Court meeting: 28 September 2020
The University Court held its most recent meeting by video conference on 28 September 2020.
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: 28 September 2020
The following reports are summaries of a selection of items discussed and agreed at the meeting on 28 September.
Tribute to Angi Lamb, Rector’s Assessor
The Rector recorded her thanks to Angi Lamb, Rector’s Assessor from 2018-2020 and staff member of Court from 2013-2017, who sadly passed away in July following a diagnosis of cancer in 2019. Angi was active in the trade union movement at a local and national level and her contribution to the Court and to the trade union movement will be greatly missed.
New members Janet Legrand (Senior Lay Member), Fiona Mackay (Academic Staff Member & Senate Assessor), Sarah McAllister (Professional Services Staff Member), Joyce Anderson (Trade Union Professional Services Staff Member) and Kathryn Nash (Trade Union Academic Staff Member) were welcomed by the Rector to their first meeting.
The Principal recorded his thanks to former Rector’s Assessor and staff Court member Angi Lamb and reflected on her inspirational courage shown throughout her illness.
Court noted the contents of the report and additional information on:
- Student and staff wellbeing: a number of Covid-19 cases, predominantly amongst students, are ongoing, with support in place for those affected, including food delivering for those in halls of residence. Some incidences of unlawful gatherings at student residence sites have occurred, some of which have involved police attendance. The disciplinary consequences of repeated breaches have been made clear and the number of incidents have reduced. A particular concern for the student body as a whole is the mental health impact of the pandemic and the impact upon the student experience;
- The hybrid model of online and in-person teaching currently has around 37% of teaching delivered in-person but there is wide variation within this across the University. The intention is to continue to offer a hybrid model for the benefit of students. Detailed preparations for hybrid teaching and the return to campus by students more generally have been made in consultation with health authorities and there has not been indication of transmission as a result of in-person teaching; and,
- A new collaboration with charity IntoUniversity and the University of Glasgow will provide learning centres in Craigmillar and Govan with after-school tuition and mentoring to benefit young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Philanthropic giving of £2.7m will fund the establishment of the centres.
Members discussed the following points:
- Recognition for the additional work undertaken by many staff given current circumstances, including in workload allocations – in areas where student numbers have grown to the extent that additional teaching support is required this will be recognised as mission critical recruitment and progressed. While additional financial recognition is not planned given cost control measures, an additional day of leave for all staff on Christmas Eve has been awarded in recognition of the exceptional effort made by staff this year and five more days of annual leave can be carried over into 2021 than usual if required;
- Variation of in-person teaching by year group – Schools have considered the needs of first year and honours level students in particular when planning in-person provision;
- Mental health support – counselling capacity has increased within the University and support for staff is also being provided online. The importance of NHS mental health provision has also been raised externally;
- Student accommodation refunds – in order to ensure funding for additional support for students in the current circumstances general refunds for accommodation are not planned; and,
- Communicating the partnership working approach between the University and public authorities.
Student Survey Results 2020
Findings from the 2020 iterations of the National Student Survey (NSS) and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES) were reviewed. The results remain disappointing, with a small decline in the NSS overall satisfaction score (77.6%) and a larger decline in the PTES overall satisfaction score (78.3%) in comparison with 2019. At School level, while there are some strong scores, there is a general weakness in assessment and feedback and in scores linked to a sense of belonging and engagement.
Court discussed the assessment and feedback scores and the Students’ Association score – likely linked to the wider theme of sense of belonging given the wording of the question, sharing best practice between Schools and the expected impact of the move to hybrid teaching, with less reliance on final assessment expected to further increase the importance of providing timely feedback.
It was noted that the NSS is currently being reviewed by the Office for Students, the regulator of higher education providers in England, and any changes will likely impact across the UK. Further analysis will be undertaken and a more detailed paper will be submitted to Senate Education Committee before the submission of an update and action plans to the University Executive later in the semester.
EUSA President’s Report
The Students’ Association President reported on Welcome Week activities, with many taking place online, such as a virtual Activities Fair and voiced concern at a press release from Universities Scotland that had asked students not to visit pubs, restaurants and cafes over the previous weekend. Court members agreed that students should be welcomed as residents of Edinburgh and treated in the same manner as other members of the community, with media coverage ‘othering’ students criticised. Opportunities for reshaping given the pandemic were also considered. Reshaping work to achieve efficiencies had been undertaken prior to the emergence of Covid-19 and strategic development in light of the new environment is being examined but any major new initiatives would likely need additional funding.
Adaptation & Renewal Update
An update on the work of the Adaptation & Renewal Team established in response to the pandemic and its four work-streams of Research & Innovation; Students; Estates & Digital Infrastructure; and Re-shaping, was reviewed. It was noted that since the report was drafted an NHS testing facility has opened at the Usher Hall, with usage levels to be monitored to assess if further capacity is required.
The following points were raised in discussion:
- Support for the re-shaping work-stream in considering new ways of working and preparing for the likely longer-term impacts of the pandemic;
- The impact of the extension of the teaching day upon staff – while the period of time in each working day that teaching can be scheduled has been extended, the number of hours that an individual staff member might teach within this has not been extended;
- Variance in the amount of in-person teaching and how this might be addressed – some disciplines have particular challenges in the suitability of their teaching estate given physical distancing rules and may also have larger student intakes than planned since the regrading of A Level and Scottish Higher results. The balance of in-teaching provision will shift over the course of the year as the need to prioritise in-teaching required for certain degrees becomes more important in Semester 2;
- Helping hearing impaired students on campus if the wearing of face coverings is expected – face coverings are not expected for those with reasons not to wear them. For teaching, recorded material is being auto-captioned and fully sub-titled for those with hearing disabilities;
- Research being undertaken at the University in response to Covid-19. Research has included work on droplet spread, effectiveness of face coverings, whether existing drugs may aid treatment, mental health impacts, and the provision of advice to the Scottish and UK governments, e.g. three members of staff are participants at the UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) or its sub-groups and Vice-Principal Professor Andrew Morris chairs the Covid-19 Advisory Group to the Scottish Government; and,
- More information on the equality and diversity impacts in future updates would be welcome, noting that the Adaptation & Renewal work-streams have themselves helped embed consideration of equality, diversity and inclusion aspects given their memberships and approach taken.
Draft regulations for the election of the Rector in February 2021 were reviewed, with an annual Quality Assurance Report for the Scottish Funding Council approved along with a Reflective Analysis document for an upcoming Quality Assurance Agency Scotland Enhancement-Led Institutional Review. A regular update from the Director of Finance was considered, along with an update on student recruitment and agreement for a further deferral of a number of estates capital projects given the ongoing pandemic. Regular reports from Court’s committees on activities being undertaken in support of Court were also considered. Further information on the remit and work of Court and its Committees can be found online.