University Executive Board minutes - 30 November 2021



30 November 2021


Professor K Lamberts (KL) (in the Chair), Professor J Derrick (JD), Professor S Fitzmaurice (SF), Professor S Hartley (SH), J Jones (JJ), Professor J Litster (JL), 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), V Jackson (VJ) (item 1), R Gower (RG) (item 2)


Professor C Newman (CN)


D Swinn (DS)

  1. Closed Minute and Paper

  2. Proposed Staff Code of Conduct

    • (RG in attendance for this item)

    • UEB considered a draft staff Code of Conduct which had been developed in response to feedback from staff and students during consultation over the University Vision. The Code, an element of the One University action plan, was intended to complement expectations around performance set out in other areas by articulating clearly the expected standards of behaviour and professional conduct for all members of University staff. The contents were also informed by further consultation with key stakeholder groups.

    • UEB welcomed the draft Code as a positive development, recognising that the provisions would need to address a number of potentially sensitive aspects in a careful, nuanced and accessible way. It was noted that the HE Freedom of Speech Bill was currently at the Report stage and it may be necessary to review the contents of the Code to reflect the legal position if the legislation was passed. Members also discussed how potential related reputational risks could be mitigated.

    • Following discussion, UEB agreed the contents of the draft policy subject to addressing points noted in discussion and follow up actions and agreed to release the updated draft Code for consultation with stakeholder groups identified in the related paper.

  3. Concordat to support the career development of researchers – Proposed Action Plan 2020-2025

    • UEB discussed a proposed action plan for the period to 2025 that was intended to deliver on the University’s obligations as a signatory to the Concordat. It was noted that the action plan was a requirement of the Concordat and would operate as a living document, which mapped actions to three core Concordat obligations: environment and culture, employment, and professional and career development. This work was led by the Early Career Researcher Committee, in conjunction with Research Services and HR, and had been endorsed by the Senate Research and Innovation Committee.

    • Following discussion, in which UEB welcomed the action plan as a positive and extensive piece of work in relation to a key area of strategic importance, UEB approved the action plan but suggested further enhancements as noted below.

    • Actions:

      • The use of a “MoSCoW” analysis to highlight priority actions and distinguish between actions required under the Concordat and additional, aspirational internal activities.
      • In due course, the action plan could be used to build a narrative to ensure that it was accessible for colleagues.
      • In due course, the new Faculty Directors of One University should be engaged to ensure that actions were aligned through existing structures; consideration would be given to elements that also related to other Pillars.
      • The action plan would be presented to Senate on 8 December through the report of the Research and Innovation Committee.
  4. Industrial Action

    • Report from the Incident Management Team               
      • UEB received and noted the report, in particular work to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of complaints-handling processes that built on the approach followed during previous industrial action but reflected the latest regulatory guidance.
    • General Update
      • UEB received an update following a recent meeting with the local UCU branch executive to discuss potential local actions to settle the dispute. It was reported that the local branch had shared guidance for its members. The University had also issued guidance for managers to clarify the expectations on staff to reschedule teaching activities affected by strike action and with respect to colleagues declaring action short of a strike, in order to identify areas of particular pressure or concern. Clarification had been provided to FDOs about the agreed approach to staff undertaking action short of a strike who had duties at Saturday Open Days. It was reported that at least one departmental UCU representative had issued advice to colleagues based on the previous industrial action which was inaccurate, particularly in relation to the current regulatory position, and remedial action had been taken as a result.
      • UEB also noted positive discussions with the local branch regarding picketing protocols and contact points for colleagues with concerns. The University had requested that there be no picket at 301 due to its principal use in supporting students. The Students’ Union had agreed to adopt a neutral position in the dispute, although some SU Officers were planning to attend the protest in a personal capacity.
      • With respect to the local dispute, in which UCU had obtained a mandate for action with a similar turnout and support as the national dispute, the union had resolved to attempt to meet with management and seek a resolution before Christmas, without which it would seek further action and/or a further mandate for action in the summer by way of a marking and assessment boycott.
      • Actions:
        • The University would respond positively to the request for a further meeting in relation to the local dispute, noting that the Implementation Group was working to finalise its recommendations to UEB. A draft response would be prepared and KL, GV, SF and the Deputy Director of HR would attend the meeting.
        • FVPs would ensure HoDs remained alert to any incorrect local guidance from UCU and respond accordingly. The matter would also be raised with JUCC.
  5. Omicron International Travel Restrictions and Updated DfE Guidance

    • UEB discussed the impact on institutional policy of changes in rules around international travel in response to the identification of the new Omicron Covid variant, and actions that may be required as a result. At its previous meeting, UEB had agreed to maintain the University’s existing expectation for overseas students that they would travel to Sheffield for teaching in-person from the start of Semester 2, with exemptions for students subject to travel restrictions or ill health. This position remained compatible with current national and sector guidance. However, given the emergence of the Omicron variant, government policy and related media coverage UEB considered alternative options for further communication with students, noting the need to be proactive and provide as much clarity as possible.
    • Members discussed the relative benefits and drawbacks of each option, the impact on students, the numbers of students and the particular disciplines or courses potentially affected, also reflecting on the current positions of others in the sector. It was reported that there had been increased and developing use of petitions from Chinese students to a number of institutions, including an unknown number of Sheffield students. The cancellation of a significant number of flights by major airlines on key entry routes into the UK was a further complicating factor. UEB noted that, although students would be excluded from any travel ban from countries added to the UK’s red list, these students would remain subject to UK quarantine and testing requirements, which would place added pressure on Covid contingency fund given the institutional commitment to meet these costs. UKVI visa concessions would also require students to have arrived in the UK by 6 April 2022 in order to be eligible to apply for a post-study work visa.  All new arrivals into the UK would need to book a PCR test and self-isolate regardless of the country of departure.
    • UEB agreed to maintain its current position for the time being. However, to reflect the impact that additional travel restrictions may have on overseas domiciled students, communications would make clear that the University would make alternative provision for students who were unable to travel to the UK for the start of semester two due to locally-enforced travel restrictions. Furthermore, the University would continue to review this approach and communicate further if a material change was required.
    • UEB also discussed updated DfE guidance to the HE sector that had been published on 29 November and applied the same principles as for schools and FE colleges. The guidance, which had been considered at the previous IMT meeting, recommended the wearing of face coverings in an increased number of settings, without making this a formal requirement, which risked creating uncertainty and confusion and made enforcement particularly challenging. Individual providers were given discretion as to whether to require the use of face coverings in teaching and laboratory spaces. It was also noted that anyone testing positive for the Omicron variant would need to self-isolate for ten days regardless of their vaccination status. The Russell Group was engaging with DfE to share its concerns around the ambiguity and resultant uncertainty of key aspects of the new guidance, which would be reviewed in the context of the next government review in three weeks’ time.
    • Actions:
      • Updated draft communications to overseas students would be further reviewed before being issued as soon as possible.
      • Feedback about the University’s application of the new DfE guidance would be sought from the Director of Public Health Sheffield.
      • Staff and student communications to explain the new DfE guidance would be circulated.
  6. Report of the UEB Health and Safety Committee

    • UEB approved the report, including the Group’s terms of reference and membership, the October 2021 Health and Safety Report, and new Health Surveillance and Risk Assessment Policies. Members also noted updates on the Group’s recent activities, as set out in the report.
    • Actions:
      • The Director of Health and Safety would be thanked for his efforts in his relatively short time in post to date.
      • References to senior leaders in the two approved policies should also include UEB-HoDs.
  7. Report of the UEB IT Sub-Group

    • UEB approved the report, including the Group’s terms of reference and membership, noting updates on the Group’s recent activities, as set out in the report.
  8. Round Table

    • UUK: KL reported that Alistair Jarvis would be leaving his role as Chief Executive in June 2022 to take up a position with the University of London.
    • Information Security: RS provided an update on the work of the IMT leading the University’s response to a recent information security matter, including mitigating actions taken and planned; further analysis of underlying issues; political and reputational considerations; and the wider response of the sector. It was noted that this was sector-wide issue, with implications for both finance and information security but it was pleasing to note that the University had appeared to have responded more quickly and stringently than others.

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