President's weekly update
21 January 2021
The government has released several announcements this week about training and skills with significant extra funding for further education colleges in its Skills for Jobs white paper and the interim conclusion of the review of post-18 education and funding and consultation. The government has also written to the Office for Students indicating a potential uplift in the funding for teaching in subjects under A and B categories (medical, health and laboratory based).
With extensive flooding across the regions and some evacuations as a result of Storm Christoph, I hope that everyone is safe and well.
Over the past week we held additional meetings of our Board of Governors and Board Finance Committee. These were intended to agree the Financial Statements for the 2019-20 academic year, however they are delayed because of illness and short-staffing at our external auditors. We still aim to publish the Financial Statements shortly, as soon as the external audit is complete, and we will show a small surplus after accounting for depreciation.
At Finance Committee we discussed the University’s five-year financial projections which are extremely challenging. Prior to COVID-19 we had already identified the need to generate further surpluses to invest in our core activities. Most major income streams (UK undergraduate fee income, government teaching grant and research indirect costs) are declining in real terms, while our costs are rising faster than inflation. We have a number of transformational programmes planned and in progress including for example, the Student Experience Programme, which should deliver significant benefits across our core activities.
In line with our transparent approach to finances, we will be holding meetings to explain our past and projected financial position which will be open to all staff and recorded. The last of these was delivered in June 2020 which is available on StaffNet.
I updated our Board on recent challenges largely resulting from
With the main January assessment period now under way, students are asking for reassurance that we are supporting them and taking the impact of the pandemic on their performance into account. We are in agreement with the rest of the Russell Group that the same ‘no disadvantage’ policy as last year would not be appropriate or possible under current circumstances. However, our Teaching and Learning Group has been working closely with our Students’ Union to develop our new Assessment Pledge, which sets out the additional measures we are putting in place.
Assessment of students was discussed at our regular meeting with officers of our Students’ Union; they were co-signatories to the Assessment Pledge. We also considered student support, the recently announced rent rebates for students in our residences and the additional support we are putting in for support for mental health and students with a disability. We also clarified that all students in private residences or with financial hardship for any reason can apply for up to £2,000 from our student hardship fund, which will remain open for the rest of the academic year.
Coronavirus infections appear to have peaked and we are now starting to see early signs of reduction in the infection rates in the Greater Manchester (GM) area and more generally, suggesting the strict lockdown is working. We will unfortunately see the number of deaths still rise over the next few days because of the lag between presentation of cases and deaths. We of course need to remain very vigilant over the next days and weeks and to protect ourselves and those around us. Vaccination of the most vulnerable and healthcare workers has started across GM – our own Chancellors facility is now being used as one of the vaccination centres.
I’ve had online meetings this week with Russell Group members - all of whom are facing very similar issues to us. I also had meetings with Dr David Sweeney, Executive Chair of Research England, Jo Shanmugalingam, Director-General for Research and Innovation at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Trudy Norris-Grey, the new Chair of UCAS Board of Trustees, Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education and Amanda Solloway, Universities Minister. Dr Simon Merrywest, Director for Student Experience and I met local MPs Afzal Khan and Jeff Smith to discuss students and how we can work together to support our local communities.
At the Greater Manchester (GM) Local Enterprise Partnership, we discussed regional innovation, progress on the GM Local Industrial Strategy, and the formation of Innovation Greater Manchester, a new organisation to lead on innovation in the region of which we are a key player. We also considered regional skills, business recovery post-COVID-19, achieving net zero, and transport both in GM and across the North.
Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor