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President's weekly update

13 January 2022

I very much hope that you all managed to have a break and a rest over the holiday period and were able to enjoy some festivities with family and friends. We should also be grateful to our staff who worked over the Christmas period, keeping our campus safe and ensuring that our key activities continued through the holidays.

It was wonderful to see our staff and alumni receiving national recognition in the New Year’s Honours list. Congratulations to our Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Banji Adewumi for receiving an MBE. You can also read about the other alumni and supporters of the University who received honours in the New Year.

COVID

The Omicron variant continues to cause very high rates of infection, including in the Manchester area. Thankfully, it does seem to be less serious, but hospitals are nevertheless under severe pressure and many of our clinical and health care staff are spending extra time in the NHS. We continue to provide regular updates and adhere to government and public health advice including obligatory wearing of masks indoors and working from home where this is possible.

We have sent a message to all students, recognising that some may be encountering travel or other challenges in returning to Manchester. Where cases have previously been made by subject discipline teams for examinations to take place on campus, we are continuing with those plans. However, for some programmes, almost all in Humanities, students can now apply through our mitigating circumstances route for remote study in Semester 2 only. Very careful consideration has been given to ensuring that this will not compromise delivery of intended learning outcomes, or a positive experience for all students on the relevant programmes. As ever, we will keep the situation under review.

University finances

We have now published our audited accounts for last year (2020/2021). These show a significant improvement on our financial position versus the budget due to strong student recruitment. This was partly unplanned, resulting from the change in A-level assessment with more higher grades awarded and significant savings, though some costs have been deferred in to the current and future years due to delays as a result of COVID. While student fee income was increased, a number of other incomes were reduced including research (which is recorded as spend and again this was lower due to COVID), student residences, catering, and conference revenues.

University Chancellor

The University is electing a new Chancellor this year, with the current Chancellor, Lemn Sissay OBE completing his term of office in July. The Chancellor works with senior officers to promote the University’s achievements regionally, nationally, and internationally and is guided in their work by our vision and strategic plan as set out in Our future. The Chancellor will be elected for a term of up to seven years from an electoral roll of approximately 240,000, including staff and graduates of the University and members of the General Assembly.  Look out for further communications in the coming weeks on StaffNet about the election and how you can participate.

Industrial action

We will hear soon the results of the re-ballot of UCU members on industrial action on the USS pension, where the previous ballot failed to reach the 50% threshold, and the UNISON ballot on pay. An average of 450 staff per day (of around 2,100 UCU members and 8,300 staff eligible for membership) reported taking strike action in December as part of UCU’s industrial action on pay and working conditions.

Research activities

I chaired the board of our Digital Futures theme which heard general updates on our many activities and had an extended discussion on digital skills which are in huge demand across the region as ever more digital companies are moving in and even more traditional organisations are wanting employees with digital skills.

Widening participation

This is a very important part of our teaching, learning and students and our social responsibility goals. Staff have prepared an excellent summary of our many WP activities over the past year.

External activities

The Times Education Commission, of which I am a member, heard evidence on the impact of wellbeing on education from a number of experts including leading researchers in education and mental health, Sir Peter Bazalgette, prominent in creative industries and the explorer Bear Grylls. We had a fascinating discussion about how much the environment has changed for young people, notably with social media, which was hailed as having significant benefits as well as real risks, the impact of COVID that has had particular impact on the most disadvantaged, and the need to recognise ‘failures’ as normal, and to learn from them.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor

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