Arrangements in the new academic year – a message from the Vice-Chancellor

Email issued: Friday 25 September 2020
From: Internal Communications
Subject: Arrangements in the new academic year – a message from the Vice-Chancellor

Dear colleagues,

I realise that everyone across the University community has been making huge efforts over recent weeks and months to get us to the point where we are able to work in a COVID secure way. I thank you all for everything you have done in such challenging circumstances, whether you work in teaching, research, technical support or professional services.

As you will be aware, the course of the coronavirus pandemic remains of concern, both locally in Leeds and nationally, with evidence of increasing rates of transmission. This week the Government has issued renewed guidance, including encouraging office workers to work from home if they can.

Yesterday the University Executive Group discussed what this means for the University’s response to the pandemic, and particularly our presence on campus.

We are absolutely clear that our number one priority and responsibility is to protect the health and safety of the entire University community. Aligned to this, we want to put our students’ education and experience at the heart of our decision making.

With this in mind, we are evolving our thinking on delivery of face-to-face teaching.

We are quite clear that in some cases, such as laboratory and practice-based teaching or certain disciplines with regulatory requirements, face-to-face remains essential.

However, through being creative and responsive in our approach, we can also provide online teaching that can deliver the same level of learning outcomes for our students, particularly in cases where social distancing requirements put significant restrictions on what can be delivered in a physical space.

So I want to clarify that where it is safe, practicable, and pedagogically advantageous or necessary, teaching should be delivered face-to-face, rather than online.

However, in instances where those criteria cannot be met, we would recommend that you move your teaching online.

In many cases this will not change how you deliver your teaching because it will already be online, and we expect face-to-face practice, laboratory and small classes to continue as planned.  I am clear that we need to trust our academic community to make the ultimate decisions about how to deliver the best possible learning outcomes for their students, drawing on their professional knowledge and expertise, obviously reaching agreement at school level through established processes.

The one request I do make is that we all need to be mindful of the welfare of our students who, as we all do, thrive on social interaction. I have been talking in recent days to Leeds University Union and am really impressed by the steps they have put in place to support face-to-face engagement in clubs and societies for students this year. I am confident that we can apply the same creativity and ingenuity to educational settings, whether that be through enhanced or more frequent group activities that encourage a sense of belonging to our University community, or through creative use of shared study space.

For our research community the position continues to be that you can work on campus where necessary, subject to the established protocols now in place.

And our general principle for all staff continues to be that colleagues will continue to work from home except where it is necessary for you to be on campus to deliver or support research, student education or the student experience. In those cases we will ensure you can do so safely, and for those of you continuing to work from home, we do understand that this may continue to be very challenging for you, both personally and professionally.

These are unprecedented and exceptional circumstances. By working together as a community, being sensitive to each other’s concerns and needs, and following the rules that are there for our collective safety, I am confident we can come through this in the best possible shape.

To help support this, I and other senior colleagues are holding a series of ‘town hall’ meetings in the coming weeks. These are filling up fast, but I hope as many of you as possible can attend so that we can address some of the questions you will undoubtedly have about how we can best deliver an exceptional experience for everybody in the current circumstances.

With best wishes,

Simone

Simone Buitendijk

Vice-Chancellor