PS Bigger Picture (online): 23 July 2020

PS: Bigger Picture provides Professional Services staff with an opportunity to hear about the latest developments within the University and pose questions to Chief Operating Officer, Tim Westlake.

It is a dedicated event for Professional Services staff designed to ensure that everyone is aware of shared objectives and to promote single team working with staff in central teams and the schools.

Recording of the event

Presentation from the event

PS Bigger Picture - 23 July 2020 [PDF 2.17MB]

Unanswered questions from the event

Working from home / returning to campus

Given that the picture seems to be that the younger population are more likely to be asymptomatic and also less likely to observe social distancing - once the campus has students back how are you sure you can protect your staff, especially those in the more at-risk demographic cohorts?

Answer: The University is and will continue to follow the advice and guidance from the UK government and our own expert Health and Safety team to ensure that the right measures are in place to protect our students and staff. Information on our plans to re-open campus in September can be found here. We are also communicating extensively with existing students and new students on the importance of adhering to the Covid-19 regulations including social distancing.

Staff who are members of an at-risk group should in the first instance talk to their line manager to ensure that the appropriate protections and ways of working are in place to protect them. Such ways of working may include remote working or alternative working arrangements. All staff can access the latest advice and guidance on Covid-19 via the Coronavirus advice and guidance for staff page. The University will be sharing detailed guidance to all staff on the return to campus very soon.

You can't expect people to hot desk when we are in the midst of a pandemic.

Answer: We will ensure that in whatever way staff work it will always comply with the strictest standards of health and safety and staff wellbeing; based on the advice from our expert health and safety teams and the UK government. Staff can access a range of comprehensive information on the Coronavirus information and advice for staff here.

What is happening to staff who work in the Amex?

We are talking to the senior team at Brighton & Hove Albion FC about the space we are currently occupying there. The football club are formulating their own plans for the coming year and we will need to wait to hear what this may mean for us. There is a chance that we will need to move out of the Amex. Clearly that would raise lots of questions, especially for our staff located there – we will hopefully know more soon.

Is there an expectation for School Offices to be open in September?

Answer: We hope to be able to open as many services as possible in September to provide in person delivery where it is appropriate and safe to do so. Any work places that will open in September and beyond will be subject to rigorous Health and Safety and risk assessments. This will only happen when assessments ensure that services are safe to open in such a manner and within social distancing guidelines and the wearing of masks where applicable.

As our plans for reopening campus develop we will continue to provide updates via the Coronavirus advice and guidance for staff pages and managers will discuss these with their teams and individuals and HR will be providing guidance for staff and their managers.

Many of our PS teams are based in overcrowded offices, tightly packed together. I would like to know if GTS or any other spaces unlikely to be used for students or large gatherings, might be allocated for these staff?

Answer: Due to social distancing requirements the demand on GTS and lecture spaces will increase as we ensure we comply with social distancing requirements. This means these areas will not be available to used for alternate purposes as demand for their existing purpose increases.

Line managers will discuss working arrangements with individual members of staff and their teams about future working arrangements.

Is it expected that campus will be open to Students in September and if so are Schools expected to make their own plans for school offices regarding staff working/social distancing/safe working? If so who will be providing guidance and support to us for this as many School offices are overcrowded and poorly laid out.

Answer: We will ensure that wherever staff work it will always comply with the strictest standards of health and safety and staff wellbeing; based on the advice from our expert health and safety teams and the UK government. Staff can access a range of comprehensive information on the Coronavirus information and advice for staff here.

Given the email today about returning to campus/Amex, it’s clear some of us will be working at home beyond January, and perhaps permanently. As we get to the colder months, this will have a significant impact on the costs staff will incur to work remotely - Please can you tell us whether staff are able to claim for increased energy, IT or wifi costs? Thank you.

Answer: Staff can claim tax relief for additional expenses incurred from working at home from HMRC. Information and advice as to how to do this can be found on the HMRC website.

With the Government now placing responsibility with employers on when employees can return to work, if we personally want to continue working from home whilst the pandemic is still ongoing and are able to do so, will this be permitted or we will be expected to go back into the university to work?

Answer: Line managers will have discussions with staff to make appropriate arrangements with each member of staff to ensure that they can fulfil their duties either on or off campus. 

Operations

Why is the new combined School MAH project going ahead despite covid and all the challenges the schools are facing, especially when One PS is on hold for the same reason? Thank you 

Answer: Following extensive planning and staff consultation, there has been strong support from both Senate and Council for the establishment of the new School Media, Arts and Humanities. It is within this strategic context that the Combined School Project has continued. It is really important to recognise the hard work of colleagues in the Schools of English, History, Art History and Philosophy, Media Film and Music and the Sussex Centre for Language Studies in putting the University in a position to launch the new School on 1st September. A significant amount of resources including hundreds of hours of planning, and staff consultation and engagement has occurred over the past twelve months. To halt this progress would be a waste of these resources, and undermine our efforts to strengthen the Humanities and languages at Sussex and externally. There are significant opportunities the combining of these Schools and the Centre for our students, staff and research. This is why as previously announced the Combined School will be will be established on the 1September.

Can we have some information on the SRS project please? I'm particularly concerned about our ability to meet OfS regulatory requirements (Data Futures) as well as internal demands for a changing landscape with no development on our creaking current system and no plans for its replacement. Time is running out!

Answer: The implementation of a new Student Records System (SRS) is a complex one. The University recognises the need for a new SRS that will continue to meet our OfS regulatory requirements - as well as the needs of our students and staff. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed our work in sourcing a new system. Should colleagues have any concerns about the existing SRS they should raise them directly with their line manager.

Student experience

Does the COO see any correlation between our disappointing NSS scores and the ongoing hiatus around the student experience team structure?

Answer: The results of the NSS are based on many different factors that when combined are complex. This means that it is not possible to single out one factor as correlating to our results. That said we will, of course, be taking a very close look at the data to assess what improvements need to be made. It is really important to recognise the dedication of colleagues to the experience of our students and this is especially recognised in the Student Experience division. We know that the student experience needs to improve and that staff must be able to work in ways that respond to student needs. This is complex, and we must look to modernise the delivery of services to meet the requirements of a new generation of student, that has ever greater needs and service expectations.

Whilst the latest NSS results are disappointing for Sussex, they do provide insights that we will analyse and respond to as we develop strategies and actions to improve the student experience. The results of this analysis will be a factor that must be considered when we explore the Student Experience team structure.

When will the reconfiguration of the Student Experience division be announced? Even when a meeting with Tim and Jayne was promised at one of these forums in the ACCA, we've heard nothing. Staff in the division have been waiting years for an outcome.

Answer: Due to Covid-19 we have had to delay the 1PS programme. This has also delayed the reconfiguration of the Student Experience division. When the 1PS programme commences we will inform all colleagues in PS including those in Student Experience.

When will we be able to provide International students with clarity about starting online and moving to in person later in the forthcoming academic year? (for a variety of reasons inc. perceptions of UK gov handling of CoVid, quarantine, availability of flights, visa delays, etc many who wish to join us want to start the year online)

Answer: This information has already been communicated to existing students via Kelly Coate’s regular weekly email to all taught students and the Student Hub; and information is available for applicants via the applicant hub. If we need to increase this flexibility we will do. 

Teaching next term

At what point will there be a final decision as to whether Autumn term will be in person, wholly online or a mixture? 

Answer: A decision has already been made and communicated to students and staff and there will be a mix of classroom (and laboratory-based) and remote learning (blended learning).

During the autumn term, students can expect a minimum of 11 hours of live interactive learning, either in the classroom or online, per module, across the semester. This will enable students to engage with their tutors and fellow students alongside a range of other types of online learning plus some classroom (campus-based) teaching. Staff can access comprehensive information about this and a range of other matters relating to Covid-19 via the Coronavirus information and advice for staff pages.

HR

Will there be an announcement on which people are leaving under voluntary severance?

Answer: Divisional directors will communicate to their areas those staff who are leaving the University through the voluntary severance scheme.

Do we yet know how the VS scheme will affect PS departments going forward?

Answer: The review panel met to review applications early last month and all applicants have been notified of the panel’s decision. 

Successful applicants will be leaving the University between now and the end of the calendar year, depending on what has been agreed. Each divisional director will be working within their areas to look at how responsibilities will be addressed.

What percentage of PS staff have applied for VS and what plans are there for covering the work they do once they leave.

Answer: The intention behind the scheme is to reduce headcount, not to add to the workloads of our remaining staff. Where activities need to continue, this will involve re-evaluating workloads across teams and departments and to cease activity that is not essential. An update on VS will be provided to all staff soon.

The VS scheme has closed and the panels have taken place. If there was insufficient take up and the scheme has not provided the anticipated savings, will compulsory redundancies now be required?

Answer: The VS scheme is just one element of our plans to ensure that we remain in a sustainable position financially. Compulsory redundancies are not currently part of these plans and if the University were to undertake compulsory redundancy it would be as a matter of last resort.

Could you tell us how long, staff will be furloughed for?

Following the University’s second successful claim to the Government's CJRS scheme we will be running the Scheme until the end of October; however some staff have already returned to work and others will be required to do so before the scheme ends.

I would like to know if the University would accept a proposal to remove the cap on the yearly and automatic spinal point progression for staff.

This is for two reasons: Firstly, to recognise the important contribution that staff have made over the last 4 months providing an exceptional service to fellow staff members and our students. All the while dealing with shaky technology, caring duties at home, and working at often times during the weekend and evenings to keep on top of things.

Secondly, with the loss of friendships and the inevitable restructuring of roles and taking on more work that the voluntary severance scheme will bring, removing the cap on progression would be a welcome way to also recognise the unique challenges facing many staff as we go forward especially in light of the fact that many people who work at Sussex are in grades that see little to no career progression. It's those people who will be at the centre of helping to meet the future challenges by drawing on their deep institution knowledge and memory.

Answer: The University recognises the exceptional efforts staff have made during the pandemic to support students and their fellow colleagues, during a time of great uncertainty and disruption.

Regarding a proposal to remove the cap on yearly and automatic spinal point progression: the current salary scales are based up on the H.E.R.A. methodology, which examines the responsibilities and accountabilities for each role and provides a fair wage for the individual position. This is a fair system that incorporates incremental spinal points which finish at the top of the grade’s spinal point.

This agreed role evaluation and review pay structure is not based on length of service, which would not be a fair system in reflecting the responsibilities and accountabilities for each position. Instead such a model would only reward tenure.

It’s important to note our pay grades, spinal points and annual increases are negotiated nationally and we would not be permitted at Sussex to make a change to this.

Finally, reward is more than just pay and the University offers generous pension contributions, annual leave, childcare vouchers, discounted access to Sussexsport, discounts on studies and other benefits for staff – full details can be found here.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

Can you please update us on the equality impact assessment that has been undertaken as part of planning for September? BAME and disabled people are the most likely to have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. What specific support and provision is being put in place for BAME and disabled students? Thanks.

Answer: We understand that BAME and disabled people have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19; and our impact assessments will result in action plans that will hear the concerns and needs of these communities and put in place the additional support and provisions required. We will share more information on this, as we get closer to the start of term.

Student recruitment

Are you confident that we will achieve our targets for International Recruitment this year? 

Answer: Due to the impact of the global pandemic it is extremely unlikely that any UK university will be confident that they can achieve their targets for international recruitment this year.

And this is the same for Sussex. But to counter potential reductions in applications from international students, we are providing comprehensive advice and information to all students including international student applicants, and making provisions to ensure that should they be unable to come to campus at the beginning of the Autumn term they will be able to continue their education and access the support they need when they are able to come to the UK.