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View from the VC

Today (Friday 24 July), 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.

While missing the annual ritual of our summer graduation this week undoubtedly has felt strange, watching students celebrate their achievements from afar has brought unexpected moments of magic.

I’ve witnessed countless graduands virtually high-five and dance with our wonderful Chancellor, Sanjeev Bhaskar, and delighted in looking through the numerous family photos bringing the spirit of a Sussex graduation into living rooms and gardens throughout the UK and around the world.

Our Sussex Grad at Home campaign was never going to replace our incredible ceremonies and it was never designed to. But it has brought a sense of fun and occasion at the end of a number of dark and challenging months. I hope this has been a welcome tonic for our students – it certainly has been for me. I hope all our graduates are able to enjoy a well-deserved break before they take their next step in life.

That goes for staff, too, of course. Exceptionally this year, we are allowing staff to carry over twice as much annual leave (up to 10 days) into next year but I really encourage you to use your allowance and take a break if you can. If you are unsure about how you can make this work, please speak with your line manager.

Since we confirmed in May that there would be a blended approach – a mix of online and face-to-face teaching on campus - when we begin the autumn term, our schools and professional services teams have been busy preparing to make this a reality for our students. Thank you for all the hard work colleagues continue to put in. As ever, health and safety comes first and I also encourage you to read carefully the information we sent out this week about our phased return to campus.
Some of our new graduates have been helped over the line by the extraordinary generosity of those who have come before them. Since we launched our emergency hardship appeal, Sussex alumni and staff have donated an incredible £167,000 to help students through the current situation. As the class of 2020 enters the wider world and joins this alumni community, I have no doubt that they will grace future generations with similar kindness. If you want, and are able, to support this appeal, details are on the Development and Alumni Relations web pages.

It is in these more intangible and ripple-inducing effects that the power and value of higher education truly resides. The growing influence of metrics and focus on high-paying graduate jobs is understandable in many ways – indeed, we share the desire for our graduates to achieve in the career of their choice and for the graduate body as a whole to make positive contributions to wider society.

Of course, we have seen fantastic contributions from staff during this pandemic and I am pleased to report that the face shields designed and manufactured by colleagues in Engineering and Informatics, led by Harri Koivisto, a teaching fellow in Mechanical Engineering, have passed the stringent CE certification tests for Covid-19 Personal protection equipment (PPE). This is a great achievement and means that we can now supply this much-needed equipment to hospitals, care homes, and businesses in the UK and the EU. The team hopes to make 10,000 shields by the end of August. 

But students, too, are making an impact. Indeed, in the last few weeks we have launched 50 fully funded student internships to help local businesses recover from the impacts of Covid-19. These give our students paid, professional opportunities and provide organisations, including Brighton Gin, Shoreham Port and Ditchling Museum, with valuable support at this difficult time. This is just one example of how our commitment to our students and our local communities align.

However, when this focus becomes too single-minded about graduate salaries, it risks drowning out the immeasurable ways in which education lifts hearts and minds globally.

In recent days, the Prime Minister has raised again the possibility of variable fees for university degrees, with ‘higher value’ degrees in STEM subjects becoming cheaper to study than those in the arts and humanities, which allegedly contribute less directly to the economy and society. Leaving aside the merits or otherwise of such a system, the conversation around the proposal is, in my view, wrong-headed. Science and the other STEM subjects are of course vital for progress in society – but the arts, humanities and social sciences are no less important. Nor is there much evidence that they are any less lucrative, if that is indeed your primary consideration.

With just over a month until our new combined School of Media, Arts and Humanities comes into being, now is the time to rediscover the rich contributions that these vital disciplines make to our University and society at large. If you are interested in reading a more eloquent defence of the humanities, I recommend this article by Liz James in History, Art History and Philosophy.

I visited the University Library this week which has now opened bookable study space for students and staff. With an overwhelming emphasis on ensuring that both students and staff are safe from contagion, our Library is amongst the first in the UK to reopen. All of the staff I spoke to were delighted to be back at work – both to support our students and because they are enjoying the camaraderie of being with friends and colleagues again. I’m really grateful to all of the staff in the Library for bringing some normality back to the campus, albeit a normality where everyone is wearing a mask and keeping their distance.

Finally, I’d also like to thank everyone who has been working to open the postgraduate applicant hub. This has been an amazing effort across academic schools and the professional services – we have 99 subject specific videos and interest levels are very encouraging. This is just a sub-set of the virtual recruitment work underway which also includes virtual open days, international social media and face to face interviews.

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By: Sean Armstrong
Last updated: Friday, 24 July 2020

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