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Heads of Department Update 15 June


My latest round of updates for you – sorry that this is a bit longer than normal!

Optional Modules

There have been a number of messages around optional modules so apologies if this is a repeat. Having a good range of modules available is important to our students and modules that may be optional in one department may be compulsory in another, so interdependencies can be significant. However, large numbers of optional modules do add to timetable complexity and while we are working to a 2m distancing model, we face some significant timetable constraints. It goes without saying that we need to prioritise a high quality teaching and learning experience for students and we need to prioritise resources for this purpose so this would be a good time to consider options for “resting” modules. This will help in terms of managing workloads; I think there may be a real opportunity to use “resting” to free up resource and ease some of the potential pressures on workload. I know some of you have already been in touch to give me an indication of modules you are “resting”; if any of you have any updates on what you can rest (subject to the needs of partner departments), please could you let me know (I don’t need lots of detail – just a high level indication of plans)?

Workload and Teaching Resource

Many of you have asked whether we can provide more specific guidance on what we mean by “rebalancing academic workloads” which is a phrase that I’ve used when trying to explain how we might accommodate some of the impacts of reducing STP spend. It’s really difficult to be specific because we have a variety of different workload models across departments. For some of you, the suspension of study leave will provide additional teaching capacity; if you are able to “rest” modules, that will also help by making additional capacity available for development and delivery of teaching. We often present workload at a macro level as being 40% teaching and 40% research; as an illustration if that balance were to move to 45-50% teaching that could make a significant difference, but what that means in practical terms will vary across departments. I’m happy to help or advise but it’s difficult to say anything definitive because of the diversity of workload models.

Q3 Financial Outcomes

UEB (Finance) met earlier this week to review the Q3 financial position and forecasts for the year end. Currently the forecasts are pointing to a drop in income for the current financial year that may be as much as £40m or more (significantly in student residences, CCSG and research income); this is partially offset by significant cost savings and the likely year end surplus forecast at around £9m. There is still considerable uncertainty around this outcome, but if we can mark the end of the year with a surplus close to £10m then we will have done really well, so can I thank all those who have been able to support this with careful cost management. Our savings target for 2020-21 of £50m remains and of course we will need to be able to sustain a significant amount of that saving in the following year as we go through a recovery process.

Shape of the Academic Year – Communications

The Marketing team continue to work on communications with offer holders and our final newsletter to UG applicants will go out tomorrow, with the UCAS deadline being on Thursday. There is a need to address a range of additional information before A level results day. Marketing will be developing communications around accommodation, return to campus, physical safety and student experience and they will be looking to work with you to ensure we co-ordinate across centrally developed messages and departmental specific communications. Your marketing contacts will be in contact. We are currently working on messages that address:

  • Provider plans for different scenarios (ie preparing to go fully online if necessary)
  • Has the face to face and online balance changed? (planned balance between online and face to face)
  • Details of how assessment methods have changed (mostly will be online)

We will also need to provide information around the following points in order to comply with OfS requirements (many of which will be department or course specific)

  • Have modules (or other components like placements or field trips) changed or reduced?
  • Will any of the above be delivered in different years?
  • Has the balance between lectures, seminars and self-learning changed?
  • Are there changes to the length of the course?
  • Have the length of any discounts been made clear? (if offered)
  • Are there any extra costs that students might need to bear to access resources or buy equipment as a result of changes to teaching?
  • Are there potential changes to the qualification that is been awarded?
  • Has the pandemic affected where teaching may be delivered?

No action is needed for now – I just wanted to make you aware of what is being planned in terms of communications with offer holders and the marketing team will be in contact when they need information from you.

Shape of the Academic Year – Timetabling

Thanks to all of you who provided feedback around timetabling issues. The current thinking from today’s “Shape of the Academic Year” meeting is that we should look to work with a timetable that is staggered and incorporates an earlier start and later finish to the teaching day as well as the use of Wednesday afternoon. As things currently stand, we will continue to work on the basis of 2m distancing and we do not think that there will be any need to teach on Saturdays. I know that one or two departments would like to retain an option to teach on Saturdays; this would be the exception rather than the norm and we would wish to avoid UG teaching on Saturdays (as things currently stand).

In case it is of help to you, this is the draft timeline for the timetabling process. It is a draft based on our best estimate of what is required and timetabling will be in touch through the normal channels. As we go through the process we may find that some stages need more (or less) time and we have some flex for that.


Process step

24th June – 3rd July

Departments provide cancellations for ‘lecture’ activities

3rd – 17th July

Central Timetabling process cancellations and re-room remaining activities where possible using 2m-distance capacities

21st – 28th July

Group A window - departments enter requests for changes and new activities (group sizes 25 or below)

28th July – 4th August

Group B window - departments enter requests for changes and new activities (group sizes 25 or below)

4th August – 8th September

Central Timetabling process requests.

Note: Where requests cannot be accommodated problems will be resolved in collaboration with Departmental Timetabling Representatives

9th September

Timetable Release

Near the end of Term 1

Further window for making changes to Term 2 & 3 activities




Professor Christine Ennew OBE