Skip to main content

Message from the Vice-Chancellor on the coronavirus situation and future working - 18 March 2020

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I am writing this message in what are truly unprecedented times. Like me, I am sure that you will be feeling anxious about the wellbeing of your family and friends, your own health and what the future holds – including for your work, studies and community.

All I want to do in this letter is to let you know our current thinking. You know that things are changing very quickly indeed, and the University has moved to a new way of working to try and cope with these unprecedented changes. We have established a series of leadership groups to run the organisation, and these groups talk every day using the online technology where we can. I have a twice-daily discussion with the Provost and the Registrar, and they and other members of the senior team are running operational and planning meetings throughout the day. I am also in daily contact with the Chair of our governing body. We are doing everything we can to manage the situation as it unfolds, and then communicate our planning and our decisions to you.

Our first priority will always be to look after loved ones and to care for each other through this difficult period ahead. The University of Exeter is a community, a kind of extended family where we support each other in learning and life that lasts beyond the boundaries of our campuses and our time at this institution.

I am proud of the extraordinary efforts made by our staff, partners, students and alumni to respond to this global public health crisis that impacts upon every aspect of our community. In recent weeks we have taken what we believe to be the right steps to protect students and staff while continuing to support high quality education and research. We will not get everything right and I am always happy to take personal responsibility and receive feedback for the areas where we can improve. But every action will be taken in good faith to respond to a complex and fast moving situation.

Looking ahead, we will now be providing education and student support online for the foreseeable future using technology and innovation to ensure we continue to provide an exceptional learning experience. For all of us, this will mean some changes to our practices to focus on digital education and assessment. We need each other’s good ideas here as we scale up. Again, we will not get everything right first time but be patient and tell us when we can do better. Please be kind and respect those colleagues who are working around the clock to support new ways of working. 

If we need to, we are confident that we can provide assessments and exams online this year so that everyone can complete their studies and final year students can graduate. We will continue to provide career support and wellbeing services so that you get the help you need in the weeks and months ahead. We have not yet made the final decisions about online exams or postponing graduation ceremonies but we will by Wednesday 25th March so that you have time to plan.  

For our outstanding researchers, we will continue to provide the support you need to make a difference in the world. We need our experts and scientists in all fields now more than ever, as the world changes before our eyes. We need to help provide solutions for people in their daily lives whether at work or play. From healthcare to business to the environment to security to culture - indeed throughout all of our disciplines - we have a role in helping our fellow human beings and perhaps reshaping society so that from this crisis comes hope.

In the weeks and months ahead I want us to reflect and then act upon what we can do differently, what we could change and improve to make a difference to our education, to our research, to our role in the community at home and abroad.

None of us know how things will be in six months’ time and how life may change but we need to adapt and be ready as individuals and as a University.

I also want you to know that the University is in a strong financial position. We have cash reserves which will see us through the months ahead and if necessary to replace what could be very significant lost income. So, to repeat, we are financially well placed to weather the coming financial storm.

More generally, as an organisation we are in a strong position to support our staff and students and we will do everything in our power to support you and the people connected to our University. We are also acutely aware of our role in the wider community and we are working with our partners in the NHS, local authorities and business to offer our full support across Devon and Cornwall.

I have also seen and heard that many of you are volunteering in your local area, offering support to those who need it most in the coming weeks and months. Thank you for everything that you do and the support you give at this time.

We will continue our communications with you throughout. You will receive regular updates from the Registrar covering the measures we are putting in place and updating you on the situation as it changes. Please look out for these. If you have any questions or concerns, please send them to our dedicated inbox at

Take care, keep in touch and I hope we will all be back together again soon,


Professor Sir Steve Smith
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive