Wednesday 12 August 2020

All staff email

Dear colleagues,

I’m writing to give an update on some of the key issues of the moment. Top of the list is that tomorrow is Confirmation and Clearing day. Before I start, a quick thanks to the many, many colleagues from across the University who have been working so hard - and will be all the more so over the next few days - to achieve as good an outcome as we can.

Confirmation and Clearing - a data-led institutional approach

We have had really strong engagement with our offer-holders and are confident this will stand us in good stead in meeting our home undergraduate targets.

Colleagues in Planning and External Relations are fully prepared to lead on all of the arrangements for Confirmation and Clearing. We know A-Level results day will bring huge complexities given the way exam grades have been awarded this year. The UK Government’s announcement last night of a so-called ‘triple lock’ - where students can choose the higher of their awarded grade, their school mock results from earlier this year, or to resit this autumn - adds further complexity. Given what we have seen in Scotland, I fear we can’t yet rule out further changes to the grading process.

We are liaising closely with colleagues at sector level to monitor and understand any changes to policy and will be giving updates to colleagues involved in Confirmation and Clearing as often as we need to. I would ask that all departments retain a flexible approach given this unprecedented level of uncertainty.

International recruitment update

One way or another we will soon know our domestic undergraduate recruitment outcome. We are not yet in that position for international student recruitment, both for the September 2020 intake and the additional intake to selected Master’s programmes in January 2021. This will only become fully clear towards the end of September and of course has major implications for our financial position for the coming academic year.

Although we have seen growth in applications and offers from both postgraduate overseas (PGTO) and undergraduate overseas (UGO) students this year, there are still unresolved uncertainties around language testing, timely allocation of visas, the availability of flights, and the willingness of students to travel during a pandemic, which have still not abated.

This means we cannot predict accurate enrolment numbers at this stage and continue to assume that our conversion rate will be unusually low. Colleagues in departments and in our international recruitment team are working hard to push that conversion rate up and are exploring with other universities whether we can collaborate to arrange transport from key parts of the world.

Covid-Safety assurance on campus

We continue to work across a wide range of activities to support a safe return to campus. I am conscious that some colleagues are taking leave over this August period, so I also wanted to share again the message we sent out last week about safety measures and our face coverings policy as an example of this work.

As a summary of other activity we are progressing:

  • Working with the City
    We have been working closely with City of York Council (CYC), the NHS and Public Health England to prepare for the safe return of the bulk of our students. A special group to consider the challenges faced in university and college settings has been set up to the City’s Coronavirus Outbreak Advisory Board, which I have been asked to chair. It will be meeting regularly over the next weeks and months to develop local application of national guidelines and share good practice in both prevention but also the management of any Covid-19 cases that we see.

    York currently has one of the lowest incidences of Covid in the UK - but if we are to continue to maintain a tight grip on our handling of the pandemic we need to ensure that we all work together as a community to role-model behaviours that control the transmission of the virus. This is why it is so important that we take a collective and collaborative approach to adherence to the health and safety policies that have been put in place and that we encourage everyone to comply with policies and guidance.

  • Campus test, track and trace
    Linked to the above, our Test, Track and Trace Contingency Group is working closely with city-wide work outlined above to enable staff and students to readily access Covid testing if they develop symptoms and to support contact-tracing work. Professor Deborah Smith, who chairs this Contingency Group, is also a member of a national Universities UK group looking at the sector approach to campus covid-security. We will communicate more details in due course.

  • Health and safety activity, policies and campaigns
    Over the summer, DECS colleagues have piloted a number of measures on the ground to provide a Covid-secure campus experience. Each Department has identified a lead person to work with DECS to help progress the limited number of colleagues - initially at about 25% of normal capacity in their area - returning to campus following Covid-19 risk assessments. I am pleased that this has enabled many colleagues to pick up on aspects of their research which were difficult to carry out while home-working. The JB Morrell Library is now open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, with full details of the services currently on offer can be found on the Library website.

    Other examples of activity and preparation includes changing the layout of teaching, research and office space to enable physical distancing, installing hundreds of fixed hand sanitiser units around campus, creating one way walking routes, and installing signage to encourage responsible behaviour, such as regular washing of hands and using face coverings.

  • Welcoming students to campus
    The Accommodation and Room Bookings team will be working this weekend to process the thousands of accommodation applications, and our Contingency Groups dealing with preparations for teaching and student life continue to work on our student welcome for the start of term. This includes a mixture of face-to face and online events organised by our Colleges and by our student unions (YUSU and GSA), which will offer a different but still dynamic and enjoyable environment for students across campus. Perhaps most excitingly, we will be installing an array of outdoor social spaces, including tipis and yurts, to provide new and interesting spaces to help students settle in and form friendship groups, engage with clubs and societies, and generally settle into university life in the best way possible - all of course subject to the physical distancing and hygiene rules that will need to be in place for some time to come.

All this work and preparation is extraordinary, demonstrating a creativity and imagination that continues to inspire me every day. Thank you again to everyone who is working so hard to help support and care for our community.

Best wishes