University Executive Board minutes - 13 October 2020



13 October 2020


Professor K Lamberts (KL) (in the Chair)

Professor J Derrick (JD), Professor S Fitzmaurice (SF), Professor S Hartley (SH), Professor M Hounslow (MJH), Ms H Fraser-Krauss (HFK), Ms J Jones (JJ), Professor C Newman (CN), Professor D Petley (DNP), Mr R Sykes (RS) (items 2-6), Professor G Valentine (GV), Professor M Vincent (MV), Professor C Watkins (CW)

In attendance:

Dr T Strike (TS); Mr I Wright (IW); the Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers: Ms B Eyre (BE), Mr J Weir (JW), Ms L Grimshaw (LG), Mr I Montenegro (IM), Mr Joel Kirk (JK), Ms E Lynas (EL), Mr M Graves (MG), Ms H Ellis (HE) (item 1); Dr M Butler (MB) (Item 4)




Mr David T Swinn (DTS)/Mr Nick Button (NB)

  1. Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers: Goals for 2020-21

    • (The SU Sabbatical Officers in attendance for this item)
    • UEB received a presentation from the Student’s Union Sabbatical Officers, in which they set out their collective and individual objectives for 2020-21. Attention was drawn to the team’s overall focus on mitigating the impact of Covid-19; promoting anti-racist campus; sustainability; physical and mental wellbeing; and ensuring that the SU was accessible and attractive to all students. Each of the individual SU Officers presented their specific objectives and priorities for the year, in the context of the team’s key areas of focus, and including details on how these would be achieved and actions that were already in hand.
    • UEB welcomed the level of ambition shown, and the number of areas that aligned with the University Vision and Strategy, especially sustainability, wellbeing and inclusivity. This provided a coherent context within which both the University and SU could consider actions to meet the anticipated challenges during 2020-21 and beyond.
  2. OfS call for evidence on Digital Learning and Teaching

    • UEB considered the draft institutional response to the OfS’ call for evidence and welcomed the approach adopted. UEB approved the draft response, subject to additional points raised.
  3. Coronavirus Update

    • General Update
      • UEB discussed the implications of the Government’s announcements on 12 October and the introduction of a national local restriction system with a three tier system of classifications, with varying levels of restrictions. The City of Sheffield had been placed in Level 2 (high). In the context of this discussion UEB received and noted updates from the Major Incident Team and an update from the Return to Campus Group, considered updates and feedback from Faculty Vice-Presidents and discussed a proposed approach to communications in relation to the new national levels and the separate DfE university teaching tiers.
      • Separately the DfE had introduced a four level system of tiers of restriction for teaching, which did not correlate with the national three tier system for local restrictions. It was noted that the University was currently at tier 2 of the tiers of restriction in place for teaching provision, and UEB considered its approach to reviewing and deciding if, and when, to move between these DfE tiers. KL was due to meet the Director of Public Health on 14 October. Members also noted trade union representations around face to face teaching provision. There remained strong student and other staff support for continuing to provide face to face activities on campus as well as on-line.
      • During discussion, the following points were noted:
        • There was no evidence that face to face teaching was driving the infection rate, which had been emphasised by the Director of Public Health. No new staff cases had been reported since the weekend.
        • The SAGE guidance from 21 September that was being widely reported, having been released on 12 October, pre-dated the resumption of university teaching. It was vital to distinguish student households from in-person educational delivery, unless the evidence changed and a situation arose where Public Health guidance required further institutional action as part of wider efforts to control the R-number.
        • There were legal, regulatory and financial risks in the University moving to a DfE tier that was more restrictive than required in the light of the national level tier restrictions for Sheffield abd local Public Health advice.
        • Students and a significant number of staff sought and remained supportive of face to face teaching and accepted that rising infections were largely due to social contact. Responses to the latest staff survey were also noted.
        • The University’s approach would continue to be informed by Government and Public Health guidance and scientific evidence, ensuring all reasonable steps to safeguard staff and students’ health, safety and welfare.
        • Departments would be asked to recognise the importance of students’ wellbeing, the impact of restrictions on students’ educational and broader experience and the University’s obligations to provide an educational experience to its students.
        • A range of approaches had been adopted across the sector, partly due to differences in the national tiers and in the nature of engagement and interactions with local Public Health officials. A number of institutions had moved to DfE teaching tier 3, including Sheffield Hallam, although based in an area at national level 2. It was important to note that universities had discretion to decide how teaching would be delivered, including the proportion of face to face, in the different DfE tiers. It would be challenging for local Public Health officials and/or the University to communicate the different tier systems and different local responses in a way that was easily understandable outside HE.
        • The University’s intended approach to teaching tiers involved a significant role for faculties, given disciplinary differences and the need to focus on different groups or types of students. For example, essential teaching could reasonably include skills training and practice based activities, including those using performance and studio spaces as well as laboratories.
        • Prematurely moving the University to DfE tier 3 for teaching created risks to student wellbeing and education. Such an early move may also create future challenges in responding to further regional and national developments.
        • In the event that the University did decide to move to DfE teaching tier 3, faculties, particularly those with significant PGT populations, would need to be able to articulate what that would mean for face to face teaching in their respective disciplines, and the University would need to be able to communicate that externally.
        • The particular circumstances of AMRC-TC were noted and they should be treated separately from the University’s HE provision.
        • The meeting of Senate on 14 October would include an item on arrangements for the return to on campus activities.
        • There would need to be regular, up to weekly, reviews of face to face teaching and the University’s teaching tiers, which should be clearly communicated to staff to ensure awareness and understanding.
      • UEB agreed that the introduction of national levels of restrictions represented a trigger point for further reflection. However, the University required further clarification about the SAGE advice and needed to engage further with Public Health England before reaching a fully informed decision. In due course, communications should emphasise the flexibility of the teaching tiers in their ability to respond to changing circumstances so that staff and students appreciated that the position was and would continue to be monitored and kept under constant review.
      • Actions:
        • Working with the Russell Group and UUK, the University should press for clarification about the nature of the 21 September SAGE guidance, and the rationale for it.
        • The University should seek clarity from the Director of Public Health to inform its decisions and internal and external communications.
        • UEB would meet at 10am on 14 October to consider the question of teaching tiers further, in light of the clarification sought at 3.1.4 (a) and (b), above.

A global reputation

Sheffield is a research university with a global reputation for excellence. We're a member of the Russell Group: one of the 24 leading UK universities for research and teaching.