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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to students - 22 February 2021

Dear University of Exeter students,

Firstly, whether you are with us here in Exeter, elsewhere in the UK or overseas at this time, I hope that you know we are thinking of you. I want to thank all of you who continue to provide feedback and work alongside us to ensure that we respond to the Covid-19 pandemic in the best way we can. It really is appreciated and it makes a difference to our whole community.

This week we should know more about the government Covid-19 roadmap to help us determine education activities for the rest of the academic year and I am really hoping it will mean we are allowed to provide more opportunities for in-person teaching and student interactions across our community. We are all eager to return to some kind of normality but as always, we will follow the Government guidelines. We will contact you to set out our approach as quickly as we can and remain ready to adapt in this ongoing global pandemic.

I do think we are now through the worst of the pandemic as case numbers and deaths continue to fall and the vaccine rollout continues at pace but as I said in my last message there will be long-lasting effects, and the past 12 months has taken a heavy toll on many in our community. We are acutely aware of the impact on your lives, education, finances and wellbeing. As a senior leadership team we are focused every day on what we can do to make the situation better for you and have worked well with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union to try and respond to your needs.

Throughout the pandemic we have continued to lobby the Government on your behalf for increased financial support and to present the case for a return to on-campus activity. We are doing what we can to alleviate financial hardship through the ‘Success for All’ fund as well as waiving rent fees for those who cannot or have not returned to University accommodation for the duration of the current lockdown. I know the situation for those who rent with private organisations is tough and we continue to make the case on your behalf for further financial support. If you do need ongoing financial support please get in touch.

As your Vice-Chancellor, I am always listening and always willing to hear from students about what more we can do. Your wellbeing is an area of particular focus and concern for me. We have more than doubled our investment in mental health and wellbeing support over the last three years and we are investing more again this year to meet increasing demand. I have just seen the latest student pulse survey results and feedback and it is clear that this pandemic is affecting your mental health.

I am heartened to see that 67% rated the academic support you have received as very good or quite good but we will not lose sight of the 10% who said the support was quite poor or very poor. We are focused on all students achieving their learning goals and progressing this year and I know you appreciate the work my colleagues have been doing to support you in challenging circumstances.

However, the area that concerned me the most was the feedback on the overall sense of belonging, engagement and connectedness and it is clear that many are struggling with the study/life balance. 65% said that they were not satisfied with the study/life balance, 64% said they did not feel connected to coursemates and 48% said they did not feel connected to university friends. I can assure you that we are working on how we can improve this for you in the remaining months of the academic year, subject to Government easing of restrictions.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has played a huge part in how people feel about life right now, and while I am sure that once some restrictions ease so will some of the pressures, I want to work with you on what more we can do to support you in the weeks and months ahead. I realise that experiences and needs will vary but I am keen to hear your ideas, however big or small. We have set up a new University Wellbeing and Mental Health Board which will provide professional expertise on recommendations but we also want to hear from you – every idea will be considered: please email the secretaries of the Board at caughey.fook@exeter.ac.uk with your email titled Student Wellbeing Ideas.

I also want you to know that staff mental health and wellbeing at the University is a major priority. Around 30% of colleagues are reporting poor mental health, comparable to the national picture where 35% of those employed have reported their mental health as poor or very poor, according to a 2020 Mind Report.

I am sharing this with you so that you know you are not alone; sadly these surveys reflect what many across society are feeling right now. But I want better for our university and I want to develop an approach that ensures compassion and wellbeing support throughout our university community. In a time when so much has kept us apart and made it more difficult to consider different perspectives, I want us to work together and support each other to make improvements that benefit the whole community. I strongly believe that if we improve health and wellbeing together, we will thrive in all that we do. We are on your side, we care about you and we will do everything we can to support you – as students, through graduation and as alumni. We want to create a connection and support network for you that is lifelong.

There are opportunities in the week ahead to talk to senior leaders within the organisation and I encourage you to come along and ask questions or suggest ideas. My all-student session is on Tuesday 23rd February at 6pm with the Students’ Guild in Exeter or Tuesday 2nd March at 6pm with the Students’ Union in Cornwall and my colleagues Tim Quine (Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education), Janice Kay (Provost) and Mike Shore-Nye (Registrar) will be joining me. Additionally, Tim Quine is leading a talk on Thursday 25th February at 6pm on education and our no-disadvantage guarantee. Please do join us if you can through the invites that have been sent to you via email.

Today, we should know more about the Government’s roadmap out of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is also an opportunity for us to look ahead and, step by step, focus on the University and community we want in the weeks, months and years ahead. I am so proud of the way you have responded to the challenges of the past 12 months, your strength and resilience is to be admired. I know it has been so difficult and frustrating at times but I hope we can now join together as we take steps into a better future.

Take care,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive