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Message from the Vice-Chancellor to staff and students - 19th June 2020

Dear Colleagues and Students,

First of all, I want to congratulate all our students who have now finished their exams during a period of significant uncertainty and change. You can be very proud of your achievements and for those graduating this year we will make sure we celebrate your success at a graduation ceremony in 2021 as well as online this summer. The latest details on graduation ceremonies, the referral and deferral assessment period as well as ways to give feedback and get continued support are in the Registrar’s email this week.

For September and the new academic year, we are absolutely committed to making sure all students have an outstanding educational experience and social life. We are putting in place new safety measures across all our campuses and listening to the very best public health expertise. Over the summer we will be able to provide further details on university accommodation and work spaces, campus and social environments and course content and choices. I want to be clear though that all students and staff must be prepared for the situation to change and we may need to limit the number of people on campus at any one time. We plan to open our gyms, libraries, study spaces and shops but we may need to restrict numbers. Our aim is to provide as much education and activity on campus as possible but we must plan for the worst case scenario and be ready to provide the best case scenario. We will be ready to support vital education and research throughout. 

For staff, I want once more to thank the exceptional efforts of everyone working so hard to ensure our success, and particularly for supporting our students through this last term and in their exams and assessments.  While I didn’t specifically reference professional service staff last week in my message, I think you all know how highly I regard our professional services team here at Exeter. We have an absolutely outstanding professional service team and it is the partnerships and collaboration across all areas, both between parts of professional services and between professional services and academic colleagues, that helps strengthen our position as a top UK and global institution.

That is not just my view but also the view of the students who want to study here. We have once more had an exceptional year on student recruitment despite the challenges. Thursday 18 June was the date that most UCAS applicants had to decide on their firm and insurances choices. The University has secured almost 500 more UK and EU undergraduate students than last year despite the overall number of offers being slightly down which puts us in a stronger position going into confirmation and clearing this summer. International undergraduate firm acceptances are also higher than last year (813 compared to 733) and although we have a higher proportion still undecided this is a positive starting point in an uncertain year. Our success reflects a huge effort across the university community and activities such as online offer holder events, new subject webinars and chat sessions as well as strong campaign work to promote our university.

It is not just our education but our research that is recognised as outstanding. There have been so many great examples of our life changing research recently and I just want to highlight two in the national news this week. The first is work by researchers and teams at the University of Exeter and Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust who were part of the national team, co-ordinated by the University of Oxford, who found that a steroid can reduce the risk of dying in patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 – the first major breakthrough to tackle the virus. The second is Liz Trinder’s work in the Law School which has led to the historic introduction of no fault divorce in England and Wales – the first major reform to divorce law for 50 years. You can read more about our research news on our website.

It is the combination of outstanding research and education that is the core of our Grand Challenges next week. More than 550 students have signed up so far to tackle 4 separate global challenges - Climate Emergency, Fighting Fake News, Loneliness and Mental Health, and Food for Thought. They will be joined by fellow students from the University of South Florida and University of Mannheim working together online, while physically located all over the world. Challenges Online is a great example of multi-disciplinary, flexible and inclusive education in and increasingly digital world and you can register to take part online.

Inclusion and success for all is at the heart of our education strategy, and we must take this moment in time to take big steps forward on learning and teaching, research, health and wellbeing and equality. Today, the University has published a new website on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion including my recent statement on confronting racism, and I hope people will see the links we have to make across different areas of our operations to ensure our university and community continues to make progress and continually improve our position as one of the top universities in the world.

Once again, and as I end all of these messages, the most important priority is to take care of yourselves and your friends and family. And, do try to have a relaxing weekend.

With best wishes


Professor Sir Steve Smith
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive