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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff and students - 12th June 2020

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I want to start by thanking all those who have written to me about confronting racism in our university community and making sure that we both address structural racism and become visibly and actively anti-racist. It has been a week where we have received many ideas and offers of support but also quite rightly calls for faster action and change in areas such as leadership, progression and recruitment as well as education and training for all students and staff.

Janice Kay, as Provost, and Linda Peka, Vice-Chancellor Executive Group lead for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, are actively leading this work with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff, students and allies, the Race Equality Network, the Inclusivity Board and with numerous other colleagues and students.  There have been many debates and discussions this week to bring all the recommendations together into action. Importantly, we are also working towards the Advance HE Race Equality Charter which is a recognised framework to improve the representation, progression and success of BAME staff and students within higher education.  This work must be guided by our BAME colleagues, who will prompt, challenge and call out, but it is vital that we all take responsibility for change.  As I said last week, it is absolutely imperative that all colleagues, students and those in leadership positions throughout the organisation visibly demonstrate that we are an Anti-Racist university and truly instantiate that Black Lives Matter. This includes listening, facilitating conversations even if difficult, and advocating for change. Tackling racism is for all of us.  If you would like to get involved please email: 

We also have an opportunity in developing and revising our education programmes and online resources to create a curriculum that is truly inclusive in the fullest sense.  We know that many of our colleagues are truly immersed in anti-racist pedagogy and it is clear that we can all engage with this work and learn from it.  Project Enhance, which is focusing on blended, digitally enhanced and flexible learning, gives us an opportunity to create an outstanding learning experience for all our students. Through our work to restart education, research and campus operations we must have at the heart our commitments on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and we will talk more about this in the coming weeks.

I want to acknowledge here how hard everyone is working and the extraordinary pace required right now to ensure we can provide an exceptional education and learning experience from September. For academics this comes on the back of an extraordinary effort to move all our education and exams online in an emergency situation. We can be very proud of our achievements but we know that expectations will be higher from September. Amidst the obvious pressure and demands I want to remind everyone to be kind, compassionate and constructive in your communications. Everyone will be doing their very best and we do not always know individual circumstances so please let us work together and mean what we say about kindness and understanding.

I have said before that in many ways the next few weeks may be the toughest of the Covid-19 crisis. As we start to open up society again, expectations start to rise and as we begin to focus on the major challenges of recovering and rebuilding there are more risks for all of us and not just in terms of health and wellbeing. The difficulties and questions people have about education in primary and secondary schools will increasingly be levelled at universities with the added complexity of thousands of students moving across the country and globe to attend university campuses.

We continue to make good progress on our core priorities but we are entering the critical weeks now with national deadlines looming and students rightly expecting clarity about their university education from September. This week we have been able to confirm to postgraduate taught students their course start dates and in some cases, where possible, an option to start in October or in January. We have also published on our website our commitments to students and what they can expect from their campus experience.  This is alongside a new website for postgraduate studies which contains information and support for international students.

You may have seen recently that from September I have accepted a new role as the government’s International Education Champion. It is an unpaid post for an initial two years and will promote UK education as an export industry and aim to increase the number of international students who come to the UK. I am very proud to be able to continue to support UK higher education and enhance the international student experience. I have also been appointed this week as US-UK Fulbright Commissioner to help foster intercultural understanding between the USA and the UK through educational exchange and as part of a global programme.

International students, exchanges and partnerships enhance our society in so many different ways and despite the current challenges, it is vital that we continue to value students from around the world, creating global classrooms and laying the foundations for future cooperation. If the current global picture shows us anything, it is that continued international engagement and collaboration must be championed.

I want to finish this week again just on some positive work by colleagues and students and the positive impact we have on our community. We have just announced the Student Employee of the Year Awards which recognises students who combine study with part-time or temporary work in our community and this year we had over 70 organisations nominate a record 140 students. The overall winner was Alexander Griffiths working as a Service Advisor for Devon Doctors and I recommend you visit our Career Zone website for details of all the organisations and winners. We know that the Covid-19 crisis has had an impact on students working part-time and graduate opportunities but we remain fully committed to supporting all our students and graduates in their careers in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Take care of yourselves and each other,


Professor Sir Steve Smith
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive