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Testing out a theory

A laptop, next to a plant, glasses and a tablet. The Kent Union logo is in the left hand corner of the image.

Kent Union sets a precedent for accessibility

Making Kent a more accessible place to work and study has been an important process in the lead-up to the legal deadline of September 2020.

With The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (2018) requiring the University’s digital content to be accessible to everyone, Kent Union has proven to be a leading example of how this should be done.

What Kent Union has done

Kent Union has set a precedent by becoming the first Student Union to publish an accessibility statement, highlighting the accessibility of their website in accordance to defined standards, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1 AA and complying with the public sector regulations.

Created by Lloyd Wilson (Head of Technology) and Christopher Appleton (Front End Website Developer), the statement was published on SearchBOX, – the accessible publishing directory.

As a result of Kent Union’s innovative approach, a new category has being created within SearchBOX entitled, ‘Student Unions’, and has been shared with the National Union of Students (NUS) in the hope other student unions will follow Chris and Lloyd’s proactive style.

Using the third party company ReciteMe, to provide accessibility tools for the Union’s main web pages, the aim is to promote digital access across the Union, including societies and student reps’ interactions.

Fantastic feedback

Ben Watson, Accessible Information Adviser at the University, praises the Kent Union team for their achievement and describes Lloyd and Christopher’s work as a great example of building a service in the right way. He says: ‘A union is meant to make you feel like you belong, and the team’s hard work on accessibility perfectly demonstrates that their services are designed for everyone.’

Sasha Langeveldt, Students’ Union President 2019-2020, says: ‘I am very proud of the work done on the accessibility policy – as someone who is dyslexic I know the importance of making documents accessible to all. As a Students’ Union, it’s important to make sure all students are given equal and equitable amount of support to help them find and read through important documents. People have the right to feel independent and I hope this policy allows students with accessibility needs to feel like they too matter, because they do.’

The University and accessibility

The University is working to meet the regulations as part of the ongoing work to embed accessibility across the University. Led by OPERA (Opportunity, Productivity, Engagement, Reducing barriers, Achievement) and the KDAWG (Kent Digital Accessibility Working Group).

A great example of digital accessibility being used at Kent is the Digitally Enhanced Education – A Guide to Teaching Online course, launched by the E-learning team. With accessibility woven throughout, this course provides an excellent means of conveying the core information to staff.

For more information on accessibility at Kent go to:

An open book with pages making the shape of a heart

Top 10 recommended reads

We asked you to share your favourite reads with us. Thank you to everyone who sent in their recommendations. Here are the ten books recommended by colleagues:

1. The Death and Life of Charlie St Cloud by Ben Sherwood

Recommended by Krystal Allsopp (Accounts Assistant in Hospitality Finance)

Krystal says: ‘It grabs you from the first page and pulls you in, taking you on a journey that will stay with you long after you’ve closed it.’

2. ‘A Small, Good Thing’ by Raymond Carver, a short story from Where I’m Calling From

Recommended by Natasha Moulton (Senior Library Assistant in Academic Liaison Services)

Natasha says: ‘I love this story because it beautifully illustrates the depth of emotion and ultimate kindness that is present in all of us.’

3. The Corduroy Mansions series by Alexander McCall Smith

Recommended by Melissa Mulhall (Assistant Director in Education & Student Experience)

Melissa says: ‘I adore all McCall Smith’s books, the stories and lives of his rich characters. This one stands out due to the affinity between humans and their pets – namely, a dog called Freddie de la Hay.’

4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Recommended by Brenda Brunsdon (Occupational Health and Wellbeing Team Manager)

Brenda says: ‘I love books that focus on the mystery of time and this is probably the best I’ve read.  Any book that connects you with the characters so much it makes you cry has to be special, and I sobbed at the end of this one!’

5. PopCo by Scarlett Thomas (Professor of Creative Writing and Contemporary Fiction at Kent)

Recommended by Catherine Morris (Environmental Adviser)

Catherine says: ‘PopCo manages to combine mystery and the world of children’s toy invention and satisfies my inner geek with interesting explanations of basic cryptography.’

6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Recommended by Daniel Harding (Deputy Director of Music)

Daniel says: ‘No film or television adaptation can capture its seasonal magic, and no Christmas is complete without Dickens’ literary present to the world.’

7. Normal people by Sally Rooney

Recommended by Olivia Miller (Press & Public Relations Officer)

 Olivia says: ‘I read this modern-day romantic novel before it became a phenomenon and it’s an emotional rollercoaster, prompting feelings of nostalgia, comfort, frustration and heartbreak – sometimes all at the same time!’

8. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Recommended by Jonathan Thirwell (UX Developer)

 Jonathan says: ‘It’s a coming-of-age story about survival and fighting prejudice as apartheid rises in South Africa. It’s a fantastic read, with brilliant characters and is relevant for our current times.’

9. Witches Abroad by Terry Prachett

Recommended by Nicola Baldwin (Marketing Assistant in Hospitality)

Nicola says: ‘Pratchett’s books are always funny and insightful, but this is the book I always come back to for a good reread.’

10. Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugerman

Recommended by Ben Watson (Accessible Information Adviser)

Ben says: ‘An absolute riot of excess, disfunction and wilfulness, it epitomises many rock and roll platitudes. You could sum up Sugerman’s philosophy in the words of Viv Savage from Spinal Tap: ‘Have a good time all the time’.’

Keeping sending your ideas for other ‘Top 10’ features to: stories@kent.ac.uk

Dr. Dieter Declercq

Dieter Declercq to host webinar on ‘Stories, Wellbeing and Business’

Dr Dieter Declercq, Lecturer in Film and Media Studies, will be running a webinar in partnership with Kent Innovation and Enterprise entitled ‘Stories, Wellbeing and Business: Finding Meaning in Covid-19 Disruption’ on Friday 17 July at 10.00.

Dieter’s webinar is part of the University of Kent’s Covid-19 Business Recovery Response Webinar Series.

What story is your business going to tell about COVID-19? And why tell a story about it? The COVID-19 crisis presents an unprecedented disruption to our personal and professional wellbeing.

This webinar will explore how stories and narrative art offer strategies to manage wellbeing by making sense of crisis. ‘Stories, Wellbeing and Business’ will explore coping strategies for dealing with profound disruption, and will also investigate how we can harness this disruptive moment to re-examine ambitions moving forward. The arts may not outline ready-made solutions, but they do offer valuable strategies for reflection and creativity in times of uncertainty.

This two-and-a-half hour webinar will include a 30 minute Q&A, and a 30 minute networking session where delegates will be able to dive deeper into the topics raised.

The webinar is open to all and free of charge. Participants can register for the webinar on Eventbrite

Further information about the webinar is available in an interview with Dieter on Kent Innovation and Enterprise’s YouTube channel.

Microsoft 365 icons

Skype for Business will be withdrawn on 27 July 2020

Skype for Business will stop working at Kent from Monday 27 July when it will be decommissioned. Microsoft Teams replaces Skype for Business as our virtual meetings and chat tool.

Installing Teams and disabling Skype for Business (S4B)

External contacts

If you use Skype for Business with outside contacts, please do the following by 27 July:

  • Move their contact details into Outlook: this will make them available within Teams and Outlook
  • Install Teams so that any external messages sent to you via Skype for Business can be routed to you in Teams.
  • Make sure you’ve set up alternative contact methods (such as Teams) before the switch off

If you have any issues working with external contacts in Teams after Monday 27 July, please tell us. Email helpdesk@kent.ac.uk and include the email address of the person you’re trying to connect with.

Tier 4 interviews unaffected

Skype (Skype.com) will still work for Tier 4 interviews.
Why this is happening
To address some technical issues related to running both Skype for Business and Teams side by side.

Help and support
If you have any questions about Teams or any of the Microsoft 365 tools:

Contact us via online chat, call 01227 82 4888 or email helpdesk@kent.ac.uk

Staff with laptop

Staff Webchats on campus opening, student experience and recruitment

The University is to launch a series of Staff Webchats to share plans for our return to campus and the new academic year.

Each webchat will feature a panel of senior staff who will share information via a short briefing and then answer questions from colleagues. The webchats include:

  • Opening our Campus – Tuesday 14 July, 11.00-12.30 – chaired by Christina Hughes, Chair of the Covid-19 Programme Board. You can sign-up via Microsoft 355 Forms
  • Student Experience – Wednesday 15 July, 11.00-12.30 – covering Autumn 2020 arrivals, induction and the wider student experience. Sign-up via Microsoft Forms
  • Student Recruitment and Clearing – Wednesday 22 July 10.00-11.30. Sign-up on Microsoft Forms

By using the sign-up form, you can submit questions in advance, which the panel can review and aim to answer in their briefings. Time permitting, there will also be an opportunity for a live Q&A at the end of each webchat.

Space at the webchats is limited so we would recommend nominating one or two colleagues from each team to attend the webchat live. Each webchat will be recorded and the recording made available to all staff.

Find out more

Further information on plans for our return to campus is available on our updated Covid-19 webpages for staff.

 

 

Vice-Chancellor Update: Pay Freeze Staff Poll

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Karen

Professor Karen Cox | Vice-Chancellor and President

Macbook pro on white table next to a plant and yellow table lamp

Care First webinars w/c 6 July 2020

The Covid- 19 webinars from Care First continue this week. Please see below for the schedule and where you need to go to sign up.

Monday
6 JULY 2020

  ‘Hopelessness: Ways to stay positive during COVID-19’
TIME: 14.00 – 14.30
To register click on this Go webinar link

Tuesday
7 JULY 2020

 ‘COVID-19: What might a second wave mean?’
TIME: 14.00 – 14.30
To register click on this Go webinar link

Wednesday 8 JULY 2020

 ‘Alcohol:  safe alcohol limits after lockdown’
TIME: 12- 12.30
To register click on this Go webinar link 

Thursday
9 JULY 2020

 ‘Supporting Vulnerable Groups during COVID-19’
TIME: 12 -12.30
To register click on this Go webinar link

Friday
10 JULY 2020

 Care first: Support for Managers during COVID-19
TIME: 11 -11.30
To register click on this Go webinar link

 

Coronavirus

Condolences for John Lovell

John Lovell died on Thursday 25 of June in his home at Blean, not long after his 80th birthday.  He had spent his entire career, from 1967 to 1996, at the University of Kent. John was esteemed nationally and internationally as a researcher in his specialist field, trade union history, and an approachable and devoted teacher of economic and social history.

He was also an exceptional and selfless servant of the University, acting at various times as  Chair of the then AUT, Senior Tutor in the Social Science Faculty, and Deputy Master of Eliot as well as being the moving spirit behind the establishment of the University’s Industrial Relations degrees.

Kent Logo

Pay Freeze Proposal: Staff Poll

Message from Alison Ross-Green, Director of HR and Organisational Development

I am writing to update you on where we are with proposals for a pay freeze ahead of a poll of all staff on its introduction. This is absolutely critical to weathering the severe financial impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, and without it further redundancies will be necessary. However, I also know this is not an easy ask to make, and for many staff in professional services who are also anticipating consultation around new structures with attendant worries about job security, this is an additional burden to lay upon you at what is already an anxious time. I am hugely grateful to all of you for your forbearance and understanding as we respond to what are truly unprecedented challenges for the sector.

Risks of failing to pursue pay freeze

Feedback from staff was discussed at this week’s JSNCC, which, unfortunately, led to no clear consensus. While most attendees ultimately acknowledge the need for these additional measures, this is not currently the case for our UCU colleagues who have confirmed that they are balloting their members with a recommendation that they reject both the proposed pay freeze and the Reward Strategy.

This puts us at a point of enormous risk to the University. Failing to pursue either or both of these initiatives will significantly worsen our financial position, along with the confidence of our lenders, and require a further estimated 80 – 120 redundancies to address the additional shortfall. I am very sorry to set out the position so bluntly, but given the seriousness of our situation, I wanted to make sure everybody was fully aware of these realities. There is further information on the component parts of our response to the severe financial impact of Coronavirus in our updated finance presentation. Put bluntly, unless we agree savings to address these one-off losses, we will run out of money to meet our commitments.

All staff poll on pay measures

Given the huge implications of this, it is very important to understand the preferences and position of as many staff as possible before committing to any course of action. I urge you to complete this confidential poll on both measures to ensure that your views can be directly received by the University and considered. I cannot stress too strongly the importance of as many staff as possible responding to this poll within the timescales that we have. The poll will be open until 5pm on 7 July, before we reconvene discussions with Staff and Trades Union Representatives on 8 July. At that meeting we will remain ready to discuss any further constructive proposals that are brought forward but noting that time is now very short to explore any further adjustments to our proposals, assuming viable ideas could be brought forward at this late stage.

Ahead of this meeting, we have looked at what we can do to adjust the pay freeze proposals to respond to the strongest of the concerns raised via JSNCC. While our room for manoeuvre is very limited, and all staff will be affected by a deferral of the national pay award, we have committed to the following in exchange for concluding a local collective agreement:

  • PSD Promotions will be taken out of scope of additional pay constraints in order to avoid any double impact of both the Reward Strategy and Pay Freeze on staff currently affected by restructuring, and to ensure that key new PSD positions can be filled from existing staff (who may otherwise opt for redundancy); 
  • Extra Responsibility Allowances will be permitted to continue, where appropriate and in accordance with existing HR policy;
  • A Recognition for Staff Support Scheme will be established, dividing a £1.7m budget equally among staff affected by the pay freeze at the point in future where key indicators show we have reached a position of financial sustainability. This would be in the form of a one-off payment to staff affected by the pay freeze and still employed by the University once this point is reached. Executive Group will not be eligible for any performance-related payments until these payments have been made; given their exclusion from the proposed pay freeze, promoted PSD staff will also not qualify for the scheme;
  • In acknowledgement of concerns around the equality impact of the proposal, an Equal Pay Audit will be completed within the next 3-5 years, in collaboration with the Staff and Trade Union members of the JSNCC.

Making your views heard

I very much hope that these adjustments, and the consequences of a failure to reach an agreement, will be sufficient for most of you to feel you can support both measures. Your Staff and Trades Union Representatives are empowered to reach an agreement on your behalf so do advise them of your views on the proposals should you wish to discuss further.

Please do not forget to make your views heard by completing our all-staff poll.

Staff in library 2

University commits to researchers’ career development

The University has underlined its commitment to supporting the career development of our researchers.

Professor Karen Cox, our Vice-Chancellor and President, has written a letter of commitment to the Researcher Development Concordat

The letter of 24 June 2020 reads:

‘As part of our current reorganization, the University has agreed that our Graduate School will become the Graduate and Researcher College (GRC) from the start of academic year 2020. The new GRC will have an expanded remit to support postgraduate students and now also staff across the whole academic career span, including but not exclusively our Early Career Research Staff. The GRC brings together expertise from five support services across the University to provide holistic researcher support across all career stages. It will be central to planning and progressing our commitment to developing our research staff, working across the University with colleagues, Divisions and departments to ensure that the tenets of the Concordat are fulfilled.

‘The University of Kent fully supports the Principles of this revised Concordat and we intend to uphold our obligations and responsibilities as a signatory.’

Professor Paul Allain, Dean of the Graduate and Researcher College, stated: “I am very pleased to have this confirmation of Kent’s commitment to all our researchers. At this difficult time, we need not only more support but also to support each other all the more.”

Read the full letter here. Find out more about the Concordat here.