Students Staff
University of Essex

March 30, 2020

Research Information for Staff and Postgraduate Research Students

Professor Christine Raines, our PVC Research, offers guidance and support for our research staff and students, during this challenging time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is posing significant challenges for our research and researchers and to provide support we have put together information, links and contacts where you can obtain further guidance. If you have any concerns or questions not addressed below please contact your Head of Department.

Research grants

Research funding bodies are in the process of issuing guidance to universities and grant holders about delays and changes resulting from Covid-19. The general trend is an indication that no-cost extensions should be available. If you think that your funded research will be delayed and need to contact the funder then please copy post-award into the correspondence. The best way to approach this is to propose a solution (e.g. request for a no cost extension). This will be of highest priority for grants that are due to finish soon. The ongoing situation regarding coronavirus is affecting the research community and will continue to evolve and increase over time. Please check the latest guidance from research funders for applicants (British Academy, Leverhulme Trust, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – please also see their Q&A on the impact of COVID-19 on NIHR funded and supported research, Royal Society, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), Wellcome Trust).

If you have questions about your current funding please contact Sue Hanshaw in the REO.

For our internal GCRF QR funded projects, no extension is available currently.  Beate Knight in the Research Development team will be in touch with PI’s to discuss options.

Postgraduate Research Students

As part of our commitment to create enabling environments for postgraduate research and education, we have made arrangements for remote supervision and a series of support mechanisms and processes that mitigate against research interruption as much as possible and enable flexibility in the progression of research goals.

Our regulations and practices have been updated enabling supervisory panels via video link, research away from campus, electronic thesis submission, and vivas held via video link and setting up of PGR Covid-19 FAQs. All available on our corona virus webpage.

Resources to support postgraduate research activities off site include off-campus access to necessary software and databases (STATA, Bloomberg and others), loanable laptops for PGRs, and subject librarians are available to continue to provide live advice. Our aim is to enable PGRs research to progress, but we also understand that there may be situations (e.g., lab-based research, practice-as-research, or research placements) where uninterrupted progress is impossible. In such instances we will work with colleagues to reconsider research schedules and extended deadlines for their supervisees. UKRI has issued a statement in support of one such approach to doctoral study, highlighting that no penalties will be applied to Research Organisations as a result of COVID-19 extensions, and some doctoral training partnerships have confirmed funding for the periods of extension. More information on this is available on the UKRI website.

Access to research facilities

Following the announcement on Monday 23 March by the Prime Minister, the University has now moved to ‘Advanced Protection’ Phase in response to the COVID-19 challenge. It is with a heavy heart that we took the decision to restrict access to research laboratories and facilities in order to protect the safety of staff. Access will only be allowed for essential activities (eg. to protect the viability of equipment and or materials), restricted to appropriately trained, individual members of staff, authorised by the Head of Department. No new experimental work should be initiated unless it is COVID-19 related and has been given consent by me. I understand that this will be a difficult time and if you have any concerns about the consequences of these changes to access for your research please contact your Head of Department.

Advice on preparing research grants during the pandemic.

Throughout this period of uncertainty, the REO remains open, with teams working remotely and the normal support for preparing and submitting grant applications is available.  Funding calls are still active at this stage. Research ethics review and monitoring processes will continue remotely via the ERAMs and zoom for sub-committee meetings. The enterprise team are continuing links with external partners remotely. Innovate UK have approved use of video conferencing for regular KTP meetings in place of face to face.

REF2021 COVID-19 Contingency Planning

The submission deadline for REF2021 has been postponed and will no longer take place on 27 November 2020, a new submission deadline will be announced no later than eight months prior to the deadline. The REF staff census date (31 July 2020) remains unchanged. We will advise staff of any further changes to REF2021 as soon as information becomes available.

The full announcement is available on the REF website.

Professor Christine Raines

PVC Research



March 24, 2020

Advanced Protection Phase

Following the very stringent measures announced by the Prime Minister last night, the Chair of University Council and I have taken the decision that the University move into the ‘Advanced Protection’ Phase of our response to COVID-19. We have set out what this means on our web site in our University of Essex Business Continuity Plan. Further details of the strict curbs to our lives announced by the Prime Minister are explained in full detail on the Government’s website.

As a consequence of moving to ‘Advanced Protection’, we are now putting in place measures to deliver essential services. Staff working on our campuses will be focused on supporting residential and essential operational services – supported by staff working remotely. For University staff, please could you contact your line manager if you are unsure about how you should be working during this period of ‘Advanced Protection’. For students we have provided more information about ‘Advanced Protection’ in our University of Essex Business Continuity Plan.

I know these measures present an unprecedented challenge to our community and if you have any questions please speak directly to your line manager or Head of Department. Students can contact us at: askthehub@essex.ac.uk

Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor

 



March 20, 2020

Stay safe and well over the Easter vacation

Our Academic Registrar, Richard Stock, tells us more about how you can stay in touch, keep informed and continue succeeding despite the current circumstances.

As we go into the Easter Vacation, I  want to reassure you that despite current circumstances and an ever changing landscape you remain our valued University of Essex students and we will continue to do all we can to stay in touch, to keep you informed and to ensure that you are able, not just to continue learning, but to continue succeeding with us.

It is now the end of term and many of you will have left campus already or will be preparing to do so imminently.

Over the Easter break we want you to rest and recuperate as much as you can and to continue with your studies. Your departments will have been in touch about accessing lectures through Listen Again and our libraries are offering a wide range of resources online to support your learning.

For those of you staying on campus across the break, our campuses will remain open and will continue to be the welcoming, inclusive communities that you can call home.

We have changed the arrangements for many of our food outlets and will ensure all opening times are clearly communicated. Study spaces will be available on campus and we will continue to offer as many facilities as we can.  We do need you to play your part by practising social distancing while working and socialising in spaces with others.

Our teams are continuing to work to support you and while many of our staff are now working from home, they are contactable and are able to ensure your student experience remains our priority.

Our Student Services Hubs for Colchester, Southend and Loughton are operating phone, email and live chat facilities.

Our Library team can live chat via the website or you can email them enquiries at libline@essex.ac.uk.

For specific queries relating to COVID-19, email our dedicated team at covid19@essex.ac.uk.

I wrote to you on Monday with details of changes to exams and assessment. Details can be found on my blog and again in handy Q&A format on our COVID19 webpage for students.

Our COVID-19 page for students is being updated regularly. Do keep checking this page for the latest news on everything from travel guidance to Tier 4 and immigration news.

We will ensure you are updated regularly. Please keep an eye on your Essex email and all our usual communication channels.

If you’re going home and your parents, family or friends would like to receive updates from the University, they can sign up to our Friends@essex newsletter – simply email friends@essex.ac.uk with their email address.

We know this is an uncertain time for everyone but as a University with students at its heart, I want to assure you that you continue to be our priority. Support each other as much as you can and do not hesitate to get in touch if you need us.



March 16, 2020

COVID-19 Enhanced Protection – Safeguarding our community

As the virus spreads in the UK, with direct impacts on both our work and home lives and to our health and wellbeing, I want to assure you that we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that we safeguard educational outcomes for our students, while ensuring that the wellbeing and health of our staff, students and wider community remains our first priority.

As well as following Public Health England and UK Government advice, we are taking our own pre-emptive, protective action to safeguard the welfare of our community when we consider this the right thing to do. On 13 March I emailed all staff and students to set out a range of ‘Enhanced Protection’ measures that we are taking to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our community. If we need to take further steps, we will implement a range of ‘Advanced Protection’ measures. We have published these Business Continuity plans for staff and students to access on our COVID-19 information pages online.

I want to reiterate that whilst most teaching, supervision and academic support will be delivered online from Monday 16 March, our campuses remain open. Our campuses will continue to be environments where we follow the latest medical guidance to ensure that staff and students on campus remain protected, safe and supported. For some students, the safest and most secure place may well be on campus.

Our Four Work Streams

In addition to existing work on Business Continuity (led by the Registrar and Secretary); Student Recruitment (led by the DVC); and Financial Security (led by the Director of Finance, Planning and Data Insight), I have launched a ‘People’ work stream, led by Susie Morgan, our Director of People and Culture. The People work stream will ensure that we maintain an enhanced focus on our people and our community throughout the pandemic.

There are a number of strands to this work, including:

  • Focusing on staff and students who are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 (for example because of age, long-term health problems or for any other reason) – and those of us supporting people in our families who are at higher risk.
  • Avoiding any sense of staff and students having to choose between looking after family members and their work commitments.
  • Providing reassurance to staff, including on demand staff such as GTAs/GLAs about arrangements for pay if they become ill or are required to self-isolate.
  • Reviewing travel and other guidance to staff and students.
  • Supporting staff and students who are home working or self-isolating, recognising and addressing the health and wellbeing issues that this raises and addressing the equality implications for staff and students.
  • Re-doubling our efforts to ensure that our three campuses remain safe for everyone who lives and works on them, including enhanced cleaning, social distancing and limiting gatherings of people.

Following the start of a period of ‘Enhanced Protection’ from Monday 16 March, Susie Morgan has emailed with additional information on what this will mean for staff in relation to working from home and working on our campuses. Each member of staff, whatever our working arrangements during the period of ‘Enhanced Protection’, will be making an important contribution to keeping our campuses safe and looking out for each other. I want to give special recognition to the contributions of colleagues who provide essential services on our campuses and have specific responsibilities for ensuring their safety, security, food, cleanliness and smooth operation as home to thousands of our students.

Updates will be part of our regular communications over the coming weeks and months and available on the website, on our pages for staff and for students. If there is anything more we can do to respond to any concerns that you have, please do get in contact at covid19@essex.ac.uk.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for all of us. I want to assure you that the health and wellbeing of our students and staff will remain my first priority in the weeks and months ahead. This crisis is requiring us to embrace new ways of thinking, different ways of working, and to respond to considerable disruption. Thank you to everyone for your support in meeting these challenges.



Summer examinations and assessment in response to COVID-19

Our Academic Registrar, Richard Stock, provides further information about our plans to manage summer examinations and assessment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are in unprecedented times and responding to a fast-moving global problem. In developing our plans, our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. The arrangements we are putting in place are designed to minimise the spread and impact of the COVID-19 virus while ensuring that you can continue and complete your programme of study.

As the Vice-Chancellor confirmed on Friday, we have agreed that, whenever possible, we will not run examinations that require you to be physically present on campus during the summer term. This applies to all groups of taught students, both undergraduate and postgraduate.

This does not mean that summer assessment has been cancelled.

Alternative Assessment

Over recent weeks, we have been working with Departments and Schools to agree alternative approaches to assessing your learning in the summer term. There are a number of elements to this:

  • We will make use of alternative assessment methods, for example, using ‘take home’ examinations based on examination papers that have already been prepared.
  • We will ensure that any alternative assessment continues to meet our rigorous academic standards in line with our commitment to excellence in education.
  • We will ensure that alternative assessments give you appropriate equivalent opportunities to demonstrate your learning.
  • We recognise that some courses and modules have external accreditation requirements. We are actively working with relevant accreditating bodies to ensure that accreditation requirements are managed through this process.
  • For some modules, the nature of the assessment and/or accreditation requirements may mean that assessment on our campuses will be necessary. Where this is the case, we will ensure that any assessment undertaken will be carefully managed in line with advice from Public Health England. Please be assured that your health and wellbeing will be our top priority in all decision-making.
  • For some modules, where work already completed has demonstrated that the learning outcomes of the module have been met (for example, through coursework or formative or other types of assessment), it may be decided that no further assessment for that module is required.
  • For each module, a method of assessment will be approved that is appropriate to your learning on the module.

Details of revised assessment arrangements for each module will be published through the examinations timetable. There will be a delay to the publication of this timetable whilst we work to ensure it accurately reflects the changes to our assessment arrangements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect the timetable to be published by no later than the end of March 2020. Once the timetable is published, Departments and Schools will provide you with further details about arrangements for alternative assessment in each module. We will communicate with you if there is likely to be any delay in the publication of the timetable.

You are advised to contact your Department or School if you have any questions. Please be aware that Departments and Schools are working hard to finalise arrangements so it may not yet be possible for all your questions to be answered fully at this stage.

We understand that you will be feeling concerned about the impact of these changes on your studies and academic performance. We are committed to supporting you and to ensuring that no student is disadvantaged as a result of the changes we are making to protect the health and wellbeing of our students and staff.

Absence from Assessment

We are reviewing our processes for managing absence from assessment to ensure we are as responsive to the situation as possible. The University already has processes in place for ensuring fair assessment outcomes when individual students’ assessment performance is adversely affected by circumstances outside your control (extenuating circumstances). Please be assured that all Boards of Examiners will take into account the impact of COVID-19 disruptions when making their progression and degree classification decisions.

Teaching Arrangements

I want to confirm the arrangements for teaching as we reach the end of the Spring term. The Vice-Chancellor announced on Friday that most face-to-face teaching and supervision would stop at 9am on Monday 16 March. Your Department or School will confirm the specific arrangements for your modules for the remainder of this academic year. You are advised to confirm with your Department or School that you do not need to remain on campus for any educational reasons before leaving.

We do not know how long it will be necessary to avoid face-to-face teaching. We are continuing to monitor the situation and will confirm any changes as they arise. As things currently stand, you should plan to return to your campus for the Summer term for revision and the summer assessment period.

However, as this is a fast-moving situation, you should be prepared for this to change as the situation evolves. We advise you to take any IT equipment and all other learning materials with you when you leave so that you can access online learning if it is necessary after the Easter vacation.

I hope this is a helpful summary of our plans. We appreciate that this is a worrying time. Please keep an eye on our website for information on how the University is responding to COVID-19. We are developing frequently asked questions guidance on our plans for the summer assessment period, which will be published through these webpages as soon as possible.

Finally, I wish you the very best during the summer assessment period and as we work together to respond to this very difficult situation.



March 13, 2020

Enhanced Protection Measures

The UK Chief Medical Officers has raised the risk level from COVID-19 in the UK from Moderate to High and I want to update you on the steps that we are taking as a University to protect our staff and students against the spread and impact of the virus.

We have not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19 on our campuses. Nevertheless, as the number of cases in the UK increases, we want to take pre-emptive steps to protect members of our community and their families from the risk of infection.

During recent weeks, University colleagues have been developing a phased approach to protect our community. We are now implementing ‘Enhanced Protection’ measures, with effect from 9am on Monday 16 March.

Amongst other steps this will include:

  • Suspending all face-to-face delivery of teaching and supervision. All teaching, supervision and academic support will be delivered online from Monday 16 March. This may include onsite delivery of teaching where appropriate (for example, lectures delivered on site if necessary and captured by Listen Again for student to access on-line). Details of alternative delivery arrangements will be communicated to staff and students by Heads of Department.
  • Whenever and wherever possible there will be no physical examinations on any campus during the summer term for all groups of taught students, including postgraduates. A detailed plan is under development with departments to ensure that we can continue to assess and progress students and to ensure that degrees can be awarded. This will include alternative methods of assessment. For modules where alternative assessment is not possible, physical assessment will be undertaken in a carefully managed way. Details of revised assessment arrangements will be published through the examinations timetable. Further details will be communicated to all students by the Academic Registrar on Monday 16 March.
  • Suspending all University public events and gatherings.
  • The Albert Sloman Library, Loughton Library, The Forum Library at Southend and all learning facilities will remain open, with social distancing measures implemented to protect members of our community (maintain at least 1 metre distance between yourself and others).
  • All our University sports facilities will be closed from 00.01 on Monday 16 March.
  • Until further notice Wivenhoe Park Day Nursery will remain open for those who wish to continue to use the nursery.
  • Enabling staff who can work remotely to do so as well as implementing social distancing measures on our campuses. Staff should consult their line managers to confirm working arrangements and any support required.
  • If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or the result of a long-term health problem or for any other reason and have not yet contacted our Occupational Health team please do so, so that we can provide specific advice and support to you. You can email them at covid19@essex.ac.uk.

It is important to emphasise that our campuses – which are home to thousands of students – will remain open and we will continue to provide key on-campus services for students and staff. On-site services and facilities such as health and well-being services, our Health Centre, Information Centre, post room, catering outlets and shops will remain open, with social distancing measures implemented to protect members of our community.

We are continuing to focus on keeping our campuses as clean and hygienic as possible, with increased cleaning regimes, particularly in high footfall and public areas and targeting specific risk issues such as door handles and encouraging members of our community to practice good hygiene by washing hands regularly and using the hand sanitisers provided across our campuses.

Full details of our ‘Enhanced Protection’ measures are available online. It may be necessary to further increase the scale of protection to safeguard the health and wellbeing of our community. In such a case, our ‘Advanced Protection’ measures will ensure that campuses and accommodation continue to remain open, supported by essential services. I am especially mindful of the contributions of colleagues who support essential services, and those who have specific responsibilities for ensuring the safety, security, cleanliness and smooth operation of our campuses as home to thousands of students.

Should you have any concerns please contact covid19@essex.ac.uk.

Financial Security

I do not want any colleagues to be worried about arrangements for pay if you become ill or are required to self-isolate.

  • For members of staff on permanent and fixed-term contracts: if you are self-isolating, working at home, or required to stay at home, you will be paid in the normal way and there will be no need to self-certify or produce medical certificates.
  • For on demand staff including GTAs/GLAs:if you have been offered work and can’t carry out the work as it cannot be done from home, you will be paid as if you had worked.
  • Ifon demand staff have to self-isolate, you will receive Statutory Sick Pay in accordance with your contract. The government is updating the rules around Statutory Sick Pay and we will ensure we are up to date with these changes as they occur.
  • If your contract is due to end and you are at home, you will be paid in the normal way until the end of the contract.

We have provided information about pay on our dedicated COVID-19 page for staff. If you have any question please do not hesitate to contact us at covid19@essex.ac.uk.

I am currently unsure how long it will be necessary for us to implement these measures. I would urge you to keep up to date with the information on our dedicated web pages which are updated daily and provide information about other Coronavirus related matters, for both staff and students.

We are ensuring that these also reflect the latest information from Public Health England, the World Health Organisation and others.  If you have any questions which are not answered on these web pages, please email us at: covid19@essex.ac.uk.

Finally, I want to recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic and the pre-emptive steps that we are taking to enhance protection of our community will create significant disruption to our lives, and to the work of the University. I want to assure you that we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that we safeguard educational outcomes for our students while ensuring that the wellbeing and health of our staff, students and wider community remains our first priority.



March 9, 2020

Responding to the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus)

As COVID-19 spreads further across the globe and in the UK, I will be providing a weekly update on how the University is responding to the spread and impact of the virus. My updates will supplement the weekly emails being sent at the end of each week, the dedicated pages on our website for staff and students and the information available from trusted sources, such as Public Health England, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the World Health Organisation.

I know that many people are anxious about the impact of COVID-19 on both our work-place and our home life. It is a serious global health threat, but the University is well placed to meet this challenge, and I want to keep you up to date with what we are doing.

There are three work streams under way, led by senior members of the University, all of which report to our executive group (USG). The work streams are: business continuity (led by Bryn Morris, our Registrar and Secretary); student recruitment mitigation planning for the autumn term 2020 (led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lorna Fox O’Mahony); and a work stream looking at financial resilience (led by the Director of Finance, Planning and Data Insight, Andrew Keeble). The University leadership team are in close touch with the Chair of Council and the Chair of our Council’s Audit and Risk Management Committee and we continue to work very closely with our Students’ Union to ensure that we keep our student community well informed. Alongside University-wide activities, business continuity and mitigation planning is also under way locally within Faculties, Departments and Sections. This collective endeavour will be supported by all members of our staff community.

We took early action to manage our response to COVID-19 and this initial work is at an advanced stage. Phase 1 is drawing to a close and amongst other things this has included: recognising this is an exceptional situation requiring an exceptional response; putting into effect a ‘clear the decks’ approach to the work of some staff  so that we stop non-essential activities; cancelling or postponing a number of events/activities to free up leadership time in faculties, departments and sections to allow a focus on mission critical priorities; refining our working from home policies; and identifying critical IT infrastructure needs to support different ways of working.

We have also rolled out plans for on-line/blended learning, so that should we need to restrict face-to-face teaching (whilst keeping our campuses open) we can ensure students can continue with their courses. We have also updated our plans should staff and students need to self-isolate or we have a confirmed case of COVID-19.

As well as planning for our standard September/October start to the academic year, we are also putting in place planning to support deferred entry for next academic year in order to ensure students can join courses as and when they are permitted.

We are now moving into a second phase of preparedness, which will include: trialling the use of virtual meetings; and rolling out ‘working from home’ across teams where possible to allow us to test the effectiveness of our systems and to ensure resilience in teams.

We are also looking at the interface between business continuity and student recruitment. The pace and scale of the changes that we need have also led us to schedule more frequent check-in points to review progress. I will be seeking approval from Council for an additional budget to support our preparedness work. We are also stepping up our communications with our webpages for staff and students being updated daily and a new “latest changes” feature added to enable readers to see how the site is developing each day.

I hope these steps go some way towards reassuring you that the University is taking COVID-19 seriously and that we are taking a comprehensive, focused and phased approach in our response to the virus, which may last many weeks and months.

Finally, I know that this is requiring us to embrace new ways of thinking, different ways of working, and to respond in some cases to considerable disruption. I want to thank everyone for your overwhelmingly positive response. Our Essex Spirit – a strong sense of community and a heightened awareness that we need to look out for each other – feels stronger than ever. I am sure this will be key to us staying the course over the coming weeks and months.