Vice Chancellor's Office

VC's open staff forum: 21 February 2017

Presentation slides

Questions received online and via text message

University operations

Is Sussex going to divest from fossil fuels? Couldn't choosing ethical investments be a unique selling point for US?

In April 2016, Council approved a new Socially Responsible Investment policy for Sussex. The new policy was developed with the support of the Students’ Union.

The revised policy places an emphasis on the University positively screening investments which goes well beyond simple negative screening and mirror the organisation’s aim to be a more sustainable and environmentally responsible institution.

Going forward, when investment decisions are made on behalf of the University, Sussex’s investment managers will be instructed to screen firms through direct engagement, allowing them to consider a wide range of implications.

These areas will include:

  • Promotion of human rights, including but not limited to the equality of gender, race and sexuality
  • Promotion of good business ethics and good employment practices
  • Protection of the global environment, its climate and its biodiversity including the reduction (and potential future elimination) of fossil fuel exploration and production
  • Promotion of community investment
  • Promotion of international co-operation and an end to international conflict
  • Sustainable provision and procurement of essential resources and services (such as utilities)

See news story.

How long will it take for all the University's management structures to be gender balanced?

That’s a good question. It’s something I’d like to see happen; however, it will of course take time. I hope you’ve seen how committed I am to putting issues of equality and diversity right to the top of the agenda at Sussex.

What are you doing to work with the Students' Union and students to communicate the implications, threats and opportunities of TEF coming up? I've noticed a sign at Falmer House saying 'Boycott the NSS', which is a key indicator for TEF.

I wrote to all students at the end of last year to discuss exactly why I feel that taking part in TEF is important for us. We have a good relationship with the Students’ Union and we respect their right to express their views; however, we are disappointed they have taken this decision to boycott the NSS. We will keep communicating widely about this as the TEF progresses.

It would, of course, be inappropriate for us to seek to prevent the Students’ Union, which is – after all – an independent charity, from expressing their opinions.

How can I get actively involved in the equality & diversity and culture initiatives?

Please contact Claire Annesley and Andrea Cornwall – our two Deputy PVCs for Equality and Diversity.

What is the basis of your claim that NUS seek only a 10% NSS boycott?

They have said this is what they are seeking. However, the risk is that they achieve greater than this because they are unable to target effectively.

Will you be holding any more open-office sessions for staff? Thank you.

Yes and I plan to continue these for as long as I’m Vice-Chancellor. A drop-in session took place the day after the staff forum. An additional staff drop-in session will take place on 6 April from 11.00am – 1.00pm. I will keep doing this regularly and sessions will be promoted on the staff homepage and in the Staff Bulletin.

How can we be more inclusive?

Since being appointed at the end of last year, our two new Deputy PVCs for Equality and Diversity have been looking at exactly this – and they will be sharing their vision and action plan with the University community in the coming weeks and months.

We have much to do, but the will and the determination is there.

Appointments

You talk about appointing a Director of Estates, employed by the University, but what is the reasoning behind this, seeing as SEF are on campus and the previous history of this position has been somewhat ineffective? I would also be happy to see a stronger relationship between Uni staff and SEF colleagues - sometimes a barrier is very much apparent, from the University's side.

The Director of Estates is being appointed as we have a number of large, complex campus projects which need to be overseen. This role is also key in planning for the future in terms of our updated masterplan and our commercial partnerships. 

The Director of Estates will also be the key manager of our relationship with SEF.

With the creation of the new COO role, what approach has been taken to redistribute the responsibilities for compliance that sat with the Registrar & Secretary position?

Previous Registrars have also been the Secretary to Council. The latter part of the job is a Council appointment and their preference is that we split the role. The Council Secretary is likely to be found among the existing team. Much of the compliance function will continue to belong to the COO, though we will work on the most appropriate split once we have a person in post.

Could you explain the rationale for requiring both new deputy PVCs for Equality and Diversity to be coming from an academic background? Why could not one of them come from Professional Services, especially given they represent half of the staff at the University?

It is a good question. I hope this helps to explain the rationale. At Sussex we have some academics on campus who are leading some very well-regarded research programmes that tackle issues of equality and diversity - as well as teaching some exceptional programmes. As we begin this journey I wanted to tap into that expertise. However, that is not for one minute dismissing the fact that skills, knowledge and capabilities exist in our excellent professional services divisions. In fact some of our staff on professional services will be leading on a lot of work. Also remember that our E&D work is for all our students. This is work that is relevant for everyone on campus.

SAAT programme

Why was the option of improving the current student record system not considered by the SAAT programme? Many professional service colleagues believe this would be the most cost effective and least disruptive solution.

See my answer below.

Why hasn't investment in our current student record system been considered as an option by the Student and Academic Administration Transformation (SAAT) programme?

It was, both at PID, Strategic Case and Full Business Case.

When the different options were evaluated against each other for the Full Business Case, it was the combination of transforming to a service-oriented model supported by a state-of-the-art student records system that came through as the best option.

Although the existing system has many customised features that are relatively advanced, it has not been developed strategically and has become quite unwieldy, restricting opportunities to fully exploit applications integrated to it and dependent on a diminishing knowledge pool of people able to support and develop it. The level of risk the University was exposing itself to in view of the need to respond to changes in the HE sector and student expectations and the need to support growth strengthened the case for looking at the best commercial off-the-shelf solution.

Transport / parking

Staff have to give up parking spaces when there are events at ACCA. However, there is no staff discount at ACCA. This is very one sided - could it be rethought so staff are not disadvantaged because of ACCA?

Members of University staff are entitled to apply for an NUS card, which they can use to obtain a concession rate ticket at the Attenborough Centre. View the Attenborough Centre’s upcoming events.

Parking pressures on campus would probably be lessened if public transport was more reliable and less cramped. Last week someone on one of the morning buses fainted from overheating. What is the University doing to lobby for improvements to the overcrowded bus services?

We are working on a series of measures as part of a wider transport strategy. This includes working with bus and train companies to improve and extend services, being part of the Brighton Bike Scheme and providing more cycle racks. We will also be promoting access to a car-sharing scheme and will be centrally engaged in the City Council's Travel Plan Partnership.

With pressure on parking increasing, and student numbers looking likely to continue to increase, will there be more collaboration with the local public transport services?

We are working on a series of measures as part of a wider transport strategy. This includes working with bus and train companies to improve and extend services, being part of the Brighton Bike Scheme and providing more cycle racks. We will also be promoting access to a car-sharing scheme and will be centrally engaged in the City Council's Travel Plan Partnership.

In response to the ongoing rail disruption, senior managers have been speaking to MPs, local politicians and the local authority , seeking improvements to services and asking what support can be provided to the University community while industrial action continues.

In November 2016, I put my name to a letter to the Transport Secretary that acknowledged wider issues with the rail service and talked about the importance of the Brighton mainline for our regional economy.

In the coming months, the University will continue working with external organisations and will look for opportunities to make the case for a better rail service for students and staff.

Can we have an update on the implementation of the bike to work scheme? We have been told it's coming in 'soon' with no commitment to a definite date.

HR colleagues have been working hard to deliver this scheme as soon as possible. They are currently in the process of selecting a provider with a view to launching the new Cycle To Work scheme at some point in the spring. More information will be provided soon.

What is being done to tackle bike theft on campus?

Security staff patrol all areas and actively monitor CCTV, as there‘s no particular pattern to the thefts, but over the last 12 months they have detained individuals caught in the act of theft, and disrupted a number of other attempts to steal bikes, usually in the early hours of the morning.

On one occasion, two security staff were the subject of unprovoked assaults by two men who they believed were attempting to steal bikes. The men were later arrested after getting away empty handed.

We provide general advice on locks and bike security, and Sussex Police have supported us in the recent past with crime-prevention sessions for students, and we have sent particular messages to students (they feature in many more incidents than staff and visitors), via the campus Residential Adviser network.

In all reports made to us, we advise the staff member or student to report the matter to the police, and facilitate contact where necessary. There is little intelligence or information that comes to us about bike theft, but we do provide details to Sussex Police about our incidents and provide CCTV evidence where it is available.

We are also investigating the possibility of introducing secure bike shelters on campus.

Campus and infrastructure development

Will the estate be tidied up? Many buildings look dilapidated both in teaching and other areas.

I hope I have made it clear how committed I am to making significant improvements to general teaching spaces. This includes a new IT helpdesk centre, plus lots of general improvement work on facilities. This is on top of the major building works under way, such as the Life Sciences building. 

Sussex has outgrown its current campus. Are there any plans for a further campus and, if so, would this be in the UK or another EU country?

We are considering lots of different options as part of Strategy 2025. More information will be available on this in the coming weeks and months. Please get involved with the next round of workshops, to be announced soon.

Given the staff's concerns over health, safety and wellbeing, when will staff no longer be based at the AMEX stadium?

I haven’t been informed of any concerns of the nature you outline from working at the AMEX. I know that thorough assessments were made before the move to take many things into consideration. Of course we would like our staff to be together in one place and this will happen at the earliest opportunity. There isn’t any more I can share on this today, but the desire to move back onto campus is something I’m aware of.

Over the next few months, professional service directors will be looking at the options for flexible working.

Given the terrible response in the staff survey to satisfaction with working environment and health & safety for staff in the AMEX stadium, please can you give some reassurance that alternatives are being looked into?

See the answer above.  

When are we going to be able to divert our phones to home/mobile?

Some staff are using Skype for their telephone calls and this allows calls to be diverted to external numbers but, if an internal call is diverted, there will be additional call charges for that call. However, the majority of staff are still on the analogue telephone system, which is not configured for external call diversions. Over time, more staff will be transferred to Skype and we are currently scoping a project to plan this migration, which will also require some of the University's underlying infrastructure to be updated.

People are developing quantum computers on campus, but I often can't send an email using our antiquated system. Can you ask ITS to provide a definitive timescale for infrastructure improvement?

We know that improving our technology is absolutely critical to running the University today and in the future. Infrastructure improvement in this way will form a key part of our new strategy. It will become a lot clearer in the coming months what we need to do, to deliver our plans. An improved – and more likely ‘transformed’ - technology provision will very likely form part of that.

Human Resources

Re equality - there are different holiday entitlements for staff (academic/professional services): professional services from 20-23 days grades 1-6. Library faculty/teaching faculty no specified periods of holiday, other than the statutory minimum of 28 provided by national legislation. For other academics I have no idea. Seems a little unfair, non-transparent and not very equal.

Thank you for pointing this out – I wasn’t aware of this. I’ve asked Sheila Gupta, our interim Director of HR, to look into this. Perhaps you can get in touch with Sheila directly, or email internalcomms@sussex.ac.uk who will treat this confidentially for you.

There is currently no clear career path for professional services staff to be promoted (unlike academic staff roles) - are there any plans to make this possible in future?

Progression is an essential part of an effective HR strategy. My personal opinion is that we’ve not put enough thought or effort into this in recent years. Obviously there is a limit to the number of roles we can offer at more senior levels; however, I believe there are many other ways we can allow staff to progress, which is not always about promotion. Growing skills and capabilities is extremely important, as is allowing our staff to be more in control of their careers at Sussex. I want Sussex to be an amazing place to work. Both Sheila Gupta and the incoming HR Director will have staff progression the top of their agenda.

When I joined Sussex a few years ago, part of the attraction was the fact I could undertake a part-time postgraduate course fully funded by the University. This seems to have stopped without any communication. Is there any hope this will come back?

I’m not aware of this being offered to staff as an incentive for working here. I think this would need to be something we consider with the new HR Director. My instinct is that this sounds quite a financial commitment for the University when we are having to put much of our resources into making urgent improvements to our facilities. However, as I’ve said, staff progression is extremely important to me. There may be other or similar programmes we can introduce. 

Have you witnessed the "bad" behaviour?

I have certainly heard about it, first hand, from several people. I have also seen emails that shocked me. There is a clear pattern of behaviour that has become almost acceptable. However it isn’t acceptable and I am taking measures.

Please will you say a bit more about strategies the University will take to address the clear issue of bullying that was identified in the staff survey?

Yes. Please do take a look at the information we sent out just a few weeks ago. This includes an action plan. The levels of bullying reported really worry me and are absolutely unacceptable. See our news story.

Why do Students' Union staff receive an annual volunteering allowance but we don't?

It’s a good point. I’d really like us to think seriously about volunteering. I know that many people in the University have put forward ideas and initiatives to get this going. We need to get going on some of those ideas now. I’ll raise this with the University Leadership Team.

Why is there such a lack of transparency in HR processes?

How we manage all our HR processes is up for review – as we look to appoint a new HR Director. I’m sure you can imagine that one of the first things the new Director will want to do is look at everything in the round. Shelia Gupta is doing a great job since joining us in the interim role. I’d like to know more about your specific points. Please do email me.

Teaching

Is the University planning to offer online courses, MOOCs or flexible study options at either UG or PG level? This would probably improve our relationship with the local community.

Online distance learning is really important for us and we’re working hard to get our proposition right. As you can imagine, all the points you raise are being considered as part of Strategy 2025. I want us to be far more flexible in what we offer – especially through taking advantage of the latest technologies. 

When we move teaching space around in the summer it is difficult to maintain existing. How can we ensure both are done?

I understand the pressures this creates – we’re listening to everyone in our community about this. I know it causes issues. The University has grown significantly in recent years and investment in infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. However, it remains the case that much of our space is under-used and, whilst it is hard to get an appropriate classroom on Wednesday mornings, they are often available on Mondays and Fridays.

Will the University open up undergraduate degrees to part-time study? Members of staff looking to upskill would find this useful, and currently there are no facilities for mature students to study at UG level.

A few people have asked me this. I don’t have an answer right now – but we are actively exploring it.

Do you have a position on the fee waiver policy for staff to study part time (with agreement of their manager)? The policy suggests requests will generally be supported, but this doesn't happen in practice (at least not across all schools and divisions).

As above.

What is our strategy for technology in teaching and learning?

I hope you saw from my talk that having a technology-led approach to teaching is the direction of travel we have to consider. It could be an extremely exciting journey for us.

Impact of world affairs

What is the effect of Trump and the rise of fascism on Sussex University?

We are entering exceptionally interesting times in global politics. My personal opinion on the effect of Trump is the need for us to be extremely tolerant of differing views and learn from what is happening around the world. However, we will also be very quick to act if we feel that anyone in our community has been discriminated against or messages of inciting hatred or violence are uncovered.

As I mentioned in an email to all students last week, universities are places that are defined by a spirit of critical enquiry, the capacity to challenge, and a celebration of different views and opinions. We do everything in our power to keep allowing this to happen.