Wednesday 22 September 2021

All staff email

Subject: Our new academic year

Dear colleagues,

I’d like to share an update ahead of the start of our new term - it will be fantastic to see campus bustling once again, and there is certainly an air of energy, expectation and anticipation as we welcome new and returning students over the coming days, and as more staff return to regular working on campus.

Reconnecting on campus

As many of us rejoin colleagues on campus, I know teams and departments have been working hard planning their approach to our new way of working.

Our new Remote Working Policy, designed to support flexibility and promote inclusive working, comes into practice next week. We’ve been finding out from a few of you how you’ve been approaching a hybrid set up, so please do take time to look at some of things we have learnt as we all support new ways to work together.

Covid-aware measures

Thank you to all those involved in campus preparation and ensuring we have a range of measures in place. It is the combination of these measures that is important, from the strong recommendation to wear face coverings in busy indoor places, to maximising ventilation, through to supporting testing and vaccinations, so that we are never just relying on only one mitigation.

I know some remain apprehensive now that legal restrictions have been removed, but the latest data from our students indicates 90% are fully or partially vaccinated, based on more than 18,000 responses (and we know that the second vaccination rate is increasing quickly as students become eligible for their second jabs). This shows that our students have taken vaccination really seriously and it gives us some real reassurance going into the start of term. We also know that this rate is tracking above comparable national data, and above many other universities. Our regular on-campus vaccine clinics will help complete the student vaccination process as soon as possible.

I know a few people have also asked questions about ventilation. We have maximised this across the estate, and when combined with other measures we have in place (like face coverings, vaccinations and testing), it means we do not need to reduce room capacities in our overall risk assessment.

To help with any further questions, we have organised a virtual drop in Q and A with Ian Wiggins, Director of Operations, on Friday 24 September, from 12.30pm to 2pm. Rest assured there is no need to attend the whole time, just make a note in your calendar and copy the Zoom link, so you can drop ‘in and out’ at any point to speak to Ian about our measures in more detail.

University of the Year

We have seen a really special response to the recent announcement that we have been shortlisted for the University of the Year in the Times Higher Education awards, with staff, students, partners, supporters and alumni all over the world sharing the news with pride. We are also delighted to have nominations for International Collaboration and Research Project of the Year (STEM).

And, in time for our busy Open Day this weekend, we also heard on Friday that we have been shortlisted for University of the Year in The Times and Sunday Times, too. I am particularly pleased The Times chose to highlight our work to promote social mobility, including our commitment to the social mobility pledge and being a University of Sanctuary.

This means we are the only university to have been shortlisted in both of these prestigious awards, with the Times noting that ‘York is everything an outstanding university should be’ - a remarkable acknowledgement of our community and a reflection of all that we have accomplished together over the past 18 months.

Thank you

As another example of us stepping up to support others, I also want to thank everyone who has been involved in arranging special measures to help with the student accommodation challenges across York. The speed in which we have been able to identify different ways to support students based in Leeds and Hull has been superb, and we’ve now confirmed rooms for all our students who met our criteria for a guaranteed offer. We’re also fast-tracking our two new Colleges to address this unprecedented demand for University-provided accommodation now, and for future years.

Update on USS pension

I note with concern and disappointment UCU’s announcement on their intention to ballot on industrial action and the potential this will have to seriously impact on students who have already experienced so much disruption in their lives. We will continue to work closely with our local UCU partners, and with UUK and the Russell Group, to find resolution for this long-standing challenge.

Looking ahead

Finally, I want to end by acknowledging the extraordinary efforts colleagues across the University have made to sustain our work in supporting research, teaching and staff and student experience. We know a new academic year presents new pressures and strains, but it is also a time where we are energised by times ahead, new faces and new beginnings. This term, we will be launching our new University Strategy to inspire ambitious ideas and initiatives, and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible soon, at the staff engagement events we are planning, and especially through my visits to Departments, to hear all about your thoughts and plans.

Best wishes