University Executive Board minutes - 14 December 2021



14 December 2021


Professor K Lamberts (KL) (in the Chair), Professor J Derrick (JD), Professor S Fitzmaurice (SF), J Jones (JJ), Professor C Newman (CN), Professor D Petley (DNP), R Sykes (RS), Professor G Valentine (GV), Professor M Vincent (MV), Professor C Watkins (CW)

In attendance:

Dr T Strike (TS), T Wray (TW), I Wright (IW); D Barcroft (DB), L Carlile (LC) and L McCarthy (LM) (item 1); R Gower (RG) (item 3)


Professor J Litster (JL), Professor S Hartley (SH)


D Swinn (DS)

  1. Student Recruitment

    • (DB, LC and LM in attendance for this item)
    • Student Recruitment Update
      • UEB received and noted an update on the latest application figures for 2022 entry, as at 1 December 2021, and an update on the recruitment and marketing activities that were currently underway and planned. With respect to the latter, the operating environment would be kept under review in case changes to planned activities were required as a result of pandemic related guidance and/or legal restrictions.  It was recognised that the recruitment environment remained particularly challenging, with renewed uncertainty around the impact of the pandemic and, in the case of overseas applicant perceptions, the UK’s national response. However, overall, the University’s current position was broadly comparable to the sector and competitor groups and there was reasonable confidence in achieving a strong 2022 registrations position.
    • End of Cycle Report
      • UEB received and noted a report on 2021 student intake, based on registrations as at 7 December 2021, including a summary of institutional activity over the Confirmation, Adjustment and Clearing period. UEB also noted areas of particular success and risks, also taking into account discussions under Minute 1.1, above, and considered the implications for equivalent activities in 2022. The impact of teacher assessed grades and increased A level attainment on home UG recruitment was noted, together with the positive impact of applying expanded WP criteria and proposed broader updates to the University’s contextual admissions policy. It was also noted that there was ongoing uncertainty about the possibility of a post-qualifications admissions system being introduced in future.
  2. Closed Minute and Paper

  3. Report of the Archaeology Implementation Group

    • (RG in attendance for this item)
    • UEB considered a report from the Archaeology Implementation Group, which presented options and related recommendations as to how best to implement Council’s decision to integrate Archaeology with cognate disciplines, identify and invest in areas of strength and not to maintain  a separate academic and administrative unit, whilst fulfilling the University’s commitment to existing students. UEB recognised that this had been a significant, complex piece of work and thanked the members of the Implementation Group for their efforts.
    • UEB noted the previously agreed remit of the Implementation Group and received an overview of the process that the Group had followed and a summary of the insights gained from that process, which were set out in greater detail in the accompanying report. It was noted that, to inform its work, the Group had undertaken extensive engagement with Academic, Technical and Professional staff in Archaeology, including areas for potential investment identified by the Head of Department; held a series of meetings with students, supported by the Students’ Union Officers; held exploratory discussions with cognate academic Departments; toured the relevant facilities; collated research and education data; and considered options for the special collections.  In reviewing the alternative options and making recommendations to UEB, the Implementation Group had taken into account the following key considerations in order to ensure that resultant decisions could be made in the best interests of the University as a whole:
      • To implement the Council decision and address the recommendations of the Archaeology Review that precipitated the decision of Council.
      • To use best endeavours to enable existing students to complete their studies and continue to receive high quality teaching and support throughout as set out in the published Student Protection Plan.
      • To use best endeavours to enable PGR students to complete their studies within their funded period, seeking to minimise unnecessary disruption to their supervision arrangements.
      • To identify areas of strength in Archaeology and to propose options for alignment with another cognate Department or Departments that are mutually beneficial.
      • To make recommendations that support the University Vision and long term interests of the University.
      • To ensure that any future identity for the discipline addresses the challenges identified in the Archaeology review.
    • UEB endorsed the approach as having been sufficiently detailed, robust and transparent, and confirmed that the key considerations were appropriate.
    • As had been reported by the Implementation Group, UEB recognised the need to balance the academic case around the future identity of the discipline, taking into account the views and preferences of individual colleagues and impacted departments, with the need to strategically consider the impact of any changes on the overall performance of the University. Although alignment to another Department or Departments would create new opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and the potential to develop successful programmes, there were a number of related strategic risks to consider, in particular:
      • The risk of negatively impacting the research, education or innovation performance of an existing successful Department.
      • The risk of undermining the strategic plans for development and improvement in another Department.
      • The risk of diverting investment away from areas which would yield greater long term benefits in terms of research, education and innovation.
      • UEB was pleased to note that staff in Archaeology had outlined an academic vision for the future of the discipline at Sheffield, which identified what they consider to be the three areas of disciplinary strength as Cultural and Environmental Heritage, Osteoarchaeology, and Historical Archaeology. UEB agreed that this represented a positive basis for further discussion and iteration, whilst acknowledging that any vision for the future of Archaeology as a discipline should complement, and could be strengthened by, further detailed discussions and consultation with any Department or Departments to which the discipline was aligned in future. With respect to the latter, it was also clarified that no changes to departments’ current titles were envisaged.
      • Additional points were also noted, as follows:
        • UEB affirmed its commitment to investment to support areas of strength and developing new opportunities, with any receiving cognate departments, backed by a persuasive business case for approval by UEB; the next phase of implementation would include work to develop such cases.
        • The establishment of an archaeology network or advisory group would help to ensure the future visibility and cohesion of the discipline without impinging upon existing departmental, Faculty and University decision making authorities.
        • Although raised as a possible destination department during the consultation process, there were insufficient synergies or existing collaborations with the Department of Geography for this to be viable and, where such alignment may be possible, alternative departments offered greater prospects for future success.
        • A draft communications plan had been developed and related staff and student communications had been prepared, to be finalised subject to UEB’s decision and the agreed approach and timeline for informing staff and students.
      • During detailed discussion, UEB critically appraised each of the three options presented in the report and the Implementation Group’s conclusions and rationale for each of them. The following points were noted:
        • Option 1 - merger with another single University Department: Although this was the preference of the majority of Archaeology staff, the relative size of the academic staff body and that of the Department of History meant that this would not be viable, creating an unacceptably high risk of instability and resultant harm to delivery of education and research, and reputation. Furthermore, there were significant barriers to physical integration and co-location that could not be overcome easily or without incurring significant additional costs, without which the chances of any merger being successful would be severely limited in both cultural and structural terms. However, most persuasively, from an academic perspective, History could not offer the intellectual leadership and synergies needed by Osteoarchaeology. In view of the focus on excellence and ambition set out in the University Vision as well as History’s standing as a key area of institutional research excellence, it was agreed that this option should not be pursued.

        • Option 2 - re-alignment of individual academic staff with relevant cognate Departments: While there may be benefits to this approach in terms of closer disciplinary alignment of existing individual academic staff, UEB agreed that such fragmentation could be unduly problematic for the long term sustainability of archaeology as a discipline and would be unduly complex in terms of programme delivery. Although there were potential benefits in terms of new collaborative research opportunities, these were also outweighed by the risk to continued and future potential collaborations between archaeology scholars.

        • Option 3 re-alignment of groups of academic staff with a smaller number of relevant cognate Departments: By dividing academic archaeology staff into two distinct groups, colleagues could be aligned with the optimal department according to areas of strength identified in the review: Cultural Heritage with History, and Osteoarchaeology with Biosciences. UEB considered the alternative departmental alignments which had been proposed by Archaeology staff and also those appraised by the Implementation Group but subsequently discounted. Members were satisfied that the Implementation Group’s rationale for this, and for the proposed alignments with History and Biosciences, were sound.  It was also noted that positive discussions had already taken place with each receiving department, and there was confidence that there were sufficient research synergies with each of them for this approach to succeed. Furthermore, aligning the identified areas of strength in this way offered genuine potential for both receiving departments to further develop and realise significant opportunities. 

          The Implementation Group had recommended this option as representing the greatest practicable level of academic alignment and maximising opportunities for both the discipline of archaeology and receiving cognate departments to thrive. On balance, and with reference to the key considerations that had informed the Implementation Group’s proposals, UEB agreed that the Implementation Group’s arguments were persuasive and that this option was the optimal way in which to retain and develop the discipline of Archaeology at the University in a sustainable manner.  

      • Following detailed discussion, UEB approved the Implementation Group’s recommendation that a separate administrative entity for Archaeology be maintained until end of the 2023/24 academic year and approved the following associated recommendations:

        • The retention of an administrative entity for the discipline of Archaeology until the end of the 2023/24 Academic Year to manage the transition, during which Academic T&R staff would move to either the School of Biosciences or the Department of History. The Implementation Group would consult with individual Academic T&R staff on the most appropriate alignment for them.

        • For this decision to be communicated to staff in Archaeology (and to the proposed destination Departments) at the earliest opportunity to maximise the use of the transitional period.

        • All Academic (T&R) staff would be retained under the proposal; however, any staff not wishing to transfer to the proposed new Department at the end of 2023/24 to be offered the opportunity to leave on VSS terms.

        • Detailed planning to be undertaken to identify the teaching, technical and professional resource requirements in the two destination Departments. A technical operation and facility (including specialist collections) would be maintained and aligned to the School of Biosciences. Detailed proposals for future teaching, technical and professional service structures would be developed during the transition period and subject to consultation if required

        • All existing undergraduate programmes would remain discontinued, and subject to review during the transition period. Recruitment of PGRs and to existing PGT programmes would continue during the transition period. A review of both current and prospective future programmes would be conducted during the transition period using the portfolio review approach.

        • To support the transition, additional investment would be required, subject to business cases, as originally proposed by UEB to Council. Early scoping would be undertaken with staff in Archaeology, the School of Biosciences and Department of History to identify opportunities for investment to support the development of areas of strength and temporarily support additional costs incurred to avoid detriment to existing Departmental budgets.

        • In addition to the detailed transition planning that would take place, further consultation would be undertaken with the History Department to consider how best to mitigate any impact on its successful programme of research and education, with investment and additional support provided if necessary.

        • The specimen collections which were of proven national and international significance should be retained and a clear strategy and management plan for them should be developed for approval by the Implementation Group and the receiving Faculty.

        • An Archaeology academic network or advisory board would be formed to provide strategic oversight of the Archaeology discipline at the University and to develop mechanisms for ongoing collaborations across the University and externally – including overseeing the discipline's continued civic contribution. The Implementation Group will consult with colleagues in Archaeology to develop terms of reference for the network or advisory board for future approval by UEB.

      • Actions:

        • The Implementation Group would take forward the actions identified, working in consultation with staff and students in the Department of Archaeology as well as other relevant stakeholders across the University.

        • Colleagues would be reminded that undergraduate programmes remained discontinued and should not be promoted for further recruitment.

        • The Head of Archaeology would be informed of UEB’s decision prior to staff being told at a departmental meeting on 16 December.

        • The Heads and colleagues in receiving departments would also be informed of the decision to coincide with Archaeology staff being informed.

        • An update could be provided at the UEB-HoDs forum on 20 December (see Minute 7.2, below) if desirable.

        • Archaeology students would be informed of the decision, to coincide with updates to Archaeology staff and those in receiving departments.

        • Archaeology students would have the opportunity to meet with senior leaders in early 2022 to ask questions and have any outstanding concerns addressed.

        • The report of the Implementation Group could be made available to relevant colleagues in the New Year.

        • Colleagues in Partnerships and Regional Engagement would be informed of UEB’s decision in case of any queries from external partners.

  4. Report of the UEB Information Management & Security Group

    • UEB received and approved the report. In particular, Members noted the Group’s support for proposed work packages to meet the aspiration for University accounts to be used for University purposes. UEB also noted the decision for the Data Protection Policy and the IT Code of Practice to be updated to reflect that the University may remove emails from University accounts without notice in order to address data breaches and other potential mitigating actions, such as an increased use of moderation for email distribution lists.
  5. Report of the UEB Student Mental Health Strategy Group

    • UEB received and approved the report, noting that the Group had agreed to revise its remit to encompass both staff and students, with updated terms of reference to be proposed to UEB in early 2022. In the context of a recent letter from the Universities Minister to HEIs encouraging universities to sign up to the Student Mind Mental Health Charter, the University was amongst the first cohort of providers to be going through the accreditation process. In addition, the Group had agreed that the University’s mental health strategy should be aligned with the same four key themes applied in the framework to the Charter. UEB also noted discussions in response to general student concerns around injection spiking, with respect to which the University was working in partnership with Sheffield Hallam following discussions with South Yorkshire Police.
  6. Report of the Incident Management Team: Industrial Action

    • UEB received and noted the report, including an update on the number of staff who had declared participation on each day of strike action between 1-3 December and declarations relating to participation in ASOS. With respect to the latter, the very small number of completed declarations was likely the result of union guidance, which had been found to contain inaccuracies. UEB also discussed the issue of rescheduling teaching that was not delivered during the period of strike action and the University’s policy on deducting pay for partial performance of contractual duties. Ultimately, the key determinant in how this policy was applied would be the impact of action on students’ education, and wider experience. The University would continue to seek to ensure that the impact of any action was mitigated such that students’ learning was not adversely affected.
    • It was reported that Unison had opened two ballots in relation to pay and pensions, which would run until the end of January, and Unite had sought to lodge a dispute over the 2021 pay settlement.
    • UEB agreed that any strike deductions from staff in Professional Services departments would remain in department budgets, which was consistent with the agreed approach for academic departments.
  7. Coronavirus Update

    • It was noted that updated institutional guidance had been shared with staff following the publication of DfE’s latest sector guidance. It was also reported that DfE had approached the University about supporting vaccine delivery, which was under discussion with colleagues including EFM, as well the Director of Public Health Sheffield. DfE had requested a response by the end of 14 December and it was expected that the University would be able offer services from the Octagon, led by the University Health Service, by 17 December provided that the necessary facilities were in place and sufficient numbers of staff were available to manage visitor numbers.
    • Action:
      • A virtual UEB-HoDs forum would be scheduled during the week of 20 December.
  8. Round Table

    • Recruitment Advisory Panel: GV reported that the RAP approval process for new staff posts was no longer necessary, with department budgets having now been finalised. New posts could be created provided that they could be funded from existing department and faculty budgets. Any queries should be directed to GV or JJ.
    • Faculty Directors of One University: GV reported that appointments had been made to posts in four of the five Faculties. The final vacancy and the equivalent Professional Services role would be filled in the New Year with a view to collective meetings with GV commencing towards the start of Semester 2.
    • Staff newsletter: The final newsletter of 2021 would include a message of thanks from KL to staff.

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