Wednesday 3 June 2020

All staff email

How we’re engaging students

Dear colleagues,

As we approach the end of this academic year and prepare for the next, we face more turbulence than many of us have ever experienced. The pace of change we have seen since March, and the changes we are now preparing for in the next academic year, are unprecedented. I am grateful to colleagues across the University for their understanding and commitment as we go through these changes.

I am writing today about how we can support our students - both those returning to us in September and our prospective students - to understand and deal with the changes they will experience

First and foremost, it is vital that we can offer reassurance to our students and offer-holders that the University of York is ‘open for business’ in September.

I know it is difficult for Departments and individual members of staff to give students the clarity they would like on what the academic year will look and feel like, given all the uncertainties we face. None of us know at this stage what social distancing rules will be in place, or, indeed, whether international mobility will continue to be restricted..

Reassurance and support

We have been working hard to engage with our students to understand how they are feeling and ensure that our communications offer reassurance and support, and to provide information on what they can expect. We are also working closely with our Student Unions and their representatives to make sure we get their insight and advice.

With all that in mind, our basic principle in communicating with students and offer holders on what the new academic year will encompass is this:

on campus where we can and online where we have to

This means that we will create frameworks for delivering as much of our educational and social provision as we can on campus, but that we will adjust and adapt those frameworks to deliver educational and social encounters online if we have to, in order to keep staff and students safe.

Engaging our next generation of students

The extended deadline set by UCAS for offer-holders to make final decisions on their university choice is Thursday 18 June. You will have seen reports that offer-holders are feeling uncertain and discomfited by the idea of online-only learning experiences. We are reassuring our offer-holders on our determination to deliver campus-based learning where we can, blended with online delivery where we have to.

We are also communicating with students about the range of employability programmes on offer. Our latest MOOC on transitioning to the University of York will be supplemented in the coming weeks with two further exclusive short online courses providing our offer holders with a real sense of what it means to be a University of York student.

In addition, we have developed a number of fora enabling our offer-holders to ask questions. This includes creating regional-specific private Facebook groups for our South Asian and South-East Asian offer-holders, enabling them to build relationships and networks, as well as provide an opportunity to discuss issues that may specifically affect their region. Similarly, our WeChat and Weibo channels are proving extremely popular for Chinese offer-holders, particularly PGT, and this interactive engagement has provided us with very useful insight into students’ concerns and attitudes.

Moving out of lockdown safely

We will also be communicating with all of our staff, students and offer holders on the health and safety principles and policies that we will be implementing to ensure that our campus is safe. UniversitiesUK (UUK) have now also released today their sector level guidance on how universities can emerge from lockdown safely.

The report highlights nine overarching principles and the working group in charge of opening up our campus will be using these principles to shape our implementation plan. That will in turn provide us with the detailed reassurance we can offer to everyone in our community. We will of course keep our returning and prospective students up to date with changes in guidance from government and additional advice from UUK. We should all remember that the restrictions we face now may not be in place come September, and that we will need to be flexible enough to respond as and when they are loosened (and of course we cannot rule out that they may be tightened again).

Confirmation and Clearing

Confirmation and Clearing will be crucial this year to achieve the maximum possible intake of students. The Clearing team is working hard to ensure that we can manage this process remotely. We have acquired a new cloud-based communications system to manage the process and a series of test days are planned to ensure that this runs smoothly. I will be writing separately to all relevant colleagues working on admissions across the institution asking them to ensure that they participate in those test days. It is vital that all of our systems and staff training are in place to ensure the best possible outcome.

Reassuring our current students

As well reassuring and encouraging our offer-holders, we are also working hard to ensure we provide our current students with regular updates. Guidance has also been issued to Departments about the information we are sharing with students about the start of the academic year. Our approach and our plans were shared last week with our current students and also included further details on how we are supporting other aspects of student life, such as our plans to hold online graduation ceremonies in August 2020 and the range of pastoral, academic and financial programmes available.

We know many students are particularly worried about personal development and employability prospects. This is especially the case for our final year students, which is why we have developed a range of new initiatives and opportunities, including the launch of York Strengths Online and facilitating alumni mentorships and networks for students.

A determined approach

We are a university committed to delivering the best possible outcomes for our students. I know how hard everyone is working to ensure that we can continue to do this despite the impacts of the pandemic.

Of course, we all wish that we could guarantee that everything will be as it has always been at the start of each academic year. But we must face the reality that it will not be the same this year.

So we will continue to share guidance on teaching, learning and assessment, and we will continue to work with our Student Unions and colleges to develop social programmes that ensure that students can make friends and enjoy their time at university. We will do all we can to provide our students with deep educational and social experiences, and to enable our students to succeed, regardless of the mode of delivery.

Thank you all again for your incredible creativity and determination to get us through this uncertain time.

Best wishes


Professor Charlie Jeffery