Friday 3 April 2020

All staff email

Covid-19 update - Friday 3 April 2020

Dear colleagues,

I hope you and your family and friends are well. It is concerning to see the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK grow as they have. I’m sure we all hope that the social distancing measures we are now living and working with will show the impacts we want to see.

It is becoming clear, though, that these impacts may not play out fully for some time. I’m sure you will have heard the official advice in the last days that there could be several months of restrictions ahead of us.

I know all this brings immediate challenges and questions. Some are about teaching and assessment. Many of you have been recommending that we should introduce a ‘safety net’ mechanism for undergraduate assessment, as other universities have done. I’m pleased to say that we have shared our approach with undergraduates this afternoon, and further clarifications for taught postgraduates, and I hope this will bring reassurance to our students.

I know also that there are many questions about how we will carry out research projects within established timetables and funding. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we are working with research funders to get as much clarity as we can, as quickly as we can, so please bear with us.

I think it is also important to note that if restrictions are maintained for several months, we may see disruption not just at the end of this academic year, but also extending into next academic year. If that is the case - for example, if international travel is still restricted - we may face challenges in enrolling students from beyond the UK, and in carrying out our research and other collaborations, as we would wish.

Clearly there could be financial impacts that follow from an extended period of disruption. Thinking through what those financial impacts could be has been a feature of recent sector-level conversations, through Universities UK and the Russell Group, and with the UK Government.

Again, we don’t have all the answers we’d like, but I want to reassure you that these questions are not just being discussed, but also taken seriously - something I can confirm personally from being involved in a number of recent conversations with the new Higher Education Minister, Michelle Donelan (a York alumna).

I will of course keep you informed as things clarify, and as we begin to map out the scenarios we might encounter over the next months. One thing is perhaps sure - that we will need to remain flexible, with the agility not just to respond as the situation unfolds, but also to identify and take the opportunities that may emerge. I am sure our resilience and ingenuity will serve us well.

As difficult and challenging as this time is proving, I’m sure you will join me in also acknowledging the collective spirit of our community. I have no doubt that, throughout this period of great uncertainty, that spirit will be the basis on which we will play an important role in society’s recovery and in continuing to bring public good from our work.

Finally, I hope this is a restful and healthy weekend for you all.

With all good wishes,


Professor Charlie Jeffery