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Chair of Council confirms go-ahead of Voluntary Severance scheme

Dame Denise Holt, Chair of Council

Interestingly, one unexpected side effect of Covid-19 has been to bring Council even closer to the University, albeit virtually.

Last week, for example, we had one of our regular fortnightly briefings from the Vice-Chancellor, at which we continued to focus on the important issue of the University’s finances and the consequences for staff and students. In addition, a meeting of the Student Experience Committee provided an opportunity for members of Council to get a taste of the teaching experience that students are receiving online.

We heard from the Vice-Chancellor that the University expects to break even in the 2019/20 year. Given that the institution has had to absorb around a £13 million loss due to Covid-19, this is a reasonable place to land. However, concerns do remain about next year’s financial position, and that of subsequent years, and this will be a subject that we return to each meeting for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, a sub-group of Council, formed to provide on-going assurance on University finances, and whose approval is needed for any expenditure above £750K, met to discuss the business case in relation to the proposed Voluntary Severance (VS) scheme. We were pleased to see that the University had taken great pains to ensure that the scheme would respect our Sussex values. Following a thorough review and discussion, the group was satisfied with the University’s recommendation to proceed with the scheme and, as a result, we gave our approval to this. I reported on the group’s decision at the informal Council briefing on Wednesday (20 May). I know the Vice-Chancellor has already shared this development with all staff. Suffice for me to add that I know the Executive Group has put forward this recommendation after careful reflection and with regret, but at all times focused on the long-term sustainability of the University and the best interests of current and future staff and students. I recognise this may be an unsettling time for staff and Council will be following the progress of the scheme very closely.

Health and safety of students and staff was also touched upon as we heard briefly about the University’s developing plans to return to campus, at the right time. Clearly, a lot needs to happen before that can occur and we will be hearing more details on plans in the coming weeks, but it is reassuring to know that so much thought and effort is going into putting in place robust and workable safety measures.

This really leads me to my final point about the student experience, something that is very much front of mind at present. Council was fortunate last week to have a specific briefing and live run-through of our students' portal to learning. We were keen to understand what the online education offering has really been like for our students. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and I am sure many of you have ideas on how we can enhance the online experience. But having now had a taste of the Sussex curriculum, and in a way that our students would be getting it, I and my colleagues on Council were impressed by and very proud of what you have achieved in such a short time.

At our Council briefing, we learnt the University would soon be confirming with new and continuing students exactly what they could expect when they start in the new academic year. I know an awful lot of work has taken place through the Education Continuity Group, led by PVC Kelly Coate, with academic and professional services representation across the University, on different ways in which teaching can take place. I look forward to being able to comment on this in future meetings.

Dame Denise Holt

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By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Tuesday, 26 May 2020

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