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View from the VC

What a pleasure it has been to see people back on our campus this week.

I have been coming in every day for some time but this week felt really different and all positive. In a period that can seem grey at best, and oppressive at worst, casual encounters with friends and acquaintances can really brighten the day. Cycling to work on Tuesday, I met – separately – two people who I hadn’t seen since lockdown and it was a joy. This week on campus there have been hundreds of such memories of happier times.

This is why the work we are all contributing to deliver a blended experience for our students this semester is so important. These are students who have been effectively locked down for months at a formative stage of their life and who have made many personal sacrifices to get to this point.

There have been little snags this week, of course, but these have been resolved quickly.

From what I’ve seen and from what I’ve heard from Kelly Coate (our PVC Education and Students), the level of face-to-face teaching taking place this week has been encouraging. I know that Kelly has been dropping in to classes and labs, as well as chatting to teaching staff and students, to hear first hand what the experience has been like.

By and large, students are behaving responsibly and, from what people I’ve met have told me, they are simply enjoying being back to something closer to normal.

I would like to thank you all for your efforts and I hope you have now seen the evidence of all the work that has gone in to providing a safe environment. I have to say, too, that campus is looking beautiful. The wildflower meadows are still in bloom and trying to defy this autumnal weather. I am sure you would join me in once again thanking our estates, cleaning, portering and catering staff – without them we simply would not have gotten to this place.

I would like to give my special thanks to the Housing Team. Following the publication of guidance by Sage, we decided very late in the day to change our allocation policy and, after prioritising students with particular needs, clustered students in flats with those doing the same or similar courses. In the course of a long weekend, the team reallocated over 4,000 students and are currently receiving over 500 questions a day on a wide range of matters.

You will also have read in the press about challenges at other universities in ensuring that the Covid laws are being upheld. The University is committed to taking a proportionate approach and a majority of Council has approved a policy to issue fines of £50 to students who persistently put their fellow students at risk. However, we very much hope that we will not have to use these powers: our security team have years of experience of working calmly and supportively with students and care passionately about their welfare. Again, particular thanks are due to them.

Huge thanks are also due to the academics who are coming back on to campus to teach. I was talking yesterday with a Professor who said that although it is a little nervy to be back, meeting colleagues, friends and students has made a real difference. Although I do talk to students whenever I can, I know that I’m remote from the day to day and it was genuinely joyful to hear about how energised and excited students are to be here, away from home and studying for their degrees. I was told that never before have so many students dropped by to an open office session.

I know there are many others who deserve a mention and, whilst I have not listed everyone here, I do receive reports on all the good work that has been and is taking place.

We only need look at what is happening in some other universities that have significant restrictions in place and the damage this is doing to students’ mental health and wellbeing. The face-to-face element is so important to them. I have spoken to many staff who feel equally strongly and, being honest, others who do not feel as comfortable. It is a real credit to our university that we are able to have these conversations and respect differing opinions and circumstances, especially during such a challenging time.

Although we do have a small number of positive cases among our community, so far we have been able to quickly contain these to limit the risk of onward transmission. But we must not be complacent and we all need to continue following the rules until they become routine.

I firmly believe that, if we do so and act respectfully and responsibly towards one another, we can continue to deliver on our face-to-face commitments and keep campus a safe and enjoyable place for everybody.

All of this said, we do remain in the middle of a pandemic. We have worked really hard over the summer to minimise the risks of contagion and, as the Dean of the Medical School put it recently, the campus is a far safer environment than shops, restaurants or pubs. But we must all remember to be vigilant and maintain social distances and good hygiene practices. We are committed to be open with you about cases within our community – and we will of course let you know straight away if anything needs to change at the University. Please do read any communications we send you.

I also want to remind you about a couple of engagement opportunities within the next week. Tomorrow (Friday) afternoon, at 3pm, we have a one-hour Q&A session for academic staff, chaired by our Provost Saul Becker. This follows the academic forum we held last week but with more time for your questions. We are holding this deliberately at the end of the week, to allow you to pose questions after the first week of term. Book here.

Then, next week, on Tuesday 6 October, I am holding my termly open staff forum. You can register online and ask a question in advance. I look forward to speaking to many of you then.

Finally, I want to extend a big Sussex welcome to Keith Jones, who takes up his role today as our new PVC for Research, just in time to lead us into the REF home straight. I’m sure Keith will be getting to know many of you in the coming weeks and months.

With best wishes


Adam Tickell

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By: Harvey Atkinson
Last updated: Thursday, 1 October 2020

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