Joint Message to Academics from Provost, DVCs and Director of HR regarding Workload Planning Principles

July 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Following discussions with Heads of Department, PVCs, Colleges and Executive Groups and Senate, we are writing to provide you with further information on the principles that will underpin academic workload planning in the 2020/21 academic year.

Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in March, staff have made tremendous efforts to sustain research projects and successfully deliver online education, assessments and feedback in extremely challenging circumstances. Many colleagues are combining education and research commitments with childcare, home schooling and other caring responsibilities. And many have been personally affected by the pandemic; some may need to continue shielding according to current NHS guidance.

Our students, governing body and the Senior Management Team are all extremely grateful for the exceptional commitment, resilience and goodwill demonstrated by staff. We do not underestimate either the work already done or the size of the challenge ahead of us, in terms of supporting the wellbeing of our colleagues while delivering our priorities for next academic year – in particular, the mission-critical Project Enhance and REF submission.

Over the last few weeks we have had extensive discussions with College Executive Groups, focused on how we can assist colleagues involved in the allocation of tasks and responsibilities. We have looked at how we can prioritise the wellbeing of our staff and deliver the aims of our Education, Research and Global Strategies in what we know will be an academic year like no other. Heads of Department, reporting to their College Executives, are pivotal in allocating and prioritising workload. This policy is intended as part of a series of guidance currently in development, addressing important topics including the re-opening of our campuses, and health, welfare and safety advice.

We encourage you to read this Guidance in full. It has been developed in consultation with all key stakeholders. We are grateful to UCU representatives for their important contributions (including through their membership of the Workload Planning Steering Group, the Exeter Academic Steering Group and the Staff and Students’ Experience and Wellbeing Group) and, while we understand that they have some further questions, we will continue to engage with them during the new academic year to address these.

This guidance has been prepared knowing that 2020/21 will be a year unparalleled in our experience, in which we will need to redirect effort and adjust workload policies to prioritise delivery of Project Enhance and our essential research commitments in the short term. To facilitate Project Enhance we are making significant investment in supporting departments, including securing 164 additional Full Time Equivalent (FTE) posts - from Graduate Business Partners to Lecturers - to assist colleagues to design and build digital resources to support their programmes and modules. Professional Services staff will be also be reprioritising their time to support both the delivery of Project Enhance and our academic community.

However, we will be required to make some difficult decisions to support Project Enhance. For example, research time currently funded by the University will not be able to be provided at the same level during the next academic year as in the past, and will vary across staff, according to Departmental and College need. Some elements of administrative support usually undertaken by academic staff may need to be reduced, postponed or cancelled. Principles regarding research prioritisation have been developed by the Research and Impact Executive Group and the Research Core Business Response Group.

We recognise that resources to support asynchronous learning designed and built in Project Enhance will require a major investment of time and effort in 2020/21. However, this is an investment that should have value for more than one year and will not need to be repeated at the same level in 2021/22. We are also adjusting workload allocations to recognise an increase in time requirements for blended portfolio delivery in the context of Covid-19. We commit to learning with you and our students through the academic year ahead about the costs and affordances of blended delivery supported by rich digital resources and our evaluation of these will inform our approach to portfolio delivery in 2021/22.

At all times we will retain our fundamental commitment to supporting staff and will recognise the highly variable impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic, and the workload associated with Project Enhance, Project Restart and readiness for REF across our staff community. We commit to transparency and to ensuring that individual staff members experience no detriment to their career prospects as a result of Covid-19 impacting on their ability to undertake their usual workload. Continuing Equality Impact Assessment in relation to workload will be essential.

It is also important to stress that no single approach to workload planning will work across the institution; therefore, agency and flexibility of departments and Heads is central to this guidance. In making future decisions concerning confirmation in post and promotion, we will take careful account of the time available to colleagues and the division of that time between research and education in 2020/21 alongside our evaluation of the quality of work in research and education.

We recognise the challenges we are all facing, and we sincerely hope that this guidance is helpful to you. We encourage you to discuss within your departments and with your Head of Department. Thank you once again for your ongoing commitment to the University and our students.

Best wishes,

Janice, Tim, Neil, Mark, Imelda