I hope you are all well and as a comfortable as you can be in these difficult circumstances.
There are a few areas where it might be helpful to update you – mostly work in progress and therefore all susceptible to change - but I thought you might like to know a bit more about current discussions.
Recruitment and Admissions
We held our first Online Offer Holder Day yesterday and while I haven’t had much feedback, I believe all went well and there was a great selection of digital resources from across the participating departments, to engage students. The time frames for UCAS processes continue to shift, although we do know that A-level results will be announced as planned. And we are able to confirm decisions for those students who have completed winter A-levels, so some decisions are progressing. Interestingly we are still receiving significant numbers of postgraduate applications and we will be looking to confirm details of the proposed alumni scholarship scheme that was mentioned last week.
ARC Planning Round
As you know, we are following a light touch approach this year and we are having a limited number of meetings with Depts to discuss the initial “business as usual” plan and then risks and mitigations as a result of the impact of CV19 on income and costs. Thanks to everyone who has submitted their paperwork alongside everything else that has been going on. We will be reviewing all of the plans, including the financial elements and the strategy proforma. So there will be feedback and potentially discussion around specific points. It may take a bit longer than normal because of the multiplicity of issues that everyone is dealing with. But, can I just assure you that the work you’ve done in pulling the paperwork together is appreciated and we will respond to you.
The planning process itself will be elongated this year and we aren’t going to be working to the normal sign-off deadlines in June/July – there is just too much uncertainty and we need to delay until we have a better sense of what our income and expenditure profiles might look like. Given the likely impact of CV19 on international student recruitment, we will have to work very hard on the expenditure side of things and focus only on what is absolutely necessary – and that’s likely to be one of the areas in which there will be challenge back to you as a consequence of the review of plans. So it would be helpful to start thinking about what is clearly essential and the options that we might have to preserve cash (and savings this year are every bit as valuable as savings next year because they all help to sustain the cash position). The capital programme will be under particular pressure and we will have to focus on only those elements that are genuinely business critical.
I think it’s fair to say that we approach these challenges from a position of some financial strength, having consistently returned strong surpluses for a number of years – and we have always been quire cautious in terms of our cash holdings. So in that sense, we are in a good place; but we are a big recruiter of international students and does create pressure and risk. Alongside work on the expenditure side we continue to explore options to support and protect recruitment, both domestically and internationally.
Shape of the Academic Year
Thinking about the shape of the next academic year continues and we will be setting up a Programme Board to lead on this work. We are in regular discussion with other Russell Group institutions and we are sharing thinking on options, opportunities and challenges. We’ve had an initial discussion at UEB and the current thinking is that we should, as a starting position, aspire to start the academic year broadly in line with our normal timings and with students on campus. I know that many of you have been thinking about this issue and how things might work in your department/discipline. Below, I’ll share some of the discussions that we have had centrally. I’d welcome any feedback you may have about what the issues from the perspective of your department.
If we are to work to an aspirations that we start the academic years with our students on campus, then there are a number implications:
- We would need to be able to offer lectures/seminars/tutorials while accepting a need to make greater use of technology based delivery to ensure that we respect reasonable social distancing requirements.
- We would need to have contingencies in place to deal with the situation in which travel restrictions limit students from attending campus including the ability to allow students to students to study online until such time as they can get to campus.
- We would need to think through the implications of a possible “second spike”.
- We may need to consider some adjustments to the structure of the curriculum – and that might mean delivering some teaching in a slightly different order because of the need to use specialist facilities.
- We may need to consider some rationalisation of the time table.
- We will need to ensure that we deliver the required learning outcomes and a high quality learning experience.
- We will discuss a variety of models including late and staggered starts and given the current uncertainty we will need to be prepared to be agile.
There will be many more implications and more work to do think these through. But initial reactions from you would be welcome in the next few days. At the moment, I think we’re simply asking for some high level feedback (rather than detail) – and of course if you’ve already provided views on this issue, don’t feel like you need to repeat it.
Professor Christine Ennew OBE