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President's weekly update

21 May 2020

We have launched a number of voluntary measures for staff, including a voluntary severance scheme, which is open from 21 May until 31 July. Other options include a voluntary reduction of hours with a corresponding reduction in salary; taking an unpaid career break of between three months and two years; and taking a voluntary reduction in salary or opting-out of honoraria payments.  The latter measures have already been offered by some staff, and members of the Senior Leadership Team have taken a voluntary 20% pay cut. It is hoped that these measures will partly address the financial pressures we are likely to face in the next academic year due to the impact of COVID-19 on student recruitment.

 Many other Russell Group universities (and others overseas) have now made statements about their expectations for loss of international and EU students, and subsequent financial impacts, which are remarkably similar to our assumptions and are putting in place similar mitigations.

Our formal Board of Governors meeting was held on Zoom. We have been providing regular updates to the Board and chairs of Board committees so they are well aware of the many ongoing actions we have taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its short and longer-term implications.  The Board had already approved the voluntary measures for staff outlined above and discussed potential mitigations against the loss of income we expect to face next year. These were announced in April, and we also published in May an explanation of our income sources and where we spend our money.

I met with the trade unions to update them on latest actions such as extensions for final year PhD students and researchers whose contracts are about to end. We also discussed the voluntary measures we have just announced and other potential steps that we may have to take to reduce expenditure when we know about our student recruitment.

At Finance Sub-Committee we reviewed the loss of income due to COVID-19 in the current year, though this has been matched by significant savings as most research and some other expenditure eg: travel has stopped. Much expenditure this year has been deferred into next year (due to lockdown) so we will exceed our budgeted surplus in the current year. Unfortunately this will have a further adverse effect on our finances next year.

We discussed the savings due to deferring capital projects that are not in contract, long-term maintenance and all non-essential equipment and IT purchases at Capital Planning Sub-Committee. However once again most of these simply defer costs until later.

I have been in Russell Group discussions with Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities, and Amanda Solloway, Minister for Science, about the impact of loss of international and EU students on our universities, including on research, and I joined a small group convened by Amanda Solloway on the UK’s ambitions for research and development. Amanda Solloway also joined a meeting of the Council for Science and Technology which I chaired.

I joined a Zoom meeting with our North American Foundation (NAFUM) to update them on the impact of COVID-19. Professor Graham Lord, Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health, told them about our extensive research on COVID-19 and the volunteering by our staff and students. Several members of NAFUM have given very generously to our research and our student hardship fund which some staff have also donated to.

We are now providing weekly updates on our plans for a phased return to campus and new working arrangements. A great deal of work has been ongoing to ensure we can gradually reopen facilities safely, guided by Government advice.

Senior colleagues and I had a Zoom meeting with Caroline Wilson who will become the British Ambassador to China in September. We told her about the value of our many research and educational links with China and our many Chinese students. She shared our view that many Chinese students may choose not to study in the UK in the next academic year. Caroline aims to visit us in July if this is feasible. We know the current Ambassador, Dame Barbara Woodward very well and she has visited the University on a number of occasions.

We have started a series of Lockdown Lectures to which I contributed. The series was launched by a lecture and interview with Professor Brian Cox this week.  I have also recorded a lecture that was shown this week.

I hope you all manage to get a break over the Bank Holiday weekend.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor