A message from the Vice-Chancellor | Maintaining focus and community cohesion

Email sent to all staff on Friday 26 November 2021.

Dear colleagues, 

During the past few weeks, I have had the privilege to engage with nearly 900 colleagues at three all staff Fairer Future for All events. I was pleased so many of you joined me, along with three Heads of Schools and one of our Executive Deans, to discuss a wide range of issues that matter to us all, and which contribute to the delivery of the University strategy, Universal Values, Global Change, and our ambition to create a fairer future for all.  

I want to touch on some of those topics here because they are essential to defining what we are here for and how we can be a fulfilled, supportive and cohesive community. 

At one end of the spectrum, key strategic issues were raised that are at the heart of our mission and work to help create a more equal and fairer world. And on this note, I would add that we were last night awarded a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for our remarkable expertise and impact in weather and climate science, specifically our work to empower communities in the Global South to face the challenges of extreme weather. I congratulate everyone involved, and would stress that this type of world-changing work goes to the heart of what a fairer future for all means at a global level. I say more about this in my Inside Track published today.

Other topics raised at the events included questions around what our strategy means for our research and education, and our approach to equality, diversity and inclusion, alongside issues such as use of short-term contracts and reward and recognition.

In relation to the issues around our working arrangements and conditions, I want to reassure you that many of these are within our gift to address, and we are actively looking at these areas in a number of ways.  

Firstly, by being more strategically focused in the work we do, whether in education, research or professional and support services, our workloads will naturally become more manageable because we will cease to try to cover so many bases and our processes will become more streamlined.  

Secondly, you will also hopefully be aware that our ambition for a fairer future for all our staff is underpinned by three pledges to: 

  • reduce short-term contracts and boost job security;  
  • support a healthy and fulfilled staff community; and 
  • create opportunity and celebrate achievements.  

We are therefore prioritising activity to support your wellbeing and deliver these pledges so that they will be applied consistently and transparently across all areas of the University and make a difference to you.  

Alongside this, our two Deans for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion will be instrumental in driving forward our vision to create an inclusive environment that attracts, develops and retains the best staff and students from all backgrounds, supporting them to achieve their ambitions and, in doing so, contribute to our institutional strategic aims.  

From my conversations with colleagues across our community, I know that many of you, while naturally apprehensive about some aspects of the changes ahead, are hopeful about the benefits and impact our new strategy will bring. To realise these, it is essential that we continue to stick together as one community.  

As I’m sure you will no doubt be aware, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced its intention to take industrial action at Leeds along with many other, but by no means all, universities, starting next week. I appreciate how challenging the past 20 months have been with the pandemic, and how hard you have all had to work to minimise disruption to students, and ensure they receive the best teaching experience possible. 

This speaks volumes about your commitment to our students and I know I can trust you to put their needs front and centre. I want to reassure you that, whatever the coming weeks and months bring, I will continue listening to you and will seek to act on your concerns, where I am able. I also want to reassure you that, during this period of industrial action, we will be guided by three underlying principles – protecting the interests of students, retaining the cohesion of our community (and, in this context, nurturing the wellbeing of our staff) and protecting the standard of Leeds awards. 

I know that all of us, including those who decide to take industrial action, will have the backdrop of the past 20 challenging months and the impact on our community at the forefront of our minds. My leadership team and I want to work with all of you to minimise any further disruption wherever we can.  

More communications, with guidance and information for colleagues and students, will soon be available and I will continue to listen to you about the issues at the centre of the industrial action, so that I am able to take action, together with others in a leadership position in our University, to make your working lives better. That is key to maintaining our community cohesion and remaining focused on our mission to create a better, fairer world for everyone.

With best wishes, 

Simone Buitendijk   
Vice-Chancellor, University of Leeds  

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