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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to students - 1st April 2020

Dear Students,

I want to focus my message this week particularly on all our students, be they undergraduate, postgraduate taught, or postgraduate research, and whether they are UK, EU or international students.

I know what a difficult year this has been for everyone and I think we are now living through major changes in our society. I have never seen anything like the changes that this crisis requires of us all, and I particularly sympathise with those of you who are finding this a particularly stressful time.

I suspect many students will be feeling bewildered by local and world events and wonder what the future holds. I want you to know that we are here to support you over the coming months and years as students and alumni.

I meant what I said a few weeks ago that 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. Our education team are working hard to ensure all undergraduate and postgraduate students receive an award or mark that accurately reflects your academic attainment unimpaired by the current coronavirus crisis.

We will support you to succeed and progress whether you are continuing your studies or graduating this summer to the next stage of your career. Our excellent careers team are here to ensure that you can continue to access the best support from webinars and networks to online appointments and expert advice. Exeter graduates do exceptionally well after university and, although some of the conditions and options will be different this year, you will thrive and adapt to this new world of work – perhaps better than most.

I am certain that after this crisis there will be new opportunities and if we can take this time to consider what really matters in life and death then we will create a better society with our students and staff well placed to instigate change.

The December 2019 UK general election probably seems a long time ago now but the issue of Brexit has dominated our political and social discourse in recent years. It exposed divided communities, gaps in wealth and prospects as well as growing unease about globalisation and environmental change.

We have seen on our own campuses industrial action, increases in hate crime and online abuse and protests for faster action on the environment and climate emergency. Universities are a microcosm of society but we also have a unique community and I believe must be at the forefront of solving these local and global challenges.

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated how quickly life can change, that we can take nothing for granted and so we must therefore work hard and collaboratively for the world we want to see. It is always easier to identify and call out problems but less easy to find the solutions and implement long-lasting change – at Exeter we pride ourselves on doing both but we have so much more still to do and offer. Through your education and research you have so much more to offer.

Our University mission is to make the exceptional happen by challenging traditional thinking and defying conventional boundaries. I hope during your time at Exeter, however long or short, that will mean more to you now than ever. Your creativity, innovation, unique experiences and perspective matter and can change the world.

I am acutely aware even now that the current situation threatens to divide us and I am constantly considering how other people may experience this crisis – those most at risk of the virus, those with mental health and anxiety problems, those who experience racial prejudice and abuse and those for whom home is not a safe or happy place. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a loving and caring family, not every student can go home right now or feels protected in the place that they live and not every person is in a relationship that keeps them safe.

If you are in a fortunate position, consider those who are not and take steps to help those you can. Our priority throughout this crisis will continue to be to do all we can to support students, staff and our community on every possible level. None of us quite know how the next 12 months will pan out but if we work together, adapt, influence and make the right long-term decisions we will get through it – perhaps even better prepared for the years ahead.

For my part, I am trying to make sure that I follow up on all the issues that are being raised by our community. Today my main focus has been on the needs of those students remaining on our campuses, and in particular our international students. Please understand that if you tell us there are problems, we do follow up and try to resolve them. I have a two–hour meeting every morning where the problems are raised and we follow up on how they have been responded to at the next meeting.

I want to end this message just by thanking you all once again for everything you are doing to help each other, for your professionalism in unchartered times and for your patience as we adjust our whole way of operating.

There are have been so many heroes in recent weeks from cleaners, caterers and estates staff to teachers, lab staff, and helpline operators as well as those volunteering in their community and colleagues supporting the NHS. There are just too many to mention everyone but I do also want to thank teams at the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union for their partnership and support in recent weeks often at the frontline, handling student concerns.

As we are now at the start of the Easter holidays, I hope that you will all be able to take some time out from your work and studies, spend time focusing on you and your loved ones and will then be refreshed to tackle the next few months together - whatever they may bring and wherever you are in the world.

Have a great Easter break.

Take care,


Professor Sir Steve Smith
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive