Vice-Chancellor's recent briefing sessionsTuesday, 14 July 2020
I’m glad so many people were able to join me last week for an update on the current consultation with the University & College Union (UCU) and the Staff Forum. For those who couldn’t attend, there is a recording that you may wish to watch.
Internet Explorer/Edge browser users can access the video on Microsoft Stream.
Despite the disruption of the lockdown period, the excellent work of the University continues. We have received positive feedback from external examiners about what we’ve done here at Reading to deliver exams online. It was a huge achievement, and the work of processing marks and applying the marks safety net continues, which is a massive undertaking. Thanks to the work of hundreds of colleagues, we have successfully run our first ever virtual Open Days. Attendance was on a par with our on-campus Open Days in June last year and the feedback has been excellent. Work on our phased return to campus ‘roadmap’ is progressing well, as are arrangements for virtual celebrations for our finalists to help them mark the end of their studies with us. In short, thanks to you all for your hard work and commitment in the last four months, we are keeping the show on the road, and both I and my UEB colleagues are hugely grateful.
As I’ve explained previously, phase 1 of our Post-COVID-19 Response Programme is focused on achieving pay-related cost-savings. This is critical contingency planning – as I said to colleagues last week, while we continue to hope for the best in terms of recruitment and other influences on our finances, prudence requires that we prepare for less positive outcomes. How we achieve salary savings is the primary topic for the consultation.
The consultation meetings so far have addressed a number of issues. As I mentioned in my last update, all the minutes are being made available on the Staff Portal. You’ll also find background notes on some of the issues we’ve been discussing in response to questions from the UCU. These include the situation with the University of Reading Malaysia, our accommodation contract with UPP and our trust arrangements.
You can also read more on the Staff Portal about the model we have used to assess the impact of COVID-19 on our finances. We are keeping this under review, but the available information so far suggests that our prediction of a £106 million shortfall remains broadly correct. While recruitment is looking positive at this point in the cycle, prospective student decision-making is much more unpredictable in the current circumstances and the competition through Clearing is likely to be particularly fierce. The student number control imposed by government also limits how much we could benefit from any possible recruitment gains. International insight surveys tell us that the number of students intending to study abroad continues to decrease, potentially compounded by the deteriorating relationship between the UK and China.
In addition to the issues above, we are also discussing temporary changes to terms and conditions to reduce the short-term financial pressure on the University and to reduce the number of potential redundancies that might be needed in the longer term. This is the really critical and urgent work of the consultation. While we still have not reached any final position, it seems clear so far that the proposal for a temporary 4-day working week raises many difficult practical challenges, not least given how busy the coming year is likely to be. There has been more continued discussion about a temporary salary freeze and we have also started exploring temporary progressive reductions in salaries, with colleagues on lower grades affected less than those on higher grades.
So while there is a huge amount of detail that we have yet to cover I’m heartened that we are exploring the options and engaging in full and open dialogue with UCU and the Staff Forum. I continue to believe that sharing this challenge as a community in order to minimise job losses is the best way forward. I look forward to updating you again next week about how the consultation is progressing, so please book your place at either the Wednesday or Thursday session.
Professor Robert Van de Noort
Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading