Court meeting: 15 June 2020
The University Court held its most recent meeting by video conference on 15 June.
We publish regular updates on matters discussed at all Court meetings, during which members consider matters of strategic importance to the University.
Meetings of the Court are held five times a year.
The Court is the University’s governing body. With a focus on strategic direction, it takes the final decisions on issues of fundamental concern to the wellbeing of the University.
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Summary of Court meeting: 15 June 2020
The following reports are summaries of a selection of items discussed and agreed at the meeting on 15 June.
Court noted the contents of the report and additional information on:
- Student and staff wellbeing: the rapid move to remote learning has been successful but as the pandemic has continued the challenges of continued remote working for some staff have inevitably grown. Good Friday and Easter Monday were granted as additional leave days for all staff in recognition of the efforts made to date and managers are encouraging staff to take annual leave as normal where appropriate and to show flexibility in cases where a normal workload is not possible, e.g. health concerns or caring responsibilities. Targeted ‘pulse’ surveys of staff are being considered to seek quick feedback on certain areas, such as experiences of remote working. Student feedback has centred on seeking as much clarity as possible on what the learning environment and wider student experience will be in the coming academic year. Messaging has highlighted that the value of a University of Edinburgh degree will remain unchanged and that the city and University will be a safe and welcoming place for all students;
- UK Government: A Research Sustainability Forum has been established with devolved nation representation and it is hoped that this will lead to a genuinely sustainable research funding model;
- Scottish Government: the Scottish Funding Council has been asked to initiate a review of the coherence and sustainability of provision in further and higher education. The first phase of the review is expected to conclude by the end of August 2020. Separately, £75 million of additional funding to support research has been announced and will be allocated in proportion to the current distribution of the core research grant, with the University expected to receive around £23.2 million. The funding is to support early career researchers and coronavirus research in particular;
- Black Lives Matter: the University has issued a public statement, with added urgency given to work already underway led by Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley (University Lead on Equality, Diversity & Inclusion) and Professor Rowena Arshad (Chair in Multicultural and Anti-Racist Education).
Members discussed the current position for student admissions and the Black Lives Matter campaign. On student admissions, application figures are encouraging for both undergraduate and postgraduate admissions but significant uncertainty exists on the likely conversion rate of offers into acceptances and subsequent enrolment figures. On Black Lives Matter, the Principal and colleagues have met with student representatives to discuss matters raised in a petition. An open letter from members of staff on institutional racism at the University has been received and will be shared with Court members. Developing an integrated response is key, with Professor Rowena Arshad convening a sub-group of the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee on racial inequalities.
Student Experience Update
An update on student experience developments and future planning since the move to remote learning in mid-March was reviewed. The following points were raised in discussion:
- Government decisions on physical distancing requirements for students and staff in University buildings will have a major impact on how teaching, learning and student services and facilities operate in the new academic year (e.g. a 2 metre distancing rule can reduce the capacity of a large lecture theatre from 500 to 20 people). Extending the teaching hours in a day would provide some mitigation – this and other options are under consideration before timetabling decisions are taken in the summer;
- Curriculum reform was a priority before the pandemic and remains a priority but with learning from the current circumstances, such as building resilience against future shocks with expanded hybrid teaching models;
- The importance of protecting key student experience projects and considering students most adversely affected by the present situation; and,
- Involving the Sports Union in forming a sense of community and maintaining a sports offering, particularly outdoor sports, where possible.
EUSA President’s Report
The Students’ Association President reported on recent developments, including: the full year financial report to March 2020, where financial performance was ahead of budget until the final month of the year, when greatly reduced activity in March led to a small deficit for the year as a whole; work to reduce costs in the current year given the significant reduction in income expected; and, supporting student activism to eliminate racism in the University and community. Members discussed the practical measures intended to decolonise the curriculum, such as broadening course reading lists and reiterated their support for the Students’ Association and Sports Union in managing the impact of the pandemic.
Equality, Diversity Monitoring and Research Committee (EDMARC) Reports
- EDMARC Staff and Student Reports 2019
- EDMARC Ethnicity Report – preliminary findings
The annual report on staff and student data from the Equality, Diversity Monitoring and Research Committee and preliminary findings from an ethnicity report covering the undergraduate student journey from application to degree and graduate outcomes were reviewed. Sarah Cunningham-Burley, University Lead on Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, noted that the University adds to the racial and ethnic diversity of the City of Edinburgh, although the proportion of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff is lower than in the City as a whole, particularly in professional service categories and there is an opportunity to seek to improve this with local recruitment. Considering the student data, while the proportion of UK students from BAME backgrounds has increased to 13%, an attainment gap persists in the award of first class and upper second class honours degrees, a pattern seen in the sector as a whole, with this to be a priority for follow-up work along with better understanding of intersectional issues (e.g. socio-economic factors, gender, age) and improving offer and acceptance rates. Court welcomed the reports and approved the annual staff and student reports for publication.
The following points were raised in discussion:
- Ensuring that the variation across Colleges and Schools is considered in follow-up work and School level work incentivised – the EDMARC committee will become a sub-group of the new Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee (EDIC) which is linked into Schools through its membership to help with more close working and sharing of best practice;
- The likely scope of follow-up analysis – targeted qualitative research is being considered to identify what would best meet the needs of staff and students. EDIC and its sub-groups will develop action plans, with the anti-racism sub-group intending to finalise its own action plan over the summer. High levels of engagement from the staff and student community are helping drive this forward;
- The regularity of reporting – the annual EDMARC reports will continue with additional ‘deep dives’ when sufficient trend data is available. Highlighted areas such as attainment, offer and acceptances will be monitored on an annual basis; and,
- Being conscious of the importance of individual decisions at every level and being open to taking bold actions as well as incremental improvements.
Planning Round: 2020-21 Proposals
The proposed approach to the planning round for 2020-21 was reviewed and approved. It was noted that the approach consists of an initial one year expenditure budget equivalent to Year 2 of the 2019-20 year Court approved plan for each budget area with the expectation that initial budgets will be actively managed to reduce net revenue costs in light of the changed circumstances. An existing monthly budget review will contribute to the active management process to reduce net revenue costs.
Strategy 2030 Strategic Performance Framework Update
An update on work to develop a Strategic Performance Framework to assess performance against Strategy 2030 objectives was reviewed ahead of an anticipated first report in November. Work to align reporting on outcomes for the Social and Civic Responsibility Plan and Strategy 2030 was welcomed, as was developing an additional tier of more granular measures at an operational level.
An annual report on the University’s implementation of the Prevent duty under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015) was noted, along with a Certificate of Assurance from the Students’ Association to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the Education Act 1994. Draft Ordinances No. 215 (Amendment of Ordinance 208 (Employment of Academic Staff)) and No. 216 (Removal of Members of the University Court) were approved for submission to the Privy Council Office. A regular update from the Director of Finance was reviewed and reports from Court’s committees on activities being undertaken in support of Court were considered. Further information on the remit and work of Court and its Committees can be found online.
Further information on the remit and work of Court and its Committees can be found online.