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Message to staff and students from the Vice-Chancellor - 3 December 2020

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I have now been here as Vice-Chancellor for three months, and those three months have flown by. This has probably been the most challenging term in the University’s recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected each and every one of us in many different ways, professionally and personally. As we reach the end of the second national lockdown, I, on behalf of Council and VCEG, wanted to say an enormous ‘Thank You’ for your incredible efforts in keeping the University’s activities going so well and in managing the pandemic at a very local level.

A few weeks ago, the number of COVID-19 cases in the University community was on the increase, particularly across our Exeter campuses. Thanks to the diligence and patience of students and staff across the whole University, we now have very few cases and we have prevented onward transmission to the wider community.

I want to share a quote from Jon-Paul Hedge, Director at Exeter City Council, who recently praised the approach that the University has taken. He said, “It was quite remarkable. The prioritisation of the students, and also the wider community of Exeter, was first and foremost in all their decisions. As a city we owe a great deal. They worked seven days a week, for a significant time, trying to mitigate the impact of this outbreak – ultimately saving lives. The difference between this result for Exeter and other outbreaks that have ended very differently are the specific actions they took – mostly completely unsighted to the wider community they were looking after”.

This is a great testimony to everyone’s hard work and commitment. The work of colleagues and students in Cornwall has had similarly positive feedback from the leadership of Cornwall Council and Devon and Cornwall Police have praised the way in which our students have responded across both counties. It is important to recognise the difference your efforts have made for the health of friends, colleagues and others in our community, all the while working brilliantly to continue to deliver world-class research and face-to-face teaching where possible, which we know is so important.

In the last two weeks we have heard the news about the arrival of new vaccines. This has given an incredible lift for everyone and provides a sign of hope that life in the coming months could slowly return to something more normal.  But now is not the time to drop our guard. The danger to public health and our community is not over, so we ask that you continue to follow the rules, maintain social distancing and good hygiene at all times and if you have COVID-19 symptoms, however mild, request a test from our Rapid Response Hub. If you are a student travelling for the winter break please consider booking a test via our new major testing centres, and ensure you follow any rules surrounding travel.

The Registrar will continue to update you with the information you need to know each week. You can also read previous versions and other information on our COVID-19 web pages. We’re optimistic that the vaccine roll out in 2021 will improve all our lives but until then we must remain vigilant; the health of everyone must always be our top priority. And that includes our mental health too. I have provided below links to a range of wellbeing and welfare support which we have enhanced for students and colleagues.

We should all continue to look out for one another and to think about how we might support our teams and those around us to lighten the workload a little.  Many of you have remarked how effective the simple measure of a “meeting and email light week” was, so we should all consider what else we might do to make small but effective differences.  As you know, I have been asking for feedback and suggestions as to what more we can do to make a difference in the short and longer term and I will talk more about this in the new year. We will shortly be asking staff to complete our wellbeing survey which will also support our planning.

Racial harassment in higher education

Following the release of the report ‘Tackling racial harassment in higher education’, published by Universities UK last week, I published my initial response. The University is committed to working with, and amplifying the voices of, those with lived experience of racism, and our whole community, to ensure that we implement the recommendations of the report in full. We have already taken major steps this year towards our ambition to be an anti-racist institution. These include progress on our submission for the Race Equality Charter, work on inclusive HR practices, BAME leadership development, the appointment of Dr Vrinda Nayak as our first Associate Academic Dean for Racial Equality and Inclusion, the establishment of a student-led anti-racism fund and the launch of our Cultural Competence partnership with Georgetown University. You can find a full update here. But there is much more to do.

I am truly and personally committed to ensuring that our University is as compassionate and inclusive as it can be. I welcome the relationships we have with our colleagues, students, partners, networks and societies who are engaging with us on the equality, diversity and inclusivity journey, and I look forward to being able to evidence the progress we are making in this area. This will certainly be a priority within our new University strategy.

Leaving the European Union

As we approach the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, I would like to take this opportunity to offer my support and reassurance to all of our colleagues and students from EU countries.  The long process since the referendum in 2016 has been a difficult and challenging time for many within our community and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all our EU colleagues and students who are such an important part of the University and the region.

I would like to reassure you that the University is prepared for the impacts that will result from the end of the Brexit transition period, whether the UK leaves the European Union with a deal or without one. We have been working hard to ensure that Brexit has a minimal impact on all areas of University business, including on our colleagues and students.

Should you have any further questions or concerns at this time, please visit our updated FAQs page.  You can also email brexit@exeter.ac.uk.

Next term

You will have seen from the news yesterday that the government has issued its guidance relating to the start of next term. We are working through the detail today and there will an update in the Registrar’s email tomorrow. Our proactive planning means that we are well prepared.

At the start of this message I mentioned that I have now been in Exeter for three months. Today is an important day for me personally as I complete the sale of my house in Leeds, in some ways significantly marking my move to the South West. I already feel very “at home” in Exeter and I want to thank everyone for making me feel welcome and for sharing your thoughts and ideas with me as I have visited departments and met so many of you.  The house move is the final step in the new beginning for me here and I hope the start of an exciting and wonderful journey for us together as a university.

I will write again before the winter break and in the meantime I hope you are all able to make plans for a restful time at the end of the term. Once again, thank you all for all your efforts and let’s keep taking care of ourselves and each other.

With best wishes,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive