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Message from the Vice-Chancellor for staff and students - 8 October 2020

Dear Colleagues and Students,

It is now just over a month since I joined you as Vice-Chancellor, and that period has been dominated by the impact of COVID-19 on all our lives. I have been enormously impressed by the extraordinary hard work and commitment that you have all shown to working as one University community in response to this very difficult and ever-changing challenge.

Firstly, and most importantly, I want to say ‘thank you’ to my colleagues who have just responded in the most exceptional way, whether that’s through cleaning rooms, delivering innovative and engaging educational activities, catering for students, working in our sports facilities, conducting research, supporting enquiry lines and the Here 2 Help team or delivering our rapid testing system. To everyone who has been supporting our students, the University and each other in a hundred different ways, thank you for all you do, it is greatly appreciated and admired.

I also want to acknowledge the humbling efforts that our students have made. I know that this is not the start to the academic year that anyone would have wanted. I know that it is hard for everyone. Many are feeling anxious about where we find ourselves and what is likely to happen next. But the ways in which you have all responded, by understanding and following the guidelines, by looking out for each other and by extending care and respect to all of our communities through your actions, give me great hope that we will be able to come through this trying time together strongly.

Our own testing system has been invaluable over the last few weeks, allowing us to rapidly identify and isolate those that are testing positive to protect our staff, students and the wider community. Over the last week we have expanded our testing capacity still further. Throughout, we have been working constantly with our colleagues in Public Health England (PHE) to understand what the data is telling us.

We have seen a significant increase in the number of positive cases reported in Exeter. PHE has confirmed that the majority of cases are related to student households and halls of residence, and they do not see evidence of transmission to the wider community or within the teaching environment, but inevitably this has further increased concerns amongst our friends and neighbours in the city. We have a direct responsibility to each other and to our communities. By following the rules, by getting tested and self-isolating if we have symptoms, we can keep everyone safe.  If we see, in discussion with PHE, any significant changes in the pattern of transmission, we will of course look again at the measures we have in place.

I am proud of the innovation staff have shown in adapting their teaching and also for continuing to deliver the face-to-face teaching and support that our students have asked us for. I know that some of you have concerns and that the reports of positive cases have heightened these, and the numbers of students self-isolating as a result has made attendance at teaching sessions unpredictable. We are all dealing with challenges that we have never seen before, but we have worked hard to make our teaching rooms and campus spaces safe for colleagues and students.

Direct feedback from students over the last few weeks has told me how positive their experiences of face-to-face and online teaching have been.  It is so important for the mental health, wellbeing and educational experience of all our students. By putting in place, and following, the measures required to bear down on the spread of the infection, we will be able to continue to deliver our blended learning and, in time, to introduce more of the face-to-face teaching that we all want to see.

We are continuing to expand our support for students, working closely with the Students’ Guild and Students’ Union to hear feedback from students and responding quickly to new requests and ideas when we can. Let me remind you that although we are all living with restrictions, there are COVID-secure study spaces and marquees on our campuses, and our cafés and social spaces remain open for use. 

We will keep you updated throughout, so please do make it a priority to read all the emails and other communications we send you. I know that the updates are sometimes lengthy, but the situation is ever-changing and we are committed to keeping you informed. Your feedback is also vitally important to us all as we continue to respond to this situation collaboratively and with our community partners. There are many ways in which you can share your views and suggestions and I encourage you to do so.

In the meantime I want to thank you all once more, for your extraordinary commitment to the University, for the compassion and respect you have shown to our neighbours and for the many ways in which you are looking after each other.

With best wishes,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Exeter