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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff and students - 26 March 2021

Dear Colleagues and Students,

This week marked the one year anniversary of the first UK lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and a national day of reflection. It has been the most extraordinary 12 months which has turned lives and communities upside down and led to significant loss of life, loss of freedoms and forced major changes to education and work.

I think we are also seeing seismic shifts and challenges within society with people rightly wanting more rapid progress on issues such as the environment and climate emergency, better and fairer working conditions, equality and justice for minority or disadvantaged communities and an end to violence against women, all of which have been accentuated throughout the Covid-19 crisis.    

At the University of Exeter all of these issues and concerns have been raised in our own community and it is right that we do not shy away from discussing and tackling such complex challenges. Like any organisation with 30,000 people from all over the world, we have a lot of work to do within our community but we also have outstanding expertise, skills and talent which can be drawn upon to bring about change, locally and globally. I continue to be hugely impressed by the brilliance, compassion and commitment of our students and staff.

I want to thank every colleague and student who has made a difference within our community and beyond in the past 12 months: to everyone who has supported or worked within the NHS and frontline services; to those who have contributed to research which will save or change lives; to those who have volunteered or donated to help others; to those who have transformed and delivered a different model of education and exams at breakneck speed to ensure that our students can continue their educational journey; to all our students for their understanding and partnership to ensure the best possible educational experience; to those who have established COVID-19 testing systems and taken regular tests to protect our community enabling critical activities to continue; to those who responded and supported others when a World War 2 unexploded bomb was discovered next to our campus; to those who provided support and spoke out when serious sexual assaults took place in our community; to those who strive every day to create a more compassionate and inclusive university; to those who have helped businesses innovate and survive in an economic crisis; to those who have helped students and graduates get jobs in a tough employment market; to our professional service teams who are the bedrock of the organisation and ensure our educators, researchers and students receive vital support and services. Thank you to you all.

As we look ahead, it is clear that changes and challenges to the higher education sector show no signs of slowing down. The threats of damaging cuts to UK research budgets, the re-emergence of the debate on tuition fee levels, the USS pension deficit and changes to the admission systems are just some of the changes we are facing currently. Over the last year people’s expectations of work and education have changed forever, and while digital transformation and a blended approach to learning and working holds many opportunities for us, such advances must not open up further disadvantage and we must pay even more attention to fostering our sense of belonging to the university community. Coming together to learn, collaborate and innovate will be even more important.

As a University we are trying to adapt and respond to the immediate challenges but also take the long term view of how we learn and work together and what we want to achieve as a University, underpinned by strong values. I want to thank everyone who has contributed to the first Big Conversation on our ten year strategy. Over 2000 people have contributed already and the ideas and insights have been excellent.

For staff, one of the major themes highlighted so far is workload and the way we work.  I have said many times that we cannot continue at the pace we have been working for the last year, but we cannot afford to stand still either. This will require changes to the way we work and require us to make choices about what we will do and, importantly, what we will not do. I certainly hope that the 2030 strategy will help us better define our priorities, structures and values to help improve the working environment and culture for the benefit of our community.

For students, the major themes coming through are the quality and delivery of education, teaching support, fair assessments and again mental health and wellbeing. There are also some fantastic ideas about the kind of education and skills our students want and what is important to them. As wellbeing is highlighted so strongly by staff and students and following the recent wellbeing surveys, we are already implementing and exploring effective actions but it is clear that we need to do much more to promote and support positive wellbeing.

If you have not had chance to contribute to the strategy ‘Big Conversation’ yet then the first deadline for ideas is Monday 29th March. But do not worry as there will be further opportunities in April and May to engage with the next two conversations. I am absolutely committed to working with you in partnership, not just in creating the strategy but also delivering on the strategy and leading the change with you.

Finally, I know that for many today is the end of the teaching term and for everyone there is an Easter break on the horizon so I just want to wish you a restful, happy and healthy break when it comes. The warmth and light of spring combined with the gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions does give a sense of hope and renewal. Please do take time to connect with friends and family and to recharge – nothing is more important. Next term, we are really hoping to welcome more of you back on to our campuses and to offer more opportunities to connect with one another so that we end this difficult academic year on a high. 

My very best wishes,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive