Adjusting for the Differential Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic

Recognising that the pandemic has had an impact on us all, with differential effects, we want to continue to support colleagues to succeed in their careers and to be able to make a positive contribution to the future of the University. To this end, we will apply the following principles and actions when probation and promotion decisions are made over the next two years.  We regard the principles and actions that we have set out here as part of a ‘live’ agenda: as we understand more about how the consequences of the pandemic will unfold for all of us, we will add to and review at regular intervals what we have set out here. 

Guidance agreed 15 January 2021

Recorded guidance available as part of College Promotions Workshops April 2021

  1. Our approach will be flexible, recognising that a “one size fits all” solution is not appropriate, as the pandemic has impacted colleagues in many different ways (depending, for example, on their discipline, specific research, personal circumstances and stage of career).
  2. We will continue to expect our usual high standards in pursuit of quality and excellence, even if the volume, scope and range of activity may have changed as a consequence of the pandemic.
  3. We will continue to apply this consistent and flexible approach over 2020-21 and the following 2 academic years, recognising that some of the impacts are likely to be experienced even after the pandemic is under control; we will also monitor potential longer term impacts.
  4. We will seek to maintain fairness for those promoted in the past and those coming after and ensure that the same quality thresholds are upheld.
  5. We will take account of best research, information and practice into the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on staff with specific protected characteristics to ensure our decisions are in line with our commitment to equality of opportunity for all.

To implement these principles, we are taking the following steps, with immediate effect. We will:

  1. Give credit for academic colleagues’ contribution to the University’s response to meeting student needs (and those of the wider community such as the NHS) during the pandemic - in particular for the development and implementation of Project Enhance and Project Restart – and ensure that colleagues’ contribution to the University’s response to the pandemic will be credited as part of a balanced portfolio of evidence and achievement.
  2. Prompt colleagues (through their probation review, PDR, the promotion process and the Professorial Salary Review) to include the full breadth of their academic contribution, including academic citizenship, in their portfolio of achievements.
  3. Amend probation, promotion, Performance and Development Review (PDR) and Professorial Salary Review forms to provide opportunity for colleagues to state how their plans and achievements changed as a consequence of Covid-19 and record their contribution to the efforts of the University during this time. We recognise that colleagues will not always find this easy to do and we will encourage support to enable them to feel comfortable doing this.
  4. Recognise the roles and responsibilities of academic leaders in Departments and Colleges to provide feedback to colleagues, advice on promotion and the assessment of applications.  Prior to review of probation and promotion applications, we will provide written guidance and training to academic leaders on differential impacts of the pandemic on colleagues’ normal working arrangements. Similar guidance and training will also be provided to academic managers who contribute to decisions at University level. Guidance will also be provided to external referees.
  5. Facilitate promotion workshops to provide support to colleagues preparing to make an application for promotion, including how to articulate effectively the impact on the pandemic on their work and how personally to assess the quality and status of their application.
  6. Encourage academic leaders and academic colleagues to consider and to record impact in-year (for example through the Performance and Development Review) and to provide support and to make appropriate adjustments where possible, as part of mutually agreed goals.
  7. Continue to monitor the equality impact of the pandemic on academic career development.
  8. Publish data on the number of probations approved or not approved and “real life” case studies of where a flexible, balanced portfolio approach has been taken at probation and promotion, creating opportunity to flag any concerns that are identified.
  9. Assess probation based on what has been realistically achievable in the periods which have been affected by the pandemic. Academic probations will not normally be extended solely as a consequence of the pandemic limiting colleagues’ ability to undertake and demonstrate competence in the full range of expected duties.
  10. Regularly review and monitor the effectiveness of these actions through 2021 and make amendments as necessary.

Sent to Academic Colleagues on 18th January 2021

Dear Colleagues,

Today I am writing to update you on measures which the University is taking to ensure as far as possible that your career progression is minimally affected by changes to your normal working arrangements that may have been necessary as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. This message is for our academic community; rest assured that Mike Shore-Nye and his senior team are looking at actions necessary for our Professional Service colleagues.

First, I would like to thank you for everything you have been doing.  We recognise that 2020 has been a challenging year and that 2021 has started in even more challenging ways, with a third lockdown period.  Your academic plans are likely to have been revised to support the vital work of Project Enhance or Project Restart and for many of you it has been difficult to access research facilities and resources. We know that you have been working at pace, often in very different ways from other years.

We appreciate that you will be concerned about how changes in work priorities may affect reviews of academic performance, including probation, current promotion, and future promotion, decisions and Professorial Salary Reviews.

I can assure you that the University is committed to ensuring that no member of staff should experience disadvantage to their career prospects as a result of Covid-19 affecting their ability to undertake their usual workload. We also recognise that impacts of the pandemic across the community on workload are highly variable according to personal circumstances (whether shielding, caring, supporting children’s education and mental and/or physical ill-health of yourself and others you care for), and we know that nationally Covid has affected communities in different ways (e.g BAME communities, certain age groups and those on low incomes) and we do not want these impacts to undermine colleagues' career opportunities.

Through extensive discussion with senior leaders across Colleges and the University and with UCU, we have arrived at 5 principles and 10 actions which we will apply to reviews of academic performance, including assessing probation and promotion decisions, over 2020-21 and the following 2 years recognising that some of the impacts will have longer lasting effect, even after the pandemic is under control.  We regard the principles and actions that we have set out here as part of a ‘live’ agenda: as we understand more about how the consequences of the pandemic will unfold for all of us, we will add to and review at regular intervals what we have set out here.  For more information, see the Exeter Academic webpages

Over the remainder of this academic year, I would encourage you to speak to your Academic Lead or manager about how your academic plans may have changed in response to the pandemic and to consider what support and adjustments may be necessary to support your development in the immediate years ahead. I also urge you to share with them and celebrate what you’ve achieved this year - whether that be for your commitment to education and student support in very difficult circumstances, or for new research opportunities that might have come about because of or in spite of the pandemic, or for helping the University restart safely.  We will ensure that there will be an opportunity for you to contextualise submissions for probation and promotion in the associated documentation, in your discussion with leads, and in completing your Performance Development Review.

Finally, I want to thank you for your continued contribution to providing such a high-quality student experience for our students over the past year, for keeping our research activities going, and for your help in building a strong community as we respond to the pandemic.

Yours faithfully

Professor Janice Kay