Summary of Meeting with UoN – Student Experience / Blended Teaching

UCU met with University management to discuss concerns on the 11th Nov 2020

UCU concerns:

We are still in a position where we are asking staff to deliver in person teaching in the middle of a lockdown. As you know, UCU national position is that all non-essential activity should move online and, as local branch, we have asked that online teaching and working be the default position, with staff being given the choice to opt-in to face to face. We believe that this would be the best solution for all concerned. It is unlikely to result in great disruption to the current provision and changes would be manageable.

There are huge workload implications for moving back and forth between online and face to face, with students or staff in and out of self isolation and these are likely to continue next semester. There are also particular challenges for neurodiverse staff and stress management/anxiety over ‘blended’ teaching.

Online as default and choice to opt in would reassure staff and go a long way in restoring trust and good will among those staff that feel most anxious. It will also keep all staff engaged positively in delivering the rest of the academic year. The rounded experience for students is built on staff anxiety. It would be important to show good will to staff, who are under enormous pressure, compounded by Campus Solutions not working.

Many students are very positive about their online learning experience. You said the next student survey is planned in February 21, we should run this now, get feedback from students, you might be surprised by the responses, and use those to plan for next semester.

There is also the issue of the guidance around pre-recorded lectures, which is only guidance and not policy, like the lecture capture policy, which it is based upon. Having that confirmed as policy would reassure many staff and help build trust.

UoN response:

The key for blended teaching is a pedagogy that is fit for purpose, pedagogy is the priority. The Faculty of Arts felt that they could manage the so called flexi-mode (opt in) and tried that out, they are now gathering feedback from colleagues, working with digital learning teams and learning community forums.

We will take away the suggestion about running the survey now, but we are using the SU’s survey, the LCFs, SETs, so we are getting constant feedback. Some Schools are running their own survey.

The priority now is to get students home safely and to return safely. We will encourage students to get tested, but we cannot require them to use the testing facilities. In January, we will adopt a staggered approach for return and we will need tofind ways to incentivise students to get tested on arrival.

On the lecture capture policy, as you say two weeks ago we published a mirror document that sets out guidance for prerecorded video material. We haven’t turned that guidance into policy yet, due to consultation requirements and timing. We are using the guidance as de facto policy, but happy to take this away and look at turning it into policy asap.

Post-meeting updates:

Pre-recorded lecture materials

UoN confirmed that they have asked the Chair of Teaching and Learning Committee to request TLC’s approval of the ‘Guidance on pre-recorded lecture materials’ document as policy at the next meeting on November 18th. TLC ‘owns’ the Lecture Capture policy on behalf of Education and Student Experience Committee (which reports to Senate). They explained to the Chair that UCU colleagues do not see the need for consultation on the guidance, because of its relationship to the lecture capture policy.

Student survey

With regard to the timing of the Covid-19 Student Experience and Learning Survey, we have subsequently consulted with the team responsible for designing, running and analysing the survey and have decided that we will continue with our current plan. We understand the concerns of UCU colleagues but we are satisfied that we have other means in place to capture and respond to feedback this semester, and there is much more to be gained by surveying students after semester 1 has been completed, and they are back on campus and engaged in semester 2 teaching. They will have had their first assessment period and that gives more validity to the responses in the survey. They will be able to comment on the experience of this years’ blended learning, which is different to the summer experience.

Summary of Meeting with UoN – Finance

UCU met with University management to discuss concerns on the 11th Nov 2020

UCU asked for update, with info re Covid spending

UoN update:

When Covid struck in March, we lost £43m income (commercial, research, tuition), approximately half of it related to a reduction in research income. We would have been in dire straits in August, at the end of the financial year, and therefore had to introduce stringent spend controls. The Emergency Finance Group chaired by Andy Long was created to monitor spend. The finance plan worked better than anticipated and the net debt position (£100m) is as strong as we could have hoped going into this financial year.

FY 20/21 –Projected loss £150m. Just over half of the loss of income relates to a drop in recruitment of international students (assumed loss of 80% of target). The rest is loss of research income, commercial income and catering income. This is a multi-year problem. This year we paused capital investment (with the exception of anything that is H&S related and/or is committed)and implemented the 15% saving plans (covid adjustment plans). We will also borrow more. We have gone into this crisis in one of best places in the Russell Group. That is why we are in position to borrow money.

On recruitment, we achieved 80% of UG, 51% of PGT, 56% of PGR (as of 23 Oct). Further 20% of PGT are due to join in January.

We will not know the full financial picture until shortly before Christmas. The situation is not as bad as worst case scenario, but student retention is a problem. If we have to reimburse accommodation costs, it will have a financial impact. This is not what has been driving our decisions, but it is a reality that we need to take into account.

Re Covid budget, the cost of covid increasing daily level. £6.5m for this year, so far. Testing is costing £2m; the rest is for signage; hand sanitizer, meals for students. The government will pay for Pillar 2 testing, not the asymptomatic testing.

UCU question:

Has a comparative project been made about offset of making the university Covid-safe and going fully online, saving the money of Covid-safe measure? Particularly given that students are increasingly not coming to class.

UoN response:

Student tuition far over exceeds money spent on making campus covid safe. Students need the ‘Campus experience’. It’s not just classes, but other facilities on campus. We have to give a ‘rounded’ offer, including face to face teaching. We continue to think this is valuable.

We are not dismissing the value of online teaching, but we have to give students multiple opportunities. We are not saying that people aren’t doing excellent work in online teaching, but the blended approach is there to give a rounded experience. We have to maintain this offer after Christmas. The real concern after Christmas is mass transport from other parts of country and outbreaks of Covid. We understand the anxieties, but there is no evidence to show that face to face is dangerous. There is no evidence ofrisk related to F2F teaching. The only reason we are going online from 9 December is to allow for students to go home. It is not related to the danger of teaching F2F.