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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to students - 26 January 2021

Dear University of Exeter students,

I hope that you are all safe and well at this difficult time as we find ourselves in the middle of another national lockdown. It has been such a tough 12 months with so many challenges to overcome, not just at the University but in all aspects of our lives. As Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter, I want you to know that we understand how disheartening, stressful and disruptive the current situation is and that we will do everything in our power to support you.

We are almost a year on from the first known Covid-19 cases in the UK and it will certainly be a year that we will never forget, indeed, we remain in the eye of the storm and will be for several more weeks. But I said to colleagues last week that I also think we are reaching a turning point in 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.

Certainly, we all anticipated that this was going to be a year like no other and I am sure when you began the academic year in September you knew that it was going to be an extraordinary time to be at university. I suspect few of us realised though how many sharp twists and turns there would be, how many backward steps we would have to take and how different people would respond in the circumstances. Everyone’s experience and circumstances will have been different, whether you were starting university for the first time, returning to the region, learning remotely in the UK or internationally or studying as an undergraduate or postgraduate. The way in which you have all responded has been so humbling and I am very proud of you.

I know that at times the constraints and uncertainty have been hard to bear. The national and local Covid-19 restrictions brought in by the Government and Public Health England have meant that we have not been able to provide more in-person teaching and student activities, as we would have wished. We are very aware of how this has affected you, and I hope you know that staff across the University have tried to do as much as we possibly can within the rules while prioritising the safety of the whole community.

We had of course prepared for all eventualities and I am proud of how you as students have adapted, and how colleagues have made the very best of a challenging teaching environment, delivering as much on-campus teaching and support as we could alongside offering live online teaching and creating thousands of new digital learning resources. This has all been done to ensure that you can progress or graduate this year despite the circumstances.

I have been heartened by the positive student feedback about outstanding digital learning experiences and best practice that we can take into future years. Nevertheless, I know how much you have all missed the opportunities to meet in person with peers, friends and my colleagues and we will continue to do all we can to create opportunities for meeting and learning in-person as soon as conditions allow.

I know there are student concerns about how the pandemic has affected your education, learning and degree outcomes. I have been listening and talking to students and student representatives throughout. I want to reassure you that when we say that we guarantee you will have no disadvantage we mean it. The safety net we have put in place means that you will suffer no detriment when compared to those who came before you, and those who will follow.

We want you to succeed, we will do everything in our power to help you succeed, and your success is our success. We will ensure fairness and also maintain the high standards associated with an Exeter degree. We care about you and will do everything we can to support you – always.

One of the ways we ensure everyone’s voice is heard is to work closely with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union, and I want to thank them too for their extraordinary work and support for students. Thank you Sunday and Cara and everyone at the Guild and Union for your support. And, for everyone thinking of standing in the forthcoming student elections then…go for it! I will look forward to working with you as we shape the University of Exeter for the next decade.

I will say more about how you can help shape our University into the future and get involved in co-creating our new 2030 strategy in my next all student talks in February and March. Look out for the invite to join us. I want to draw upon your experiences to improve what we do and how we do it. I will also be happy to answer any of your questions on the safety net, rent rebates and tuition fees.

Most importantly, in the days and weeks ahead please look after yourselves and each other. If I, or any member of the team can help you then please just let us know. We have a wide range of support available for you as detailed in the Registrar’s updates and on our website. Financially, the University has distributed over £1million in hardship and emergency funding to students most significantly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. I encourage you to reach out if you need help financially at this difficult time.

Can I also assure you, that we have absolutely continued to invest in mental health and wellbeing support this year and the stories you may have seen about service reductions are not true; in fact funding for the services has more than doubled over the last three years. We continue to recruit to meet growing demand and I was really pleased to see the recent launch of the new telephone counselling service for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic students.

We will get through these tough times as one community and soon we will be together once more to build a better future. Our motto at the University of Exeter is ‘We Follow the Light’, and if you have not seen it yet I urge you to watch the brilliant Amanda Gorman who at 22 years old illuminated the USA Presidential Inauguration with her poem. I leave you with her brilliant closing words: “There is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

Take care,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive