine’. Michael’s research develops a theory of evidence to enhance the understanding of how causal claims are established in medicine. Dr Nicola Shaughnessy, Professor of Performance, has been shortlisted for the Leadership Award. Nicola has been at the forefront of new fields of research around creativity and neurodiversity, in particular, the projects ‘Imagining Autism’ and ‘Playing A/Part’. She has also demonstrated exceptional leadership of PhD students and early career researchers in the field.

The Medical Humanities Awards are a highly renowned collaboration between the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Wellcome Trust and it testifies to Kent’s strength in the Medical Humanities that ours is the only institution to be shortlisted across three categories in this year’s awards.

My very best wishes to you and your families,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Coronavirus

Response to Government end of term announcement

As you will no doubt be aware, the Department for Education has announced its plans to bring students safely home for Christmas. The guidance, released earlier today, makes it clear that students are required to follow current national restrictions until 2 December, with 3-9 December being designated as the ‘Student Travel Window’ with staggered departure dates.  The Government also requires all teaching to be online from 9 December at the latest.

We are now looking at this guidance in detail to assess how it impacts on our existing plans for this term and will issue further updates over the next few days.

We will also continue to update our online guidance for staff and students in response to the latest guidance from the Government.

We have also written to students to let them know of our current position, and to remind them that they need to continue to comply with the current lockdown restrictions and to continue to attend face-to-face and online learning sessions until they hear otherwise.

Please be assured that the health and wellbeing of our students and staff remain our key priority and will inform all our decision-making in response to this latest guidance.

Thank you for your continuing support at this challenging time,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President