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Testing out a theory

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,


Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Join our Inclusion Circles

All University of Kent Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff are invited to join our first Inclusion Circle session on 10 March 2021, focusing on BAME wellbeing, as part of our ‘Challenging Racism’ campaign.

The aim of the Inclusion Circles is to create a safe environment to listen to staff concerns, share experiences, discuss a variety of topics, and show solidarity. Facilitated by Inclusive Employers, the programme will take place over three 90-minute sessions. The first two sessions will focus on a different topic, with the third session culminating in an action plan based on feedback and shared experiences from earlier sessions.

Session 1 Inclusion Circle 1: Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) wellbeing (10 March, 10.00) 

    • A BAME* only discussion about current Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the disproportionate effect of Coronavirus on BAME people.
    • A place to feel comfortable, share experiences and to find out how to get support
    • This is a safe space to express concerns and show solidarity

Sign up now, spaces are limited!

Further information and a full list of additional dates corresponding to Inclusion Circle sessions, can be found on Staff Connect. [Logon to your to Staff Connect account, click on ‘My Training Details’, then click on ‘Training Request’, enter search term ‘Inclusion Circles’ and click on ‘Search’ button.]

*Please note: the acronym BAME does not represent a homogenous group but is used here in a similar manner to its use in higher education research and by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for statistical purposes, to represent people who are racialised as belonging to a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

Becky Verlin in front of ATS, Canterbury campus

Kent People: Becky Verlin, Housekeeping Manager and ATS Manager

When did you join the University of Kent and what did you do before?

I arrived at Kent in May 2011 for a 12-week agency cover, which became a permanent appointment as Housekeeping Manager in January 2012.

I previously worked for the NHS as a Site Coordinator at Sheppey Community Hospital and Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital, responsible for Community Hospital buildings and Fire, Health & Safety, as well as smaller clinical service outlets. I managed reception and office staff as well as portering and domestic teams. I was also a bereavement officer and staff rep for the local units. I loved the diversity but, following a restructure, my role became more about buildings than people. I chose to leave but got bored after three months (!) so joined an agency.

What does your current role(s) involve?

That’s a good question! My main role, as Housekeeping Manager, involves managing a brilliant team of professional cleaners and handy persons who ensure that accommodation is ready for students and maintain it while they’re here. In the summer, we switch over to a hotel-style service. Currently, I am responsible for Park Wood with its 1,938 bedrooms and 355 kitchens. In total across campus, we have something like 4,858 bedrooms and 787 kitchens. I think people would be surprised to know that the team of domestics not only look after the accommodation but also academic buildings– they are a very proud bunch. I have been involved in many accommodation refurbishments, which I love as you can really engage with the students and find out what they want, as well as trying out new colour schemes and ideas.

I am also currently Site Manager for the Asymptomatic Testing Site (ATS) on Canterbury campus. It’s been amazing to help build a new and brilliant team which, in normal circumstances, might never work together. It’s been really good to know we are doing something worthwhile in supporting students and staff to maintain some kind of normality during what has been very trying times.

Last, but not least, is my role with the Joint Staff Negotiating and Consultation Committee (JSNCC). When that first meeting agenda and the volume of papers arrived in my inbox, I couldn’t help but think I was out of my depth! But everyone was so welcoming and taught me little tricks (that will remain secret!) on how to get through it all. The role is about supporting staff and change and being a voice for those who may not always be heard. It’s truly rewarding to know you are in some way making a difference for your colleagues.

Tell us more about who’s who within your team?

There are four Housekeeping Managers, Tracy Rogers, Karen Keen, Lynne Banks and myself, as well as assistant managers who help with day-to-day matters, and supervisors and charge-hands. It’s the domestic team who are very much on the frontline. They are from all over the world and, in better times, we have had some really good cultural days where staff would bring in food representing their culture and we would talk about ‘home’. I love these moments – it reminds me what we represent.

In the ATS, we have worked together as a team since November when we first opened the site. The frontline team are from departments/centres across the University, including Gulbenkian, Sport and Catering. They are now skilled in the testing process and can answer many questions on this. In the beginning, we had some long days, yet they still returned. They choose to be here, which makes them special.

What are your immediate plans/priorities?

Making sure students want to come back to campus when they can and. that when they do,  they enjoy it. If that means keeping the ATS going, and having staff available to do the testing, that’s my priority. If that means making sure their accommodation is ready, that becomes my priority. So really, it’s about making sure we are ready for whatever is needed. I work best when I have challenges as I am reactive and love to get stuck in.

Covid-19 permitting (!), what are your interests outside work?

That’s easy, family is the most important thing to me. I have five grandchildren with my two daughters and their partners and, of course, my wonderful husband who puts up with a lot. I just love spending time with them all – even on the bad days, you can always find a bit of fun.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

My favourite, and one I’ve been known to use, is: “Don’t be telling everyone you’re unhappy, tell the person that can make a difference” A manager gave me that advice in my first volunteering role at the hospital and it has stuck with me ever since.

Christina Nguyen, United States

Find a way to take part in International Women’s Day

The first International Women’s Day (IWD) took place in 1911, with the aim of celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

Run annually on March 8, the day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Each year IWD has a theme which continues all year to provide a meaningful framework to connect and amplify action. The 2021 campaign is #ChooseToChallenge and aims to inspire us all to call out gender bias and inequality

Below are some suggested areas that could be implemented to support the campaign during 2021 and beyond.

If you are running an event, large or small please write a blog and ‘Tag’ and add the ‘Category’ EDI and it will show in the new EDI webpage. ‘News and Events section’

Remember to use the #ChooseToChallenge to tweet and share your ideas and encourage others.

Some Ideas

Some event ideas include:
• A talk by an inspiring female speaker related to your field of work
• A presentation of some gender-related research related to your field
• A female senior leader from your area talking about their career and key events/support that helped them to advance
• A panel of women from your field talking about career challenges, important milestones/support, career tips, intersectional experiences, etc.
• An event to share ideas, good practice and promote change on a topic such as collective action to promote gender equality, male champions, allies, equal pay
• A presentation and discussion of a gender-related film
• A presentation and discussion from a gender-related book
• An event on a specific-gender related issue such as menopause, domestic violence, global women’s empowerment, pornography, body image
• A performance by a female artist

Below are some suggested TED Talks for IWD to start your discussions:

Why we have too few women leaders
Know your worth, and then ask for it
Women entrepreneurs, example not exception
How to make hard choices
Can we all ‘have it all’?

Below are some links to relevant reading lists:
Books about women who changed the world 
Like a Woman 

Books to read on International Women’s Day 

International Women’s Day – A vintage reading list

Books to read this International Women’s Day

Women authors – International Women’s Day

Actions for Individuals

• Pay attention to the dynamics in your workplace and ensure that people are not left on the fringes of conversations or interactions – build bridges so that they can move across
• Give credit where it is due – take steps to ensure female colleagues are visible and share their achievements
• Learn more about the impact of unconscious bias and how it can be minimised
• Question your assumptions and bias about women’s abilities, life choices and competence and challenge them in others by bringing the focus back to the facts
• Act as a visible ally and champion for gender equality engaging with colleagues who don’t value inclusion or are cynical
• Question and challenge all-male speaker panels

Attend an IWD event, see the listings here – International Women’s Day Events

Actions for Managers and Leaders

• Discuss what you can do to address gender inequality in your day to day role, as well as what you can do in your leadership capacity, to increase momentum around the agenda

• Support applications for flexible and agile working so that all colleagues can take on caring responsibilities whatever their gender
• Get to know your staff, their strengths and areas of interest and issues that impact on their lives outside of work
• Provide continuous development support which is caring and thoughtful and enables staff to evolve and grow to their strengths
• Develop robust approaches and metrics for measuring performance to avoid assumptions leaking into decision making and assessment

And don’t forget to sign up to the BAME Staff Network event marking International Women’s Day with keynote speaker the Right Reverend Dr Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, 

Increased Microsoft security – Multi-factor authentication is coming

The University will add an extra layer of online security to all Microsoft 365 (M365) services including email and Teams from 12 April (Easter vacation). Some staff will be contacted to set this up on their accounts earlier than this date.

All staff will be enrolled onto multi-factor authentication (MFA), which adds a level of increased security when using online tools and is especially important now as many staff are working from home (99.9% reduction in compromised accounts).

As the name suggests, MFA uses multiple methods to identify that you are who you say you are. You may be familiar with this type of security which is commonly used for online banking, shopping and PayPal.

What this means 

When MFA has been added to your M365 account there will be an extra authentication step for you to complete before gaining access to M365 services from off-campus. There will be a number of options available for you to authenticate yourself, details of which will be provided.

Next steps 

We will contact all staff with further details about enrolment onto MFA later this term. If you have any questions, please get in touch with IT Service Desk.

WISC logo

WISC-Women in Supramolecular Chemistry

We know that women in academia are disproportionately affected by funding structures, academic culture and caring responsibilities whatever their discipline. We know that there is a gender disparity in Science, Technology Engineering, and Maths disciplines. We do not know why women in the chemical sciences are further marginalised. Within the chemical sciences the lack of retention and progression for women and all those with protected Equality and Diversity characteristics is pronounced.

WISC (the international Women In Supramolecular Chemistry network) was founded by a small group of academics, including Dr Jennifer Hiscock and Dr Jennifer Leigh from Kent, in order to address equality and diversity in the field. Since its launch in late 2019, WISC has created a website and resource bank, conducted a survey of the supramolecular community, initiated small group mentoring and support clusters for parents, those with disabilities/chronic illnesses/neurodivergences, and 1st Gen chemists.

WISC aspires to be an agent of change. We want the work we are engaged in to bring about actions and inspire change from others. In 1979 Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed Black feminist, poet, and warrior, said if we want to change things, we need to do them differently. WISC has taken a creative and reflective approach to ongoing research projects to humanise the reasons why equality work is so vital. Our aim is to develop a community and increase its diversity.

We want to intervene within a space that is unfair and marginalised, and change the experiences of those entering the field, drawing on feminist and creative research practices to make sure voices are heard, and show the STEM community that interventions like this are worthwhile and necessary.

WISC are about to publish a paper in Angewandte Chemie (DOI: 10.1002/anie.202015297) and an article in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Chemistry World.

Person using laptop

Withdrawal of GOEsend service on 10 March: use OneDrive instead

The GOEsend service, which lets you send large files by email, will be retired on 10 March.

If you use GOEsend, note that any files you’ve shared won’t be available to the recipient from 10 March.

To share large files, you can use OneDrive instead: save the file to your OneDrive and share it from there. Files can be shared with students, staff or external contacts.

Sensitive files

You can also use OneDrive to share sensitive files securely within the University and with external contacts.

We don’t currently offer encryption for files containing sensitive data. Be aware that if you share a file of this nature with an external contact, they can download it and forward it, so make sure you have a written agreement with them that they won’t share the document further.

Encryption of files for confidentiality is under development. This will enable you to share files with only specific contacts and prevent any onward forwarding.

person using macbook on wooden table

Care first webinars w/c 22 February 2021

Our official Employee Assistance Programme provider, Care first offers a numbers of services and provide useful advice and support, including weekly webinars.

This week’s (Monday 22 February – Friday 26 February webinars are as follows:

Monday 22 February 2021 – ‘How Care first can support you’
Time: 12.00-12.30 – to register please click on this Go to webinar link.

Tuesday 23 February 2021 -‘Updates to Care first Lifestyle’
Time: 12.00-12.30 – to register please click on this Go to webinar link

Wednesday 24 February 2021 – ‘How making small changes to your diet & exercise can have a positive impact on your wellbeing’
Time: 12.00-12.30 – to register please click on this Go to webinar link

Thursday 25 February 2021 – ‘How the pandemic could affect the way organisations do business’
Time: 12.00-12.30 – to register please click on this Go to webinar link

Friday 26 February 2021 – ‘Keeping optimistic during the Pandemic’
Time: 12.00-12.30 – to register please click on this Go to webinar link

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,


Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President


Sustainability collage

Sustainability consultation – have your say!

The Sustainability Team has opened up a number of key strategies for consultation to get student and staff’s say on sustainability at the University.

The University has a number of operational strategies that support our transition to a more sustainable institution which are due for renewal this summer. The Sustainability Team are running an open consultation on some of these strategies as they go through the process of being refreshed over this academic year. The strategies are owned by a number of departments across the University including the Estates Department, the Safety, Health and Environment and Kent Hospitality.

The strategies include our Carbon Management Plan; Sustainable Food; Landscape and Biodiversity; and Waste and Recycling strategies.

The Sustainability Team have put together a consultation form for each strategy asking for students and staff to input their thoughts and ideas on a number of sustainability issues across our operational work. Collaboration is key to the work that we do in the Sustainability team and we need to hear from staff and students across the organisation to help us navigate the complex road to sustainability.

Reponses from these forms will be collated by the Sustainability Team and fed back to the strategy owner where they will be reviewed. Not all responses and ideas will make it in to the final strategies as decisions around affordability, timescales and achievability will have to be made. However, we are hopeful that we can get a real insight into your priorities that we can then reflect in our short and longer term targets, as well as integrate ideas that we would not have come up with ourselves.

The initial consultation will be open for 4 weeks closing on 19 March . Full details of the timeline and links to the consultation forms can be found on our website.