Students Staff
University of Essex

May 15, 2020

Planning our move back onto our campuses

Dear colleagues and students,

On Friday of last week, the Vice-Chancellor wrote to us all explaining how we are developing our plans to enable us to start a return to more campus-based work and study. He outlined that the University would not be re-introducing more on campus activities yet and that we would only do so when we are confident that a phased return can be managed in a manner that keeps our students and staff safe.

Since then, the Government has published its COVID-19 recovery strategy which is supplemented by more detailed guidance documents. Although the guidance is helpful, it is still our intention to make our own assessment of when we should move from the current Advanced Protection arrangements. In making sure we get our plans right, we want to take full advantage of the insight, expertise and understanding of the University community.

As part of this process, I am sharing the proposed approach to planning our move back onto our campuses, and invite your comments and feedback.  I am also consulting with the Trades Unions, the Students’ Union and our safety representatives in good time with regard to these proposals.

Our approach will be to identify progressively less restrictive levels of protection under which the University will operate in the future, to ensure that we maintain a safe and healthy environment with more staff and students on campus. The University’s business continuity plan for COVID-19 initially identified two escalating levels of response: Enhanced and Advanced Protection.  We are currently in Advanced Protection.

Since moving into the Advanced Protection stage, we have been working to enhance our business continuity plan by developing two further proposed levels of protection. These outline the different arrangements that we would put in place as we bring more activities back onto campus and progressively lift restrictions on how we study, live and work. As a consequence, our plan now comprises five levels of operation:

  1. Advanced Protection, where essential services only are delivered on campus with all activities that are not essential to support the needs of students remaining on our campuses being delivered remotely;
  2. Enhanced Protection, with the majority of activities still being delivered remotely, but where limited services may be available safely on campus, with strict limits on the numbers of staff coming onto campus at any one time to facilitate rigorous social distancing;
  3. Sustained Protection, a new stage, providing measures that enable more elements of on-campus activity to resume than within Enhanced Protection but retaining arrangements where a significant number of staff will continue to be working from home; once we are confident that it is appropriate to move to this level it would, if circumstances deem necessary, be possible to remain in this mode for an extended period of time, given the risks of further waves of infection that might occur;
  4. Targeted Protection, a stage in which most activities would be able to resume on campus, but where we may need to continue to restrict very high risk activities from being undertaken, where we could not be confident, for example, that social distancing or other protective measures would be adequate to mitigate risks of infection;
  5. Steady State, a new form of business as usual, as yet undefined but which may encompass aspects of our working and learning experiences over the recent months where these have worked well for staff, students and the delivery of our mission.

As the Vice-Chancellor has advocated, whatever level of protection we operate in, the individual circumstances of our staff and students will be taken into account. This means that extra care will be taken in relation to those with underlying medical conditions, or those with risks to members of their households who may be shielding, self-isolating or, themselves, have underlying conditions.

The Government’s timeline indicates an intention for further easing of lockdown measures from 1 June. We are working to a longer timetable than this. We do not expect to be moving away from Advanced Protection and into Enhanced Protection until Monday 6 July at the earliest. We also do not expect that circumstances will enable us to move into Sustained Protection measures until at least Monday 7 September. Both of these dates could be moved further back but will not be brought forward. Pacing ourselves in this way will not only give us time to evaluate the broader societal impact of derestriction, but also to take soundings from colleagues and union representatives to ensure our plans are the best that they can be.

Our proposed approach is published in the revised Business Continuity Plan (.docx) and applied in draft to the detail of the activities (.docx) we undertake across our campuses.

We are also developing separate guidelines on the management of social distancing across our campuses and guidance on undertaking risk assessments for staff before returning to campus-based work while the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains. I expect these to be made available next week.

I really would value your views. Please send any comments to registrar@essex.ac.uk. Many thanks indeed to all those who have already contributed. We will re-publish an updated version of the Business Continuity Plan in the week beginning 15 June, and so any comments would be gratefully received by 8 June so that we can give them careful consideration and make revisions as appropriate. Thank you again for all your support and contributions.

I wish you all a good weekend, and hope that you and your families stay safe and well.

With best wishes,

Bryn Morris
Registrar & Secretary



May 7, 2020

Planning for our return to campus-based working

Dear colleagues and students,

Talking to colleagues, I know that many of us are anxious about returning to work on our campuses and keen to know how we are going to manage a process of phased return, that prioritises the safety, health and well-being of our staff and students. You may also have seen reports in the national press over the last 24 hours that the Prime Minister will make an announcement about the Government’s “roadmap” for lifting the lockdown on Sunday 10th May. The key headline I want to share is that other than essential staff currently working on our campuses, you should continue to work from home until, as a University community, we are confident that we can manage a phased return to campus-based working, that keeps our students and staff safe.

First and foremost, whilst we will always take UK Government advice into account in shaping the actions of the University, our approach goes beyond merely obeying the law of the land. We are absolutely committed to doing all that we can to safeguard the health and well-being of staff and students. This is why, despite some criticism, we implemented our ‘Enhanced Protection’ measures on 16th March, suspending all face-to-face delivery of teaching and supervision, in advance of the Government’s lockdown of the UK on 23rd March. Whatever the Government says over the weekend, we will not be announcing a phased return to campus based working next week (11th – 15th May).

Second, we know that the trust and confidence that our community have in our plans to return to campus-based work and study will play a key role in ensuring that, when the time is right for a phased return, people feel willing and able to return to campus-based working. This is true for those of us who continue to work on our campuses in an environment where only 1,500 staff and students are currently on the Colchester campus – as well as for staff and students who have been off campus working from home. A key feature of our approach is to publish detailed plans to managing our campuses during the pandemic. Our ‘Enhanced’ and ‘Advanced’ Protection Plans are available on our website, so that everyone can clearly see the actions we are taking to protect the safety of our community, and so that we can benefit from your feedback on our approach. We will continue to adopt this approach: we will publish the next set of detailed plans for a phased return to campus-based working as soon as these are ready. We will also continue to work very closely with all three of our campus trades unions, noting TUC and sector-based union advice and other sector guidance from bodies such as Universities UK and the Society of College, National and University Libraries. We are also working with the S10 Group, a group of 10 campus-based universities in the south of England and we will also draw on experiences of return-to-work planning from organisations and sectors outside Higher Education when we meet with our external Council members at our Council Away Day next Monday. We haven’t got all the answers and we want your views on what you would like to see included – and on how we can best provide assurance to you. Please feel free to email us at covid19@essex.ac.uk if you have views that you would like to share.

Our approach will recognise the personal circumstances of staff and students. This includes specific consideration of health risks for our staff, including a colleague’s own underlying medical conditions and for those of us who live with people who may be shielding, self-isolating or, themselves, have underlying conditions. Our approach also includes us ensuring that we will protect your health in a variety of physical locations, such as teaching rooms, offices, accommodation, retail and catering outlets and entry and exiting of physical spaces. Equality, diversity and inclusion issues will be at the forefront of our minds and our plans subject to an equality impact assessment/COVID-19 risk assessment. We will also consult with health and safety representatives of our three campus trades unions, before finalising our plans.

It is most likely that the Government will adopt an approach of progressively loosening of lockdown restrictions. I want to assure you that we will begin to implement our plans for phased return to our campuses only when we can do so safely. Instead of my weekly email next week, Bryn Morris, our Registrar and Secretary will send an all staff email to share our draft plans and seek your feedback.

Finally, we are also reviewing all aspects of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needs across the various environments in which we may need to work and to ensure PPE matches the personal circumstances that each of us might have. This includes: the adequate provision of PPE such as face masks/gloves; ensuring that we embrace sustainable solutions; and that, in looking after our needs, we do not take vital equipment away from the NHS, health and social care sectors and other emergency services. In addition, we are looking at the layout of facilities, how our staff and students can work safely in shared offices and navigate around campus with minimum congestion; and how we can best highlight our community’s expectations of individual staff and students in terms of social distancing, hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers and so on. We are also looking at a wide range of issues related to travel to and from our places of work.

In advance of any Government announcement, I hope this provides an update on our general approach and reassurance that, whilst we all want to return to campus-based working, it has to be in circumstances where risks are managed carefully and our staff and students have confidence that you will be safe.

I hope you have a good break over the early May Bank Holiday and that you and your families stay safe and well.

Anthony Forster

Vice-Chancellor



May 6, 2020

Supporting you to succeed

Our Academic Registrar, Richard Stock, tells us more about all the support we can offer our students to help them to prepare and to succeed. 

I hope you are settling into the new term after the Easter vacation. I know this remains a difficult time for everyone, and especially for our students. We have all had to adapt very quickly to working remotely. I know that for you this has meant new ways of learning at the same time as managing significant upheaval in your day-to-day lives. I understand how difficult this is. Our primary concern has and will always be the health and wellbeing of our students and staff. Everything we are doing is designed to enable you to continue and complete your programme of study while staying safe.

As we prepare for the start of our main summer exam period next week, I am keen to share with you information on how to access all the support we can offer to help you prepare and to succeed. In the run up to the exam period, please remember to:

In my previous updates to you, I have explained why we are continuing with the exams during the summer term. We are committed to safeguarding your success and we believe it is important that we provide you with opportunities to demonstrate your learning. Our alternative assessments have been adapted to the circumstances of the pandemic and will enable you to continue and complete your programmes of study through this uncertain time.

Our aim is to support you to undertake the assessment set out in your timetable in the same way that you would have been expected to sit the exams that were planned before the COVID-19 pandemic started. At the same time, we do recognise the difficult circumstances that you may be facing and that this means you might not be able to give of your best.

We understand that you may have caring or childcare responsibilities, other personal commitments, or may find it difficult to access IT facilities, all of which might affect your academic performance. The pandemic itself may be causing you to worry as you continue to deal with the implications of social distancing and protecting yourself and your family and friends.

Our approach to alternative assessment takes these factors into account, to ensure that you have a fair opportunity to demonstrate your learning. You will only be assessed on the content of your modules that you have been taught, and the methods of assessment have been adapted to recognise the disruption in your learning as well as the new circumstances in which you are completing them.

How we can support you
If you have any questions about your assessment or your course or modules, please contact the professional services team in your Department or School. They are there for you so please do make the most of them. They have a wealth of knowledge on all the support available in your Department or School and can help if you’re not sure how to contact somebody in the Department.

Please remember to contact your Personal Tutor if you need them. You can talk to them if you have any questions about your course or if you’re having any difficulties with your studies.

We provide a wide range of academic skills support. There are webinars and individual support sessions provided by the Skills for Success team. Events are bookable via CareerHub and more information about the support available can be found on our academic skills pages. Please book a place, or if you have a specific inquiry, please ask: we are here to help.

The Library team is also available to provide you with additional advice and help. The team are working hard every day, responding to emails and providing advice through live chats. Subject Librarians are providing one to one support via Zoom. Please remember to access our online Library resources, you can find information on these pages about how to book a session with your Subject Librarian. The Library team can live chat via the website or you can email them enquiries at libline@essex.ac.uk.

Whatever your circumstances, you will not be disadvantaged
We have taken a number of actions to support you to succeed so that you can progress to the next stage of your studies or graduate this summer. I want to stress that, whatever your circumstances, you will not be disadvantaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.

I wrote to you on 16 April to set out the main elements of our ‘No Detriment’ approach. We have responded to the exceptional circumstances we are all facing together, while recognising your needs as individual students and the different requirements of your modules and courses. The full details of our no detriment approach are available on our website, which will continue to be updated. Our approach will be applied for all taught students, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and all assessment you have or will undertake in this academic year, including coursework and dissertations, as well as the alternative assessment.

We have streamlined the extenuating circumstances and exam absence notification processes to ensure that we capture and support all students who have experienced difficulties in successfully completing assessments. More information and guidance is now available online so please do take time to read it.

If you can’t take your alternative assessment right now, for whatever reason, we will offer you another opportunity with no penalty. All decisions by the Board of Examiners will take into account the impact of the pandemic and you will not be disadvantaged by the difficulties created by COVID-19.

Student Support Services
Your academic success matters to us as does your wider experience and wellbeing as a member of the Essex community, whichever campus you are on and wherever you are studying now.

Our Student Services Hubs for ColchesterSouthend and Loughton are operating phone, email and live chat facilities and can provide information on our range of mental health and emotional support services.

We are offering online activities to help our community to continue to come together, even if we can’t meet in person. We know some of you are facing financial hardship. We have adapted our student hardship fund, opening it up to all students experiencing hardship and making it as easy and straightforward as possible to apply for support. We are working hard to increase the total amount of funding available through this route.

The Students’ Union Advice service is available and operating remotely. They are able to book Zoom or telephone appointments and can be contacted using the following details:

Or via telephone between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday:

  • 07395 955656
  • 07511 303169

For specific queries relating to COVID-19, please email our dedicated team at covid19@essex.ac.uk. Our COVID-19 webpages continue to provide a wealth of information on support available.

I understand that this continues to be a tough time for you and I want you to remember that we are always here to help. Please keep an eye on your Essex email but also Facebook, Twitter, Moodle and MyEssex for updates and support. I wish you all the best as you prepare for the summer assessment period and remainder of this academic year. Stay safe and keep in touch. We are here to support you in any way we can.



May 1, 2020

An update on research spend

In light of the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on our budgets a number of questions have arisen about spending for research. Our Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research), Professor Christine Raines, tells us more.

Can I spend funds from external research grants?
Yes, there is no change to spend on external research grants and this should continue as normal, all approved costs on grants are available including, for example, appointment of research and professional services staff or externally funded extensions to contracts (these require financial and HR approvals), purchase of equipment and consumables and attendance at conferences (virtual while travel not permitted). The REF census date for spend on research grants is still 31 July 2020 and it would helpful to maximise legitimate spend on grants before 31July. This in turn will also help with Indirect Costs Returned (ICR) generation.

Can I advertise posts funded by external grants during the pandemic and throughout next academic year?
Yes, externally funded posts on research grants can be advertised as per the funding application. To ensure this process runs smoothly, colleagues need to include the text “EXTERNAL FUNDING” and the FUNDER’S NAME, in block capitals in the “Case for Position” section of the “Request to Recruit – Grant Funded (REO)” form found in Unit 4. This will enable our colleagues in People and Culture to identify the roles that can still be recruited to and will prevent any potential delays in the recruitment process.

The University has an established redeployment process to support staff who are at risk of redundancy in applying for other roles that become available within the University. Staff on the redeployment register will be notified of external grant-funded posts when they are advertised. All offers must be approved by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (academic) or Registrar and Secretary (professional service).

Can funds obtained for teaching buy out be drawn on?
a. Yes, if the research funds obtained have a specified budget line for staff buy-out from teaching as per the request in the application.

b. If the funds obtained are to cover Academic time on a research grant to undertake or manage research, a case should be made upon notification of grant success based on the revised teaching programme, areas to be covered and available existing resource. Any requests for teaching backfill in these circumstances should be made by the Head of Department to the Executive Dean for approval by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Requests should be based on the lowest cost option for delivering essential teaching. We remain committed to ensuring Principle Investigators are able to fulfil the research time commitments detailed in the research bid and that departments are able to manage any subsequent teaching need.

Can I continue to spend the funds in my Education and Research Incentive Account (ERIA)?
Yes, any funds held in ERIA accounts will continue to be available to support excellence in research, but should be restricted for essential, time sensitive activities. For example, costs of carrying out time-sensitive pandemic-related research during the period from now until the 31 July 2020. ERIA funds roll over from one financial year into the next and any funds not spent during 2019-20 are guaranteed to remain available during 2020-21. There is no need to spend up these funds before 31 July 2020. Furthermore, as the Vice-Chancellor explained in his email about securing our future, moving expenditure into next academic year wherever possible will help us to avoid returning an accounting deficit in 2019-20. For this reason, wherever possible, it would be better to move this spend to 2020-21, but it will remain available for staff to use in support of time sensitive research activities if needed.

Can my department continue to spend Department Operating Budget on research activities in 2019-20?
Spend from Departmental Operating Budgets has been restricted since the 13 April, with only essential purchases that are mission critical for the sustainability of the University being possible. The pressure we are facing to avoid an accounting deficit in 2019-20 means that we have to limit all spending against operating budgets except where these relate to essential needs. The process for Heads of Department to make requests to meet essential needs is through the faculty accountants with approval by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. We are asking that those making requests set a high threshold on their definition of essential. The Vice-Chancellor has set out the reasons why this really matters between now and 31 July 2020.

Are internal funds available for COVID-19 research?
Yes. There are 4 potential routes to support essential COVID-19 research

a. Staff who hold external research funds should continue to draw down on these as usual.

b. Staff with access to ERIA funds should continue to use these as you have in the past, noting that where possible it would be better for spend to be accrued in 2020-21 rather than 2019-20.

c. Funding remains available for projects that could fit under either the Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF), Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) or Enabling Innovation: Research to Application (EIRA) funds.

d. If no other funding is available, and the project is time-sensitive, please contact me, providing a brief outline of the proposed research and summary of costs.

NB. ECR and junior staff who have no ERIA funds should be prioritised for alternative funding sources (provided the quality and importance of the research is competitive).