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Heads of Department Update 18 December

Hi Everyone

Well, we’re almost there – and that’s whether you’re finishing today or early next week – it’s not long till a well-deserved break. I hope this is the last set of information that I need to send you this year (as ever, of course, things do keep changing so please don’t hold me to this!)

UCU Dispute

No news on this; I have had a query about staff wanting to access the terms of the offer we made and I’m afraid that, at present, it’s an offer from the University to end the dispute, but if UCU members choose to continue the dispute then the offer disappears as well. Having said that, I think the proposal to allow you to grant marking exemptions where colleagues are under particular pressure at the start of next term is something we will enact, whatever the outcome of the UCU vote, simply because it’s feels like the right thing to do. So look out for something from Education Executive with a bit more detail. The thinking is that we’d want deadline extensions to be genuine exceptions, but it does at least give you a protocol to help with colleagues who are under particular workload pressures.

FPSC (Financial Plan Sub Committee)

FPSC met this week and as this is a key resourcing committee, there is some good news – certainly in terms of the capital plan. Probably the most significant confirmation is that the funding for the Library refurbishment has been released and this work will now proceed. There will also be a release of funding to increase student study and social space at Lakeside. In addition, a number of major lab projects on central campus and Gibbet Hill have been released as has extra funding for the Academic Equipment Fund. We are also able to start work on some essential repairs to the Arts Centre roof (the old bit and not the new bit!). Funds have been committed to convert the Conference Centre at Arden to self-catering PG accommodation. The new Faculty of Arts Building remains on track for completion in August and IBRB is effectively complete and ready for occupation.

You might also want to be aware that we have made a major bid to the Salix Public Sector Decarbonisation Fund for £28m (100% funded externally) for ground source heat pumps, solar PV farms, battery storage and a mirror panel – all as part of our Climate Emergency commitments.

And for interest as much as anything (if you still have the energy to be interested!), we have a Covid mitigation budget of £3.5m – so far we’ve spent £1.4m in Estates (temporary structures, transport, thermal scanners, enhanced cleaning, enhanced ventilation, temporary structures). There has been an addition £1.4m elsewhere (“Warwick Presents” events, student experience ambassadors, support for self isolating students, IT bursaries, Test and Trace). There has been additional spend on software to support remote access and also on Academic Technology support. And while the mass testing facility will be partially supported by Government, we will still have some costs. And FPSC also signed off the cost of providing Christmas day meals for students staying on campus or locally; they’ll all get a Christmas goody bag as well and a range of board games have been distributed to kitchen facilities across on campus accommodation. Currently I think about 1700 students have signed up for the package.

Looking forward

I suppose this is a good time to start thinking about what next year will have in store – and I think that’s both next calendar year and next academic year (and beyond). Next calendar year remains uncertain, but I think we approach it knowing that we are in a relatively good position and that’s the result of some incredibly hard work by so many people across the institution (and that very clearly includes yourselves and your staff). It will be a little while before things begin to really ease, but I am starting to explore how we might release a bit more resource to departments, to reduce some of the restrictions around replacement posts and allow some extra flexibility to ensure we support research agendas. And I’m keen that we can restart the project on academic workloads that we had to suspend when we went into lockdown.

There’s also a lot of thinking to do about the medium and longer term. Some of you will be aware that there were discussions at Steering last month to start thinking about new ways of working; and UEB has just agreed to sponsor a GRP-led “nudegathon” in March. The aim here is as follows:

"We seek to learn how the University of Warwick can help its members achieve a satisfactory work-life balance. The theme of this Nudgeathon will be “perfect day” and the goal will be to combine behavioural insights and design thinking with local knowledge to envision a perfect working day, one that achieves organisational goals while ensuring employees achieve the best possible personal life. This will involve considering what work life balance is, where the balance is not being achieved, and then developing ways to achieve it. While our focus is on the University of Warwick we hope, of course, for our findings to be universally applicable."

This links very obviously to our broader thinking about different ways of working and what next year and beyond will look like. We will need to discuss this more widely but the Pulse Survey does suggest that most people would like to be able to work more flexibly – sometimes off campus and sometimes on campus - and this will probably mean that we need to think more flexibly about space management (this is also important because reducing our space footprint relative to staff/student numbers is important in reducing carbon emissions).

I know Education Executive are starting to think about the future of teaching and learning and will be looking to engage with staff and students. I suspect there will be some approaches to teaching and learning that have emerged during the pandemic that we might wish to retain – there will be some that I suspect we’ll be very happy to abandon. I know that in some areas, the flipped classroom model has worked really well and many colleagues will wish to continue to deliver some of their teaching in this way. In other areas, that approach may have worked less well and may not continue. I think this is very much about determining what works best for students, for the staff and for the subject matter.

I also think there will be opportunities in some areas for the development of distance delivery – not as an alternative to but in order to complement existing on-campus delivery. And of course fundamentally we are a campus University and there are huge benefits that come from being part of a physical community of scholars in a campus environment. Speaking personally, I don’t think that will change, but I think what we’ve learned over the past nine months is that we have the potential to augment our on-campus delivery in a way that can enhance the student experience. And we should be thinking about that and be open to those new ways of working (but perhaps not until we’ve all had some much needed rest…………….).

So, please have a great break – it’s hugely well-deserved and much needed for everyone; rest, relax, enjoy yourselves and stay safe. And thank you for a tremendous contribution to the University – as always but especially in the past nine months. And being the eternal optimist, I’m looking forward to a better year in 2021.



Professor Christine Ennew OBE