Thursday 23 April 2020

All staff email

Covid-19 update Thursday 23 April - fixed term contracts and expenditure control

Dear colleague,

The implications of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to affect the higher education sector in a variety of ways and I am writing now to let you know about decisions we have taken in two key areas: fixed term contracts and expenditure control.

Being a responsible and fair employer: a move to more open-ended contracts

As you may recall, even before the pandemic struck, I made a commitment, reflected in a joint statement with our trades unions, to evaluate the range of employment contracts that we use. We wanted, as a responsible employer, to provide fair employment contracts for our staff. This work has now been reshaped and accelerated by a joint working group with our campus unions in light of the particular impacts caused by the pandemic.

The first decision we have made is to commit the University to greater use of open-ended contracts in order to provide additional reassurance to staff so they can, in turn, have greater personal and financial stability.

An iterative process will be introduced to assess all fixed term contracts. In the first instance contracts, which are due to finish before or by the end of 30 September, are being reviewed and where the work is continuing and staff have more than 2 years' continuous service, we will offer these staff the opportunity to move to open contracts.

We will continue our joint working with the trades unions to review the remainder of our fixed-term and casual contract arrangements, and this work will be completed over the next couple of months. Further guidance on the process being introduced will be issued to Heads of Academic Departments and Heads of Professional Services by the Human Resources team. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Saul Tendler and the Registrar and Secretary, Jo Horsburgh, will have oversight of the process.

We have also agreed that all research contracts with guaranteed funding by external funders should be renewed without delay. Any contracts where funding is likely (but not yet guaranteed) will be supported by ‘bridging’ extension of up to three months.

We also want to provide greater security for postgraduate staff who work for the University, for example as graduate teaching assistants, and the joint working group will be prioritising this work in the next couple of months.

Work on the renewal of fixed term contracts (and their subsequent move to open contracts) will go ahead on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with our campus trade unions via our normal Collective Communications process. The focus will be on whether work is scheduled to continue - for example to continue to deliver teaching, or to carry out further research - and where this is the case contracts will be renewed and/or made open-ended. Academic departments have already been told to go ahead with renewing contracts that have guaranteed external research funding.

Managing our Finances

The other key area that we have been reviewing, in light of the financial challenges posed by Covid-19, is how we manage our finances in the coming months. You will recall we have already introduced a new policy on business critical staff recruitment, to limit the number of new hires to a minimum, and to instead look at how we can work within and across departments to manage our staffing needs.

Earlier this week the University Executive Board (UEB) agreed a policy framework to introduce a policy on assessing ‘business critical spend’, to limit spending to areas of critical need.

However, it is important that colleagues understand that this policy does NOT include any moratorium on expenditure we have committed to in already-awarded research grants. It is vital that we continue to meet any terms and conditions in awarded research grants, both for staffing expenditure, including recruitment, and other areas of expenditure.

Work under the business critical spending policy will assess and manage the need for expenditure set against the following criteria:

  • Spend that is categorised as essential to mitigate against Covid-19
  • Spend that supports welfare, health and wellbeing
  • Spend required by law

Further advice and guidance about the assessment processes being introduced to oversee all other expenditure will be issued to all departments by colleagues in our Finance Department.

Planning for the future

Beyond these decisions on employment and finance, we are now moving into the next phase of planning to mitigate the medium and longer term potential impacts of Covid-19 on the University. We know we need to find other ways of increasing our income, reduce unnecessary costs, and think about the new ways of doing things that we have learnt as a result of this crisis.

I have already held a number of meetings with our Senior Leaders Group (Heads of Academic Departments and Heads of Professional Services), and we have today held a further meeting of Senior Leaders to begin to plan the next phases of work required to ensure that this University can protect jobs, and forge a sustainable future, in a post-Covid world.

I will be communicating in more detail next week on how Covid-19 is likely to adversely impact on our potential to generate income and what we are doing to mitigate this. I will also brief you on the work we need to prepare for over the summer so that we are in the best possible position for the new academic year, and so we can deliver the best possible student experience even if we have continued social distancing and constraints on international mobility.

I continue to work with Universities UK and the Russell Group to ensure that the Government understands the very serious threat that Covid-19 poses for the future of UK higher education.

I am also grateful to our colleagues in the trades unions for their continued engagement and I will continue to meet with representatives on a weekly basis. Likewise, I am meeting weekly with the Presidents and Chief Executives of our Students Unions to make sure we understand and draw on student perspectives in our responses to the current crisis.

I am grateful, as always, for everyone’s continued commitment and hard work in these very difficult times.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery