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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff - 21 January 2021

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to you at what feels like the most difficult point in the Covid-19 pandemic, with the third lockdown feeling like we have taken backwards steps. But I also think we are reaching a turning point in our quest to control the pandemic thanks to scientists, healthcare teams and so many brilliant people working together around the globe for the common good. It will not be an easy path ahead but there is now hope and a way forward to leave behind the gruelling days we have all experienced this past year.

This is the start of my second term in Exeter, and it still feels strange to not have had the opportunity to meet more of you in person and come and talk to you on our campuses. Building productive, inclusive and supportive relationships with colleagues has always been so important to me and the way I work but for now I am determined to do as much as I can in the digital world.

Right now, I know many colleagues are facing really tough challenges and struggling mentally and physically in their personal and working lives. Many of us had anticipated a difficult start to 2021 but had not perhaps anticipated some of the latest twists and turns, with Covid-19 cases and deaths rising again and a new national lockdown bringing back the demands of managing workloads and home schooling. For many this leads to weariness, lack of focus and feeling that despite our best efforts it is never enough, at home or at work.

Most people I speak to are feeling tired, anxious, frustrated, isolated and of course some are experiencing family trauma. These experiences may affect the way we communicate and respond to challenging situations and while there are no easy answers to coping in the weeks ahead, I would ask that we continue to show kindness, tolerance, patience and care towards one another so that we support each other through this difficult period. Everyone’s circumstances will be different and doing your best is all we can ask. I appeal to managers to take the pressure off where you can on deadlines and expectations, prioritising essential work first and being realistic and flexible about what can be achieved.

The impact from the pandemic will last long beyond the vaccination roll out and as a University we are trying to put the right support and pillars in place to help people through the months and years ahead. I hope you know that we are doing our best to balance the (often competing) needs of staff, students, parents, regulators, Government Ministers and our local communities to find the right path for the whole community so that we come through this strongly. I am immensely proud of the work we have done and the extraordinary efforts of every colleague since I started in September. That is not to say we will have got everything right, and I want us to be open about what we can improve and learn from our experiences this year on education, research and critically how we support our community.

It is in this spirit that over the coming months I want us to look up and look ahead to the future we want for the University of Exeter. I strongly believe that universities have a vital role to play in rebuilding and reshaping our nation and indeed in providing solutions to complex global issues. I want us to be a University rooted in our values, supporting our local communities to thrive, creating sustainable and inclusive growth, providing opportunity for all and committed to excellence and making a difference. We must be visionary and ambitious in our goals and clear about the role we want to play on the local, national and international stage. I want Exeter to attract the very best students and staff and to be an inclusive community that allows everyone, and our partners, to realise their potential. I see huge opportunity for our University in the years ahead, building on our strengths and addressing the global challenges we all know go far beyond Covid-19.

I have thoroughly enjoyed, in my first few months, the conversations I have had across Colleges and Services, listening to your ideas and ambitions but also appreciating your openness and honesty about what we need to change. I think we can now take what we have learnt from this crisis, and focus on our long term future together. In mid to late February, we will start in earnest the co-creation of our Strategy 2030, with the intention to launch this in the autumn. I realise that many people can barely see to the end of the day or week at the moment let alone think about the next decade, but it is vital that we think about our long term future and that we draw upon recent experiences, inspiration and our desire to improve – and in some areas transform - what we do and how we do it.

I know that many of you want to see a more diverse and inclusive university, one that is bolder and braver on the big issues of our time and one that better supports our staff and students to be the very best they can be. And on that we are completely aligned. The past 12 months will have accelerated certain trends and ways of working but through the strategy development work we have an opportunity to take the long view and most importantly to involve our talented staff, students and partners in shaping our future. In the coming weeks, please look out for more information about the 2030 strategy staff conversations and get involved as much as you can. I will also be saying more about this in my next all staff talk on Wednesday 27th January at 12.30pm - click on the link in the Microsoft Teams invite to join us.

Most importantly though, please look after yourselves, your family and each other in the days ahead. We will get through these tough times together and it will not be too long now before we can be together once more to share our hopes and vision for our work and lives beyond Covid-19.

Take care,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive