Below are a range of (hopefully helpful) updates on work that has been taking place across the University as we look to re-open campus and prepare for the start of the new academic year.
UCAS End of Cycle Data
We’ve had the latest UG figures following the UCAS deadline last Thursday. Overall the position is very similar to last year in terms of CF accepts and conversion ratios. It’s worth noting that while home student conversion has improved slightly, conversion for EU and international offer holders has fallen. I don’t think there is anything here to be particularly concerned about and the position we’ve taken around middles (including the potential to drop 2 grades where appropriate) means that we are still in a reasonable position to meet HEU targets. Things look a bit more challenging with international numbers although much depends on whether students intend to study as normal or whether the pandemic ultimately leads to late withdrawals/deferrals. For planning purposes, we have assumed we will recruit only 50% of target international students. Latest QS research suggests that as many of 60% of international students are still reconsidering their study plans.
Students and needs for laptops/tablets
A number of you have asked about what messages we will be giving to students about the devices they will need and whether there will be a formal policy around “bring your own device”. This is being reviewed at present and there are a range of issues that need to be considered around minimum specifications, software requirements, broadband packages for those off-campus and managing network/security requirements. And of course there is a need to think through any CMA implications and the issues for students who may not be able to afford their own devices. For the latter group we are looking into the option of offering technology vouchers. Nothing has been finalised as of writing, but I will let you know as soon as there is more information.
Social Distancing and Campus Capacity
While we’ve now all heard of the change in Government advice, we’ve taken the view that, for now, we should continue to model with a preference for 2m distancing for campus capacity and timetabling. While noting that Government believes a relaxation to 1m is possible (in some circumstances and with other risk mitigations), the feeling is that we should stay at 2m for now because this gives us some flexibility – if we can manage capacity at 2m then we can also easily relax to 1m – if that’s the right thing to do as we approach the new academic year. And the timetabling work and indications of capacity are all based on the assumption that you will be allocated rooms that accommodate student numbers at 2m distancing.
The Shape of the Academic Year group has been looking at timetabling and capacity issues and will continue to do so. And as we work through these issues we are thinking about issues relating to circulation and changeover in relation to the timetable. Two points came out of our discussion – first the importance of classes being the standard 50mins to facilitate changeover and second the observation that if longer sessions (eg 2 hours) work for your teaching delivery plans then these do make timetabling easier. I’m not suggesting that you need to change any of your plans – I just wanted you to be aware of this.
A quick reminder as we’ve had a couple of issues recently with Depts looking to engage external lawyers for legal advice. If there is an issue on which you think legal advice is required, please can you contact the in-house legal team in the first instance.
Government announces fee status change for EU students in England for 2021
I don’t suppose this will come as a surprise but the Universities Minister has today formally announced changes to the eligibility rules for EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals, and their family members, who wish to commence courses in England from August 2021. EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status, undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for courses starting in academic year 2021/22.
Draft 5a of the plan was reviewed at FGPC yesterday and we are still looking for further £12m of savings in addition to what has already been built into plans. The main areas of risk relate to the extent of savings from VLS, the impact of CV19 on admissions and the possibility of increased USS contributions. The ARC surplus is currently around £57m below plan following a budgeted £77m fall in tuition fee income. There is some further work being done on the plan and the resulting draft 5b will go to Council in 2 weeks. Plan 5b will a draft only and we’ll look to finalise the plan in September when the student number position is clearer.
For those projects that are continuing, we’re expecting a4-6 weeks delay on the Arts Centre which means like completion in March/April 2021 – this will be inline and consistent with delays to City of Culture. With IBRB there is a slight delay but this is unlikely to make much difference to planned completion. With the Faculty of Arts Building, we’re expecting a delay of around 5 weeks – which might or might not allow completion before the start of the 2021-21 academic year – its still probably too early to be sure.
Cryfield Residences Phase 2 was delivered during lockdown (200 more student beds) and phase 3 is progressing and likely completion in May/June 2021
Open Letter from UCU and 500 signatories
Some of you may be aware that UCU has presented UEB with an open letter with some 500 signatories (from the University and elsewhere) asking for the University to withdraw its plans to reduce STP spend and instead implement cuts to salaries for all those earning in excess of £90k pa. The content of the letter will be debated by Council – this is important because of course Council is the employer – and there will be a response once this discussion has happened. Council meets on 8 July. This approach will, I hope, also provide some reassurance to those who might feel that UEB is conflicted in its decision making on this matter.
I know there continues to be a lot of uncertainty around what the next academic year will look like and I realise that this does make your jobs more difficult (and those of your colleagues). Please can I assure you that we are trying to reduce this uncertainty as much as we can but the current situation is complex and dynamic. We’re still exploring many of the various options available to manage the risks associated with the plans for delivering our core activities in the coming year (and that includes and extensive range of public health interventions). The Business Recovery team are getting invaluable advice from colleagues who have expertise in these matters from a range of academic departments.
Professor Christine Ennew OBE
Apologies – one thing I forgot to mention in my earlier update.
Some of you will be aware from previous messages and from discussions with HR about the challenges of on-boarding new staff members who are not currently able to travel to the UK. The challenges relate to regulatory, tax and legal requirements around a UK organisation employing someone to undertake work in the UK who is operating outside of the UK. These various requirements create risks for both the University and the individual. HR will be updating you shortly, but we think that in order to manage these challenges we will need to be explicit that such individuals will (as soon as possible) have to be in the UK and will have to be domiciled here once the current situation is resolved.
No action is needed – HR will be in touch as necessary.
Professor Christine Ennew OBE