Apr 21 2020

Future planning for our Academic Portfolio

Thank you for the work that everyone has undertaken during the last few weeks to ensure that we have managed to move teaching online and prepare for alternative assessments during this term.
Alongside our reactive response to the present situation we have also been undertaking planning for next year. Like other universities we have modelled a series of best, medium and worst-case scenarios for student intake for September 2020. These include large reductions of international and EU students. We also expect there to be some reduction on first year UK students. The financial impact of the pandemic on all universities is expected to be significant and in a worst-case scenario, if we do nothing, around 25% of our income (£47m) next academic year is at risk. We have therefore been planning for the mitigation of this scenario.

For the remainder of this academic year

In the short-term we have sought to protect our cash reserves. These are important because they enable us to keep operating and from defaulting on bank covenants and ensure that we can continue to pay salaries and other bills. We have suspended all capital projects (estates and IT, apart from those with health and safety implications), we have introduced tight controls for the spending of any amount over £5,000 and for the release of any replacement or new posts. We are examining where we might be able to furlough staff. We are fortunate in having good cash reserves and these measures will enable our short-term stability. However, we have already incurred major losses of income as a result of the pandemic; we are not charging students for on-campus accommodation during the summer term, where they have chosen to return home or move elsewhere (c£2.8m) and will lose all commercial income for Easter and most likely the summer (£3.7m). 
Royal Holloway has been working closely with Universities UK to lobby the government for a series of measures to be put in place to support the sustainability of the sector. The full document can be seen here. Many of these measures seek to help with short-term cash issues, and we need to be pragmatic about the scale of any likely governmental intervention in this time of international crisis. We are in close contact with colleagues at other institutions and within sector bodies and use this information to best shape our forward planning.

September 2020 onwards

Our focus is now on planning for September. In the current academic year, 22% of our undergraduate students and 61% of our postgraduate taught students came from the EU or overseas. We are therefore planning how we will mitigate against the potential loss of these students by introducing a number of new ways to ensure these students can study with us:

  • We need to make all undergraduate programmes ‘flexible’; the first term will be capable of being studied on or off-campus, there will be a minimum level of delivery online for every module throughout the year and a smaller percentage of assessment delivered through summer examinations. For some programmes, those which engage in laboratory or studio practice, we will need to change the annual delivery with theory in the first term and practice and fieldwork later in the year.
  • For postgraduate taught students with large numbers of overseas students, alongside a September on-campus start we are planning a route whereby students take the first term online, before joining campus in January. A second route will offer a January on-campus start, with their academic year running January-December. This change is for programmes in the School of Business and Management and some in Engineering, Physical and Mathematical Sciences, which together comprise 80% of our overseas PGT students.
  • We are also considering a January start for some UG programmes with an accelerated year so that they can start Year 2 in September 2021. This would require block mode teaching in the summer term.
  • Postgraduate research students are already able to start in January and many of them may wish to take this option.
  • We are expanding our partnership arrangements. In conjunction with the International Study Centre we are launching two new initiatives; International Year 1 and Pre-Masters Programme. We are also in discussion with University of London Worldwide to significantly expand the range of courses we deliver together.
  • Finally, we are exploring how we can help students graduating this summer improve their employability skills, especially in the context of a highly challenging job market. To help these students, we are considering offering heavily discounted places on vocational Masters programmes.

Implications for how we work

We are aware that the changes we need to make to our education by September affects everyone on campus. It will mean all teaching staff changing the way they deliver and examine their modules. This in turn will affect Academic Services and other professional services staff as different support will be needed for our new ways of delivering education.
Our online delivery needs to become far more sophisticated to provide an equivalent experience to that achieved on campus and this will mean academic staff acquiring new skills in this area. We are not underestimating the scale of this workload, and already many of us are discovering that working through electronic media is very demanding.
If we can make changes to the way we work and deliver our educational programmes, we will be able to mitigate and reduce the risk of a serious loss of income from international students next academic year. The planning scenarios we are using and the approach to our responses are similar to those being used by every other university, but to achieve the desired outcome, we need to make changes to our academic priorities for the coming year. Our focus has to be on offering high quality, flexible programmes that will help to persuade our applicants to continue to study with us.
It is for this reason that, with immediate effect, all current and planned approved research sabbaticals are to be postponed for a year. Sabbaticals to be taken this coming term (summer term 2020) will be moved to summer term 2021, and those planned for the next academic year will be moved to after September 2021, where possible. The exceptions to this will be those on funded research leave, those submitting major grant applications and post HOD sabbaticals, which is contractual, who will be able to take their approved leave. This also means that those originally planning sabbaticals for subsequent years would also be delayed in taking them. Heads of Department have further information on this.
This decision has not been made easily; we remain committed to being a research-intensive and teaching institution, but we are faced with the need to entirely adapt our way of delivering education within six months, at a time when we do not have access to increased resource. In order to do so many Heads of Departments will need to rearrange anticipated teaching plans for next academic year, each module will need redesigning, the mode of delivery and assessment will need revalidating, staff will need to upskill in digital education, and we have already learned that delivering through digital media is very tiring. While the majority of our REF submission is near completion, work will need to continue on fine-tuning our entries and Heads will be able to factor key roles as such Unit of Assessment Lead and Impact Case Studies into any workload.

What happens next

Our planning for September 2020 will continue through a number of work streams. Four major clusters have been identified, with each led by a member of the senior executive team. The four clusters are:

  • Education, led by Professor James Knowles (SVP- Education)
  • Staff and Students, led by Professor Katie Normington (Deputy Principal, Academic). Day-to-day REF management will be undertaken by Professor Helen Nicholson.
  • Sustainability, led by Professor Ken Badcock (SVP – Academic Strategy, Policy and Resources)
  • Operations, led by Dr. David Ashton (Deputy Principal, Operations)
We are working closely with the Heads of School and other key professional service areas to develop clear plans for each of the work streams. We are continuing to monitor key data points to ascertain the likely effects that the pandemic will have upon students’ choices for September; these include UCAS deadlines for first year choices, the uptake of international student deposits and CAS requests, as well as other enquiries received from students.
We will keep in touch with regular updates as to our preparations and modelling so that you can be aware of the developing situation. I am aware we are asking unpopular things of colleagues, but our primary objective for the year ahead is to ensure we remain a sustainable organisation which delivers excellent learning experiences for our students.
Keep safe