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President's weekly update

23 September 2021

I’m sure you are all aware that on Wednesday morning, we faced a significant incident on campus with a major United Utilities water pipe unexpectedly rupturing along Oxford Road, causing major flooding and disruption to a number of parts of the estate and, of course, Welcome Week.

Due to the heroic efforts of teams from across the University and of course the emergency services, we handled the incident really well, with nearly all of the campus now re-open and returned to normal. Thanks to everyone involved for all their efforts, it is much appreciated and for your swift action in keeping so many events going.

USS and proposed pension changes

There is much ongoing discussion about the proposed changes to USS pension. At a recent UUK meeting we heard about the current proposals and consultation with employers which closed on 20th September. A consultation with members is likely to begin in November. USS and UUK are working on longer term changes to the scheme with the aim of ensuring that it remains valuable to staff, is attractive and affordable, with good governance and offers a new low cost option for members.

Against this background, we are very disappointed that the University and College Union (UCU) are now once again balloting for industrial action, and this after a significantly disrupted 18 months due to COVID. We make every effort to ensure that our University is a great place to work and study and with all the work being done to ensure pay and pensions continue to be attractive and affordable, we sincerely hope that industrial action won’t be taken and that we can avoid the risk of significant further disruption to our community.

Staff open meeting and questions

It was a pleasure to speak with a wide range of staff at our first open meeting of the new academic year. I presented briefly on some of the key issues which I know are on your minds including student recruitment, COVID safety, recent successes, challenges such as safety and pensions for the forthcoming year and financial sustainability. Staff asked about car parking charges, COVID safety measures, resource to support extra students and IT support. You can watch the session here.

Back on campus

Students are now arriving in large numbers, so the campus is extremely busy which is great to see. It is also really encouraging that in our recent student vaccination survey, which to date has been completed by over 22,000 students (thanks for that), over 88% are fully vaccinated, a further 7% have had at least one jab, and of those not yet vaccinated, 55% say they intend to get jabbed.

Obviously, we remain very mindful about COVID and have implemented many measures to mitigate infections. Please take a look at our latest guidance which is aimed at limiting the spread of infections, within the government and public health guidelines.

External relationships and connections

I attended a meeting at 10 Downing Street hosted by the Prime Minister, in the presence of His Highness Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi to celebrate a major investment from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in UK prosperity and innovation. The opportunities for further investment including advanced materials, health, AI, Innovation District Manchester and Northern Gritstone .

Shaping the future

It is always so exciting to see the great work we are doing to make a tangible difference. Our Digital Futures Board heard about our major plans to address health inequalities. This is a huge issue for our region which has been exacerbated by COVID. We already have real strengths in inequalities which is one of our five research beacons.  

The Faculty of Science and Engineering Faculty Leadership meeting focused on the real challenges of the very high levels of student recruitment due to the major increase in A-level grades, the huge recent successes of the Faculty and the ongoing financial challenges that remain for all research intensive universities. Understandably, concerns were expressed about the tight squeeze on our budgets, lifting staff morale and the resource to support our additional student numbers, while building back research and providing access to research facilities for students.

And finally…  

I was delighted that Jen O’Brien came away as the winner of the first annual Pearson HE Innovate Awards for her hybrid learning project with our University College of Interdisciplinary Learning unit on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor