Tuesday 7 April 2020

All staff email

Covid-19 update Tuesday 7 April 2020

Dear colleague,

I wanted to write to you before many of us embark on a mini-break away from work over the Easter weekend. As we do I’d like to thank our essential frontline services staff who will be continuing to work on our campus to support students, critical research areas and campus services and our staff who are supporting local NHS Covid-19 responses.

This has been an extraordinary term by any standards. Staff in every department and service have worked long hours to ensure our move to online teaching and assessment. We have all had to change radically the pattern of our working lives, while at the same time dealing with caring responsibilities and concerns over the health of family and friends. I am sure there will be much to learn from this process to ensure that we emerge even stronger in whatever the ‘new normal’ for higher education looks like.

But for now, as we wind down for an Easter break, I wanted to bring you up to speed on a number of key areas that we have been working on over the past few weeks:

  • Communicating with our current students on arrangements for online learning and assessment
  • Engaging our offer-holders
  • Supporting our local community

Communicating with current students

A key priority has been to ensure that our students understand the complexity of the transition to online teaching and especially how online assessments will work. This has included the introduction of the ‘safety net’ methodology for undergraduates to ensure that prior attainment by individual students is recognised and calibrated in the coming assessment period. We have also been working hard to provide assurance to students who may be affected by Covid-19 that they can apply for exceptional circumstances. Professor John Robinson has led a large group of colleagues in our Academic Contingency Planning Group and they have produced substantive advice and guidance that has now been supplemented by a series of videos explaining the new arrangements to different cohorts of students. We know that many students will have detailed questions for their departments with regard to online assessments and please do use the advice and guidance and point to the videos.

Engaging our offer-holders

Second, we have been actively engaging with our offer-holders. I want to thank the many staff who have been working hard on digitising initiatives to engage and reassure our offer holders through a range of bespoke and targeted communications, vlogs and invitations to virtual Post Offer Visit Days taking place this week. We are also continuing to offer online events to postgraduate offer-holders including online forums on admissions and finance along with opportunities to engage with existing students.

Our invitation to offer holders to get a flavour of life as a University of York student by registering to take one of the many Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) has been enormously popular and large numbers of offer-holders are now registered on these courses.

I am also very pleased to say that additional courses, including a MOOC on transitioning to university life, will be made available in May/June, which is much earlier than originally planned. This is a testament to the hard work and engagement of many colleagues in academic departments and professional services and I want to thank everyone for their dedication.

I am also very pleased to say that our work on access and participation programmes has also been transitioned successfully to online platforms. A very good example of that work includes the Big Deal Business and Enterprise competition for year 9 and 10 students which has been reshaped and relaunched as an online version through The Big Deal Hub: to date more than 300 students have been invited to sign up - a substantial increase on the engagement a face to face version could offer.

Supporting our community

Finally Professor Kiran Trehan, our recently appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnership and Engagement, has been engaging extensively with colleagues across the institution and the wider city and region in response to Covid-19. A new Civic Strategy and website will be launched after Easter. This strategy will not only demonstrate the work that has already been underway to support people in and around York, but also highlight the key areas of work that will be rolled out in the coming months as we gain a better understanding of the needs of key city and regional partners..

Kiran’s work will build on existing expertise within the University that benefits the region through pro bono support to the NHS, City of York Council, local agencies, business and voluntary organisations in order to help the city recover. This support will be in the form of research expertise, professional skills sharing, practical volunteering or sharing of resources.

It is vital that our work in this sphere is guided by the needs of partner organisations, but we anticipate that there will be a significant demand for support in the following sectors:

  • NHS and in Health and social care
  • Education, skills and support for young people
  • Small and medium sized businesses

Kiran’s strategy will mobilise our knowledge, our people and our resources to tackle the immediate and long-term challenges created by the coronavirus crisis, through volunteering and civic and community service and will aim in particular to:

  • provide quick and meaningful assistance to public, voluntary and community sector organisations across our city and region whenever and wherever we are able to do so
  • share our skills and our knowledge with the city and regional partners, voluntary organisations and communities that are most in need of assistance
  • inspire and recognise time given by members of the University community through volunteering and pro bono assistance

Kiran will be producing a vlog in the coming days to highlight more of the work we are intending to deliver in this area and I urge all of you to engage with this work as and when you can.

For now, I hope you will all manage to take a break over the next few days. Take a digital break from Zoom or Google Hangouts and abstain from email as much as you can; and do spend time recharging at home and come back refreshed for what will continue to be a very challenging time for all of us.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery