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Heads of Department Update 10 December

Morning everyone

I think the diversity of messages that I need to share is reducing – but a bit more detail in some cases. And the main update this week does need some action. But we’re nearly at the end of term and not long now before there is time for a proper break for everyone.

Device Security Project (Again)

I know there has been quite a bit of email traffic about this and its probably the last thing you want to read about, but can I ask for your patience just a little bit longer (and there is some positive news in here). There isn’t a good time to be doing any of this, but we’re under considerable pressure from the Regulator so we do have to keep progressing with the plans/policies agreed by Senate.

With all the changes that go with the need to address device security (and I’m afraid we do have to do this – we’ve been way too lax in the past). I’m conscious that many of you are increasingly identifying a need to provide more of your staff with University managed laptops – because this approach addresses most of the concerns about connecting to University resources from off campus. I’m also conscious that most of you cut your equipment budgets in the preparation of your financial plans. We can potentially allow some spend in excess of budget, but to begin with, Tony Pauley has identified a central budget line that could initially fund the purchase of lap tops for those working remotely.

This fund will support only a standard specification machine with a Windows 10 managed desktop. The standard spec is a Dell 5410 or equivalent based on stock availability (the first machine on the “Advanced” tab at ). The exact make/model might change due to stock, but it will be that sort of specification.

And we will need to prioritise because of the likely level of demand, but we’ll try to get some advanced orders placed as soon as possible to minimise delays.

Could I ask you to think about your high priority needs: I don’t want to impose an approach but you should probably look to prioritise those for whom the “virtual desktop” option is not reasonable and those who will be the heaviest users of secure systems (so this might mean those teaching online and those accessing sensitive data.). In addition, as we would expect that laptops will generally replace desktops you might want to prioritise those with the older machines. You might also wish to think about whether you may need any pool/shared machines for GTAs/STPs if they are being expected to undertake a lot of online teaching.

Where priority individuals need higher specification machines, you will need to top up from internal budgets. The central fund can only support the standard specification PC.

In terms of moving forward with any requests you may have, the normal route would be to use the exemption process which signals that an individual needs to be temporarily exempt from the restrictions and also is the opportunity to signal that a University-owned and managed machine would be the solution. Details of the exemption process are available at: . You can use this route if you prefer – and some colleagues may have already done so - or you could compile a list of your priority individuals and liaise directly with Geraint Llewellyn at The advantage of the latter approach is that it will enable you to signal what you see as the priority needs for your department.

Finally, I’ve been asked about why we can’t make it easier to take desktop machines home, well, the issue is that most desktops don’t have a wireless network card fitted and would need one fitted. Also, they are configured to be present on our internal network all the time, so don’t have VPN enabled by default. In each case, it can be solved, by logging a helpdesk call and deskside support helping on a case by case basis. It’s a fairly time-consuming process so we haven’t pushed this, but the possibility is there if there is no other alternative.

Q1 Financials

I mentioned these last week and we discussed them at ARC Autumn Review – the bad news is that we are still forecasting a deficit for 20-21; the good news is that the deficit is smaller than plan. Essentially ARC is about £8m better than budget, primarily because of strong fee income. We are seeing slightly higher levels of withdrawals than in a normal year and slightly higher numbers of debtors, but generally retention is looking good and we have significant numbers of international students expecting to arrive for term 2. So while I’m still cautious, there is much here that is positive and the strong student retention rates must reflect the great work done in academic departments and the positive experience those students have had.

Year End 19-20

The audited accounts will be published shortly and while the year-end position is worse than the pre-covid forecast, it has proved better than we were expecting. That reflects the fact that Departments and groups across the University were able to react quickly and manage costs very effectively. This does mean that we are in a better cash position than expected and we can therefore ease some of the pressures on the capital plan – so we’ll be able to progress some of the priority projects that had been put on hold and we’ll also be looking to increase allocations to the Academic Investment Fund – and I’ll share more details on that when I can.

ARC Autumn Review

We held the Autumn Review on Tuesday just past. As was the case last year, we focused much more on exploring risks, challenges and opportunities looking across departments rather than drilling down to each department individually. And notwithstanding the experiences of the last 9 months one thing that was striking was the degree of commonality and consistency in relation to the risks and responses. We also spent a little bit of time discussing the role of online delivery – and particularly the options for the development of distance/remote online provision to access new markets and new opportunities. It won’t work for every department but there are a number of areas in which there are interesting opportunities, particularly at PGT level and when we all have a bit of breathing space, we’ll look to continue discussions on this theme. Finally, the broad level/approach to targets was signed off although I think there are probably still one or two points of detail to finalise.

Have a great weekend everyone!



Professor Christine Ennew OBE