University Executive Board minutes - 23 February 2021



23 February 2021


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

In attendance:

Dr T Strike (TS); Mrs T Wray (TW); Mr I Wright (IW)




Mr D T Swinn/Ms K Sullivan

  1. Covid-19: Reflections on the Government review of lockdown on 22 February

    • UEB discussed the implications of the Government’s announcement of a roadmap for easing and ultimately ending restrictions resulting from the pandemic, and considered the University’s response. Members also noted an update from the Incident Management Team, which predated the Government announcement. During discussion on a range of issues, below, Members were pleased to note the continued positive and constructive relationship between the University and the Students’ Union.
      • Resumption of face-to-face teaching and access to campus: Face-to-face teaching for practice-based elements of programmes could resume from 8 March in line with the Government guidance. The University should adopt a consistent process for departments and faculties to consider which elements of provision could and should be delivered face-to-face, with variation based on pedagogical considerations by discipline. Local planning and action would need to supported and overseen by Faculty leadership teams.
        It was noted that there had been significant numbers of students on campus and using permitted facilities whilst no face-to-face teaching was taking place and it was important that students could continue to do so, in line with the guidance. There were also additional opportunities to complement face-to-face and online teaching, contribute to the achievement of learning outcomes and to enhance the student experience, e.g. peer-led study sessions and additional support. There might also be scope to offer some provision in Semester 1 of 2021/22 rather than Semester 2 in the current academic year; the findings of a review of compliance with consumer law, as required by the OfS and which would report to Council in April, may be relevant. Clarification was also provided about the efficacy of the University’s complaints procedures, which had been updated on the basis of legal advice during 2019-20 and were felt to be robust and appropriate.
      • Term dates: It was noted that Council had approved a recommendation from the Senate to delegate authority to KL to make changes to the dates of Semesters should it be necessary to facilitate any additional teaching. UEB noted the various approaches taken across the sector and that there were not presently any specific departmental concern about delivering learning and teaching to the current Semester dates. UEB agreed to return to the question in due course if required, together with any further consideration about extending the teaching day.
      • International Students and Travel: It was noted that there would be a significant number of international students who were unable to return to the UK due to ongoing travel restrictions, although the number of students located in or needing to travel through ‘Red List’ countries was relatively small.
      • University Accommodation: As noted previously, students’ liability for the payment of rent was part of their accommodation contract and, therefore, separate from the payment tuition fees. UEB noted both the adverse financial impact to the University of its previous decisions not to charge rent to students who were not using their University-owned accommodation and the indicative costs of any further rebates on the basis of current modelling of returning students. UEB agreed to continue to apply the principle that rent would only be charged to students in University accommodation who were in occupancy. It was recognised that commuting from a home address for the purposes of education would breach the current Covid restrictions, which also stated that students in Sheffield should not travel home at present.
      • Health and Safety and Testing: The majority of guidance relating to estates had not changed under the latest announcements. Nevertheless, Health & Safety and EFM colleagues were undertaking a detailed review before meeting to consider any implications, e.g. with respect to risk assessments. It was noted that the full range of protective and preventative measures remained in place and would continue. There was no evidence of viral transmission due to faceto-face teaching and both public health officials and the HSE were supportive of the University’s approach. Guidance about testing may need to be reviewed and refreshed in view of the latest announcements.
      • Student Communications: With respect to students currently located elsewhere in the UK or overseas, consistent central communications should be provided to departments to issue to affected students, including advice on travel and any additional action required. These communications should also be clear as to what students on particular programmes or subjects would receive in terms of face-to-face provision and the reasons for this, i.e. pedagogy. Furthermore, it would be useful to include an explanation of the process for deciding which groups would be offered face-to-face provision and an assumption that they would do so unless individual circumstances prevented them from doing so. It was recognised that certain subjects and programmes were subject to specific PSRB and regulatory requirements that needed to be satisfied. Communications would also include a reminder to students about the current rules around travelling to and from campus and home.
      • Staff Communications: UEB noted the importance of clear and timely communications to staff. Although UCU maintained its position that all teaching should be delivered online for the remainder of the academic year, not only did this exceed the limits of current national guidance and restrictions but was inconsistent with messages from colleagues during KL’s departmental visits, which indicated a strong desire to resume physical teaching when possible. Communications should also emphasise the ongoing safety measures in place and the absence of any evidence that face-to-face teaching increased the risk of transmission.
    • Actions:
      • Initial communications to staff and students would be circulated on 23 February, with more detailed information and guidance to follow, including that targeted for specific groups, e.g. PGR students.
      • The need for any changes to Semester dates and the teaching day would be monitored.
      • IMT would discuss messaging about opportunities and expectations for students and staff returning to campus to undertake Covid testing.
      • Although the number of student complaints received this year was broadly comparable with 2019-20, UEB would receive regular updates future in order to identify any trends or matters of concern.
      • The overall institutional approach would continue to be monitored, and would be reviewed in greater detail when the Government issued further guidance about the lifting of restrictions.

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