Weekly update from the Vice-Chancellor - 04/06/2020

Posted in: Weekly Update

Dear colleague,

I hope that this email finds you and your loved ones well, and coping with current demands. This is the first of a new communication initiative which I hope you will find helpful. I’m planning on sending a weekly email to all colleagues as a means of sharing successes, building our community spirit, and sharing important points of information. I hope that you find it helpful, and as with all new initiatives, your feedback will be very welcome.

Assessment and Examinations
Having chatted to several students in the Lime Tree dinner queue recently, as well as colleagues, I am very aware of the hard work that has been going into online assessment in recent weeks. I realise that the marking will continue to be a major focus as the assessment period comes to an end. The level of engagement of the students, and indeed their positive comments, has given cause to recognise the great efforts that have gone into providing such high quality online assessments and examinations, both by academic and professional service staff. I am very conscious of the challenges surrounding 35,000 pieces of work being submitted online; making all the arrangements for this to happen smoothly is no small matter.  I hope that we will be able to recognise this achievement when the time comes. Nonetheless at this point, please accept my thanks and congratulations on what has been achieved already. In particular, I would like to thank Professor Peter Lambert for his leadership here.

Of course some students will be remaining in Bath over the summer, and may I continue to thank those involved in the critical campus functions for all they are doing. It is clear that a strong community has built up which has meant much to many, and I am so grateful.

The transition to digital delivery of education, our support of students on campus, the digital infrastructure underpinning remote working, and our contribution to the wider community through our research and PPE production have all been real successes. Please accept my congratulations.

Financial Impact and Response to COVID-19
As we are all aware, COVID-19 represents the greatest financial challenge to the University in its history. We are very grateful for the measures that have already been adopted to mitigate the very substantial costs due to the virus. Our current figures indicate that cost-savings measures we are taking will have been successful in mitigating the estimated losses incurred in the 2019/2020 financial year of £18M. We are continuing to develop a Voluntary Exit Scheme and have been in discussions with the trades unions about this. We anticipate that it will be launched on 8 June.

As you will be aware, the potential losses are greater in 2020/2021 and hence we must work as strongly as we can to deliver the best performance next year and be prepared to respond to any challenges that might arise. As indicated in recent emails, there are four main priorities at present. First, colleagues across our University will be working hard to recruit the strongest possible intake in 2020/21. Second, we must focus on ensuring that we are well prepared to deliver high quality blended learning from September. Third, we must seek to maximise income from other areas. Fourth, and finally, we must ensure a strong funnel of new courses which will attract the best students in the future.

Student Numbers
The predicted fall in overseas student numbers has been widely noted in the media and is at the heart of the very great operational threat that COVID-19 is for the sector. It has been recognised that some universities might seek to over-recruit home students because of falling overseas students, and so a capping scheme has been imposed by Government for undergraduates. Very recently, we have been informed that our cap will provide sufficient headroom to enable some compensation in recruiting additional home students to make up for any shortfall in overseas undergraduates. We will, of course, be taking into account the safety of staff and students when thinking about the capacity on campus to ensure safe social distancing in our facilities and accommodation.

In terms of admissions for next year, applications so far have been encouraging. Home, EU and overseas undergraduate admissions levels are up approximately 8% and postgraduate application rates are up 35%. Although we are seeing reduced conversion rates for overseas students at the moment, conversion rates for home students are also greater than last year. As a result, if we work hard to make sure that applicants can feel confident about their studies next year, and therefore decide not to defer or withdraw, our position next year will be as strong as possible.

Much scoping work is being carried out to support this. For example, under the leadership of Keith Zimmerman, studies are being carried out on how to use the campus next year to maximise capacity while adhering to social distancing measures. An analysis has already shown that we still can accommodate the new intake in University accommodation, even if the current social distancing rules apply. In addition, new measures are being identified by the Resilient Curriculum Project Taskforce to identify ways in which quality blended, student-centred education can be provided and supported. New initiatives have also been identified to support the student experience. Information setting out the full range of activities will be provided on this once the assessment period draws to a close.

Opening up of the Campus
In the very short term, of course, we are starting to make available again parts of the campus as required and permitted. Some elite sport has restarted, and the outdoor tennis courts can now be booked.

Dr Nicky Kemp and Professor Jonathan Knight are leading the way to enable certain research groups to start working again on campus. This work, of course, builds on the insights from the technical and research activities which have run throughout lockdown on campus. These include the major PPE activities, involving over 70 people who between them have now produced more than 80,000 pieces of PPE. The Photonics research group is just packaging 300 purpose-built endoscopes intended for use in research to beat COVID-19. Alongside these activities, two pilots are now running in other different types of research, to allow a wider understanding of how to operate research activities while abiding closely to safe working conditions, as advised by Government. Plans, risk assessments and guidance for staff are being drawn up for a gradual wider roll out.

In order for our next year to be successful, we will need the efforts of colleagues across the University, from our academic colleagues and technicians, to our professional services and operational staff. I’d like to ask that we all continue to support each other in these endeavours. May I also express my sincere gratitude for all you continue to do towards ensuring the continued success of our community as we navigate the coming months together.

With warm good wishes,

Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President

Posted in: Weekly Update


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