Welcome back to the University’s summer term. I hope that you were able to spend time during the extended Easter break away from emails, video conferences and other forms of work to focus on your personal wellbeing, as well as that of your family and friends.
I want to thank all colleagues for your continued commitment, not least to those who are maintaining our teaching online and our research off-campus, as well as to those who remain on campus to provide essential services, such as keeping the campus secure and supporting students who are unable to return to their homes.
I also want to thank staff and students who have contributed in such an impressive way to the national effort through the donation of their time, expertise, community service and testing equipment. I am particularly proud of our medical and healthcare students who graduated live on the BBC's One Show to join the NHS.
While it is reported that the country may be witnessing a peak in coronavirus-related mortality, the daily statistics mask the fact that every death is someone who was loved and is missed. We know that what we considered ‘normality’ will not return in the immediate future, if ever, but I think it is important for us to think about our future, even while we wrestle with the anxieties, challenges and tragedies of the present.
While we are all still dealing with some crisis management, I would like us to spend a little time looking ahead. Over the coming weeks, UEB wants to engage the university community in helping determine the measures we require to ensure that we recover, remain a strong global University and deliver our University Strategy when the pandemic eventually abates. I would like to share some initial thoughts on recovery and how we might approach it in the coming weeks.
It is worth considering three phases of response to the COVID-19 pandemic - Rescue, Revive and Renew. Each needs to be considered simultaneously rather than sequentially, as while we are dealing with the short-term issues in real time, we need to be developing the medium- to longer-term actions carefully over the next few months. All of our plans will need the flexibility to change direction as and when greater clarity over the full impact of the lockdown and the lifting of restrictions emerge.
For example, we will focus efforts on student recruitment to retain as many students as we can who have applied for entry in 2020/21 through innovative digital engagement. We will revive our international recruitment over the medium term by considering how we could make greater use of our campuses in China and Malaysia, recognising that international student numbers to the UK may be lower than expected for a period of time. We will seek to renew our size and shape plans to develop new recruitment opportunities and look ahead to the demographic uplift in UK 18-year-olds in future years with a particular focus on widening participation. We will also have to re-assess our financial priorities and investment plans recognising we face significant budgetary challenges in the year ahead.
I am determined to ensure that our current students are not disadvantaged by the crisis and that the class of 2020 has its opportunity for celebration in rescheduled graduation ceremonies. It is essential that no student graduating in 2020 is academically disadvantaged by a global crisis beyond their control. I appreciate that students will be anxious, but I think we should stress that our 2020 students are special, as they have shown adaptability and resilience to changes in their educational experience caused by the crisis. We will consider how we can revive the student experience for 2020/21 to make it as positive as it can be for the many first year students who may need additional support, given their curtailed final year at school. We also need to be thoughtful about what a longer period of social distancing will mean for the way in which we operate, once staff and students are able to return to campus.
For our staff, in the short term, we will want to use the government’s furlough scheme where appropriate and UKRI initiatives to ensure we can support staff and retain important capability during the current crisis. However, we also can learn from the lockdown to support more blended approaches to home- and campus-working, tackling ‘presentism’ and encouraging more flexible approaches to delivering our objectives.
Longer-term, it is crucial that we invest in staff training and development to support new ways of working and build our capability to respond to whatever the future holds for higher education. We should reflect on the many outstanding examples of collaborative working during the last few weeks, continue to strengthen our community and empower staff to be more involved in decision-making.
One of the few positives to emerge from the lockdown is the way in which a drastic reduction in travel throughout the world has improved our environment. We should plan for a sustained reduction in our carbon consumption by encouraging much greater use of agile working and digital technologies and reducing our need for travel. I am determined that this will not be at the cost of Nottingham as a global university, so we need a more creative approach to what a global university can be. Shortly before the lockdown, we had a productive discussion about this at Senate, and I look forward to building on the many ideas generated from members of Senate.
During this crisis, I have been moved by inspiring stories of staff and students offering service to the local community. We should ensure that the relationships and the learning from this informs our work with local communities and our Universities for Nottingham initiative. There will be many economic, social, health and cultural challenges in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire over the next few years, and we must work with local partners to be part of the solution.
These are just a few thoughts about our early path to recovery. However, we have the advantage of having an innovative and imaginative university community, so I want to hear from you. I would like your reflections on lockdown: what you feel we have learned from the last few weeks, what you miss and what you think we should change when we reach a ‘new normal’. For this purpose, I invite anyone with ideas, reflections or thoughts on these matters to contact me directly at email@example.com. I promise to acknowledge all emails, and your ideas will inform the way we move forward.
The University’s Getting in Shape team will soon contact senior leaders across the institution to offer support in reflecting on the lessons of lockdown and advice on how to approach the challenges and opportunities for recovery in their areas. The Institute for Policy and Engagement will also launch a new blog series this week, After the Virus, as a forum for reflections on the challenges and opportunities the world faces as it looks to recover from COVID-19.
I have no doubt that our summer term will continue to be testing, and that it will be challenging to maintain teaching, examinations, research and meetings in the digital world and balancing that with your own caring and home-working challenges. I remain enormously grateful for your commitment. I ask that you reserve some energies for your personal wellbeing.
Thank you for all that you are doing and will continue to do in the weeks to come.
Professor Shearer West
27 April 2020