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View from the VC

Yesterday (Thursday 4 June), the Vice-Chancellor Adam Tickell updated all staff, in his regular View from the VC email. You can read the full View from the VC below.

Dear colleague,

As we approach the end of one of the most significant terms in our University’s history, I want to say a few words about the months ahead.

I hope that you have seen that we have communicated with our entire student and staff communities about our current thinking about the 2020-21 academic year. We have confirmed that term will start on 21 September, with teaching beginning a week later on 28 September. Our first and overwhelming priority is the safety of our staff and our students. As it seems highly unlikely that the UK with be entirely coronavirus free by then, we anticipate that we will need to take a blended approach, with a mix of campus-based learning experiences and remote approaches.

I truly appreciate all the work that colleagues are putting in right across the University to prepare learning approaches for this new mode of delivery. Given the sudden nature of our move online back in March, it is only right that we take some time to take stock of what worked - well and less well - before we move forward. To aid this, we have sent a short survey to all teaching staff – please do complete this so as to ensure that we are in the best possible position in the autumn and can put in place the right support.

There is no doubt that these are difficult times for our country and for our sector. However, we should recognise and celebrate silver linings when they become apparent. One of these is the acceleration of our strategic goal to disrupt modes of teaching delivery. You may recall that a key aim in Learn to Transform was to “deliver an inspirational and transformative learning experience that transcends the classroom”. While nobody would have wished for it to happen in this way, I believe the type of educational experience we are starting to design brings us a step closer to the vision for Sussex we collectively imagined in our Sussex 2025 strategy and the inspiring Pedagogic Revolution programme run by Kelly Coate.

Joseph Schumpeter, the great Austrian political economist, coined the term ‘creative destruction’ to describe the way that as industries ‘mutate’, they destroy the old order and create a new one. It seems to me that we are living through a moment of transformational change and it is clear that the organisations that are going to emerge strongest from this crisis are those which adapt to the times. Notwithstanding the considerable challenges we still face, all the many cross-campus conversations we had and detailed work we put into the development of our strategy stand us in good stead to be one of those organisations.

Amongst all of this planning, it is incredibly important that we all remember that this is a crisis affecting, first and foremost, human beings. Not only has this pandemic turned your daily lives upside down with a whole myriad of work and personal pressures, I also know from my conversations that many of you, or people you know and love, have personally experienced this terrible illness. One of our students died recently having suffered the symptoms of coronavirus while at home with their family, as have a small number of retired staff. I know that these deaths, and the loss of people close to you, will have caused much heartache, magnified by being physically isolated from our usual support networks. My thoughts are with anybody who finds themselves in this awful situation and I do not underestimate the impact that this will be having, so please do look after yourselves. Remember, free, confidential support is available 24/7 via our Employee Assistance Programme – I really encourage you to use this fantastic service if you need it.

I also know that many of us are looking at the unfolding events in the United States with horror, hurt and pain. Although the USA is a very different country to ours, we would be deluding ourselves if we ignored the reality of structural racism in the UK. It persists in higher education too: although we have much to be proud of, we have much to work on too. For example, there is a significant achievement gap between black British students and their counterparts in some disciplines that cannot be explained by their attainment before they arrived at the University. We all have a responsibility to address this and ensure we are free of racial injustice. Our commitment is stronger than ever to make sure that racism of any description has no place on our campus and we will be sharing more information shortly on the detailed work we are doing to achieve a Race Equality Charter award. We will also be holding an online vigil for staff and students who have been distressed by the events to come together.

Being physically distant from one another also makes it more important than ever to share and celebrate one another’s successes.

Just this week, we have heard that Sussex has become one of just 15 Universities of Sanctuary in the UK. This award recognises, and commits us to continuing, our support for forced migrants. We have a proud history in this area, from our Mandela scholarships in the 1970s for South African students living under apartheid to our current Article 26 scholarships and the wealth of academic research into sanctuary-related matters. I am very thankful to the colleagues and students from across the University who contributed to our University of Sanctuary application and took part in the comprehensive assessment process, all very ably led by Dr Judith Townend and Paul Wiggins who has been instrumental in getting us to this place.

I would also like to congratulate colleagues in the Business School, who are celebrating three academic awards in one day. Jackie O'Reilly and Nikki Stopford, along with Alan Dalton in MPS, were awarded an ESRC Innovation Fellowship, while Rachel Durrant and Laurence Williams each received Leverhulme Early Career Fellowships. These are all highly competitive awards and these successes are testament to the excellence of the academics themselves and the supportive and innovative research environment in the school.

Finally, there are a number of online sessions and resources this week that you might be interested in. HR are running a series of webinars for all staff about the Voluntary Severance scheme, while teaching staff can join a TEL session on teaching via Zoom. Many of you have already taken the opportunity to develop your skills via LinkedIn Learning, which we have made available to all staff and students, but of course there is still chance to check out the programme. And of course recordings of recent sessions, including my open forum and Allan Spencer’s finance webinars, are now available to re-watch.

There is no getting away from the fact that the coming weeks and months are going to be challenging but, as the term draws to a close, you should all feel extremely proud of what we have achieved together. Thank you.

Best wishes

Adam Tickell

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By: Harvey Atkinson
Last updated: Friday, 5 June 2020

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