University Executive Board minutes - 5 January 2021
5 January 2021
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), Professor C Newman (CN), Professor D Petley (DNP), Mr R Sykes (RS), Professor G Valentine (GV), Professor M Vincent (MV), Professor C Watkins (CW)
Ms J Jones (JJ), Mr I Wright (IW)
Mr D T Swinn (DTS)
- UEB discussed the latest developments resulting from the ongoing pandemic, in particular the institutional implications of the new national lockdown, which had been announced on 4 January, as well as letters from the Universities Minister on 30 and 31 December. As part of these discussions, UEB considered a paper containing proposals for the continuation of learning and teaching, and a number of related considerations.
- Learning and Teaching: The key impact of the new lockdown was that teaching in Semester 2 would now commence wholly online for all non-practice based components, with the exception of certain specified courses. DfE was expected to publish a definitive list of exempt courses on 5 January. The University was planning for increased face to face teaching provision later in the session but this was dependent on future changes to government guidance or regulations. UEB noted the level of activity at departmental level and differential approaches to providing virtual learning, and the importance of consistent, accurate and appropriate communications with students.
- Research, including PGR students: There was very little new government guidance in relation to research activities. Therefore, further consideration was required as to how these activities should be managed during the new lockdown. The majority of research staff were unable to work from home due to the requirements of their roles, which the University had demonstrated could be undertaken safely with minimal risk of on campus viral transmission, and the closure of laboratories would also have a significant adverse impact on research activities. It was reported that there was support in the sector for considering PGRs as employees, which would be beneficial, but that there would be no additional financial support from UKRI for PGR extensions. With respect to communications, it was important to distinguish between taught and research students, and the practice of targeted communications for PGRs should continue. The expectation was that PGR students would travel to Sheffield and attend in person where this was necessary for their research. Research staff would be expected to be on campus if the nature of their role required it. 1.4
- Academic year 2020-21: UEB considered the implications of the new lockdown for the teaching day and semester dates for the remainder of 2020-21. Options for increasing capacity included extending the teaching day, noting that this had been available to departments throughout the year but had only been adopted by one department; reducing the Easter break; and extending the end of Semester 2 further into the summer, which may have further implications for students in private rented accommodation. UEB recognised that each option had implications for both staff and students. In order to inform a decision on how to proceed, departments would need to provide information about which option, or options, they might need in order to accommodate teaching. UEB agreed in principle to implement changes to the teaching day and semester dates, subject to further information from departments, which would be coordinated by FDLTs with the support of FVPs, and including the AMRC-TC. Council would need to formally approve changes to the existing semester dates, on the recommendation of Senate.
- Student Recruitment and Admissions: It was reported that the University was receiving large numbers of queries from international students. The University needed to review the nature of its advice to students, particularly international students, about travel and teaching provision in light of the changed circumstances. Careful communications would be required to emphasise that the approach to teaching would focus on ensuring that learning outcomes were delivered. A further challenge was establishing whether international students who had registered for 2020-21 were located in Sheffield at present; the position was likely to be mixed across most courses. It was also noted that the longer restrictions on face to face provision and wider uncertainty persisted, the greater the risk to student recruitment for 2021 entry.
- Staff: UEB considered the impact of lockdown on staff, some of whom would be shielding and/or have caring responsibilities. It was noted that staff with teaching responsibilities were considered essential workers and could continue to send their children to school if they chose to, subject to schools’ capacity, whether they were working from home or on campus. Existing management guidance emphasised the need for flexibility and support for staff in performing their role as far as this was practicable. Further communications with staff would seek to clarify the limited circumstances in which the University could access the Job Retention Scheme for staff with caring responsibilities. It was noted that a number of students would be experiencing similar challenges, due to shielding or caring responsibilities.
- Testing: UEB discussed the operation of the Testing Centre, including the possibility of offering testing to staff working on campus and of continuing to operate the centre for the foreseeable future. Further staff communications would include reference to staff access to testing. It was noted that UEB had received by email an update from the Incident Management Team on 18 December, and had approved IMT’s proposal to offer support to Sheffield schools in setting up testing arrangements, working with the Sheffield City Council Director of Public Health, and had endorsed a decision to disband the On Campus Activity Group from January 2021.
- Finance: UEB had previously identified significant risks to tuition fee income as a result of the impact of the pandemic, and the latest lockdown restrictions increased these risks further. In particular, Members noted a recent decision by the OIA and recognised the importance of ensuring that any risks of tuition fee reclaims were mitigated appropriately, and that every effort was made to ensure student registration and retention.
- Student Accommodation: UEB noted activity across the sector over the Christmas period with respect to students arguing against paying rent for their accommodation and the risk of “rent strikes”. Although rent payments were a contractual obligation, the related paper set out a series of options for how the University might approach the issue. The potential adverse impact on income was noted in a number of possible scenarios, in the context of the agreed overall contingency funding in the existing budget. Following discussion, UEB agreed to apply the principle adopted before Christmas, whereby students in University-owned accommodation would not be charged if they were not using their accommodation as a result of government restrictions and guidance. It was recognised that there were practical challenges in implementing this system, and establishing whether students were using their accommodation or not, to be addressed in liaison with Accommodation and Commercial Services.
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