On the 29th January, 2021, we (Nana Fredua Agyeman, SU Postgraduate Officer & Laetitia Alexandratos, SU Education Officer) hosted a Townhall meeting with the Vice Chancellor and other members of the senior leadership team of the University. Due to time constraints, we couldn’t ask every question so we followed up on the questions that were left unanswered and this is what Nancy and her team had to say.
The residential fees charged by the University are reviewed on an annual basis. The fees are required to cover the operational costs of the residential provision and to be able to invest in their upkeep. Each year there are a number of inflationary factors to consider, including staff costs, energy costs, and maintenance costs. It is therefore necessary to increase the residential fees accordingly, as was the case for 2020-21.
However, when setting the fees the University does attempt to limit any increase and also considers the relative costs between types of accommodation and those charged by other providers. The fees are reasonable when compared to both those charged both locally by the private sector in Manchester, and nationally by comparative higher education institutions.”
Further to the 30% rent reduction which we committed to for students living in our halls of residence in Semester 1 (up to and including 31 January 2021) as part of our Accommodation pledge; we have since confirmed that students living in University accommodation who have not returned to that accommodation since the national lockdown announcement on 5 January 2021 will not pay any rent until the end of the current restrictions or the date that you return to your accommodation in Manchester. Students in our accommodation are able to break their licence agreement, clear your room and hand back your keys once during term time in the 2020/21 academic year without financial penalty. If you want to return later in the academic year, we'll do our best to find you a place.
We and the Students’ Union are also writing to private providers to tell them what we are doing for students in our halls to encourage them to consider rent reductions for those students who aren’t able to use their accommodation. However, this is their decision and not one that we can enforce.
In response to the new national lockdown we began operating access to Library spaces on an essential use only basis. Our decision to continue with 24/7 opening for The Alan Gilbert Learning Commons is based on the fact that it is simpler for us to manage safely for extended opening hours than the Main Library as it is less reliant on Library Customer Services staffing and less complex for Estates colleagues to keep clean to the standard that is required. In the way that we have chosen to open the two sites, both are equally COVID secure.
We are having regular conversations with government about support for students during the pandemic. These discussions have helped to get the recent commitment on additional hardship funding, which will supplement the provision we have in place.
We are committed to supporting our students and providing the teaching and learning you need to progress through your chosen careers. In the case of the nursing programmes, we have worked closely with our partner Trusts to ensure that the placements are safe and effective for both students and patients.
All first and second year students, together with the majority of third year students embarking on these placement areas, are supernumerary and will be closely supervised. Students are assigned to a Practice Assessor in the clinical area and the areas are all in contact with the Practice Education Facilitator (PEF) in the Trust areas, whilst also having the support of your Academic Advisor, the year lead, and the Programme Director back at the University.
The Practice Assessors, PEF and your Academic Advisor are all available to provide expert advice and help in relation to any queries that may arise in these practice areas.
We considered course/subject bubbles at the start of the year, but decided it was impractical to implement. This is because even within a given course students take different modules and friends are not necessarily all studying the same subject.
Yes – we will support the roll out of vaccination when available to this age group. We are already supporting the NHS and in helping to provide locations for vaccinations centres.
The ResLife team in our Halls offers round the clock access to staff who can support students with practical issues as well as with mental health support needs. They are also proactively contacting students in our Halls to ensure that any who want support, but haven’t yet reached out, have a further opportunity to discuss their needs. As well as providing services to support students with mental health needs, we also have in place an extensive range of wellbeing and social programmes.
We have been following UK Government and Public Health England advice at all times and have had to make changes to our teaching arrangements throughout the academic year, in response to the changing restrictions at both a local and national level. The latest national restrictions mean that most teaching and learning must be online, expect for a small number of exempt programmes. This will be reviewed by the government later in February. We very much hope that these national restrictions will reduce the rate of infection across the country.
The University’s Senior Leadership Team have allocated funds to support PGRs with a funding end date between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2021. There’s is also a process for those with an end date on or after 1st April 2021 to apply for a funded extension. Further information about extensions can be found on staffnet.
Progression and assessment
For progression between years supervisors and reviewers will take into account the extent of any disruption caused to your planned programme of work and the review will focus on providing constructive feedback rather than a judgement on your progress (where there are progression issues unrelated to the disruption caused by COVID-19, normal policy will be followed).
Examination of final thesis
As further acknowledgement of the disruption that the pandemic has caused many of our PGRs the University is encouraging PGRs who wish to make their Examiners aware of the impact COVID-19 has had on their research plans / thesis to prepare an Impact Statement for inclusion with the examination copy of their thesis. Examiners will be asked to take these statements into account when assessing the thesis, and PGR at viva.
Details on what is required in the statement and how to include it in your thesis have been added to the Presentation of Thesis Policy (section 6.3) but please also refer to the guidance document, discuss this with your supervisors and contact your local PGR support team if you have any further questions.
An investigation is currently being carried out into an incident at Owens Park on 14 November 2020 between a student and University security staff which led to allegations of assault and racial profiling.
Although we have made some progress over the last few years and we are similar to other English HEIs, we have to acknowledge and accept that our culture, systems and processes need to change significantly for us to become a truly diverse and inclusive organisation. This change won’t be easy and will require all our efforts. We are implementing significant changes in our EDI approach, and are putting in place measures to start making these changes. There will be wide consultation on our new EDI strategy with staff and students at all levels so that it reflects our collective aspirations and addresses concerns of all our people. This is the start of a new journey for us and I hope, whatever our differences we can work together to build an organisation we are all truly proud of.