Impact on Universities

Covid-19 discussion, bring your own statistics
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Turdly » Tue Jul 14, 2020 6:27 am

FlammableFlower wrote:
Mon Jul 13, 2020 12:33 pm
Well, out of 127 final year students we had a grand total of 2 that were promoted a classification due to the No Detriment policy (and they were v. close to the boundary) whilst another 7 were promoted under our standard Individual Mitigating Circumstances rules, which would have occurred anyway ignoring the impact of COVID-19 (these are serious, acute (and not foreseeable*) occurrences that have a significant impact on a student's ability to carry out an assessment - illness, injury, bereavement etc).

The external examiners were very impressed with the robust exams and level of consideration (and deliberation) in project marks too.

Also, our numbers of 1sts 2.1s etc was broadly in line with previous years. So overall this year it hasn't made an enormous difference to the outcomes of the students.

Next year's final years will be a different matter as they will have had half of one year seriously impacted by shutdown and, even if we don't get a second-wave shutdown, next year is going to be different/disrupted too...

*i.e. for chronic conditions/circumstances (excepting in cases of very near to assessment diagnosis) the student should be in contact with student services to have measures in place (extra time, separate venue, scribe etc.).
Sounds similar to us. Paraphrasing our externals, "if you compared this years numbers to the previous x years you wouldn't be able to pick them out as having had the major change to teaching and assessment".
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:20 am

All I can say to that is "Phew" that was a hell of a lot of by the seat of pants stuff to get that all done to the right level!

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Gfamily » Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:41 am

I assume that each year you get some people who surprisingly underperform, and others who do surprisingly well.
Would it be fair to say that those 'surprising' performers would be less evident in the results this year?
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by warumich » Tue Jul 14, 2020 2:34 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:20 am
All I can say to that is "Phew" that was a hell of a lot of by the seat of pants stuff to get that all done to the right level!
Do I remember correctly that you said you were in charge of the work placements at your dept? How's that working out in your discipline?

I'm also convening our placements - for media studies it's a disaster, nobody is hiring at all. Looks like at least one of my jobs is going to be easier next year, but it's a shame for the students.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Tue Jul 14, 2020 3:31 pm

warumich wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 2:34 pm
FlammableFlower wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:20 am
All I can say to that is "Phew" that was a hell of a lot of by the seat of pants stuff to get that all done to the right level!
Do I remember correctly that you said you were in charge of the work placements at your dept? How's that working out in your discipline?

I'm also convening our placements - for media studies it's a disaster, nobody is hiring at all. Looks like at least one of my jobs is going to be easier next year, but it's a shame for the students.
You're quite correct. It's been a mixed bag, in the main we're down from number in the mid 70s (90s with NatSci going via Chem) to mid 40s (50s with NatSci).

Although that isn't to say it's all COVID related. We had about a dozen companies not hire for next year (3 cancelled on the students after they'd given an offer). But it has to be said that, this year's cohort were a little... shall we say... flaky... when it came to committing to a year out. The numbers bothering to apply were lower this academic year pre-Christmas, let alone after the pandemic outbreak - it was an uphill struggle to get them to apply. They seemed to think it should be easy and companies would be snapping them up. A number then did drop out post-COVID - some of them opting for the "security" of knowing that if they continued at uni it was the uni's problem to deal with circumstances... but we've just placed a few in the last couple of weeks. Having said that a lot of companies have been quite conservative - saying the student is unlikely to get in the lab before January (and asking if that'll be ok), but also warning that they might not get in full-stop if another wave comes along. If that happens it will be a nightmare for me as they'll probably have to suspend their studies for a year... It's been a hell of a year to take on the role...

One poor soul is supposed to be going to Australia... I still don't know when/if they'll let her in!

In the chemical industry it's been a little different as most have been classified/got themselves classified as essential, so they've still required people.
Gfamily wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:41 am
I assume that each year you get some people who surprisingly underperform, and others who do surprisingly well.
Would it be fair to say that those 'surprising' performers would be less evident in the results this year?
We certainly do, but I really didn't see anything out the ordinary. Although it may vary with course - ours have got 70-80% of their marks by the Feb of their final year, with maybe a few optional units and their final year project (depending on whether BSc, Full Time MChem or MChem with Industrial Training). There are always a couple that shift across a grade boundary, either way, but there weren't any that raised any eyebrows. We compared their predicted grade (if they were to finish with their semester 1 final year being as if it was the whole of their final year) versus what they then did get and there weren't any shockers. If you've got a course where everything is on exams and project/dissertation work that is all in the summer at the end then that will have a much bigger margin for change.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Tue Jul 14, 2020 3:33 pm

warumich wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 2:34 pm
FlammableFlower wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 11:20 am
All I can say to that is "Phew" that was a hell of a lot of by the seat of pants stuff to get that all done to the right level!
Do I remember correctly that you said you were in charge of the work placements at your dept? How's that working out in your discipline?

I'm also convening our placements - for media studies it's a disaster, nobody is hiring at all. Looks like at least one of my jobs is going to be easier next year, but it's a shame for the students.
Well - it'll make the Placement Conference we organise end of Feb easier (this year trying to coordinate over 90 talks over two days was not fun...) but it means a killer for our Year 3 - it'll go from ~60 in the year to >100... Advanced Labs is going to be a nightmare!!!!

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by warumich » Tue Jul 14, 2020 4:29 pm

FlammableFlower wrote:
Tue Jul 14, 2020 3:33 pm
this year trying to coordinate over 90 talks over two days was not fun...


Gosh no that doesn't sound fun at all, esp if you just took on that role. Do you grade the talks as well?

We had a student stuck in Malta this year, but I have the feeling she was quite happy with that.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Tue Jul 14, 2020 8:05 pm

Yeah, they all have to be assessed by three members of staff and I get the fun of collating marks and feedback... our only actually counts as summative assessment for the UG masters students (about 2/3rds), for BSc its just part of the Pass/Fail for the year, but we still give them marks and feedback for their own benefit.

ETA - one lad was stuck Grenoble at CERN as France locked down very strictly just before the FCO said all British nationals abroad should come home. Two of the five we had out in Australia just said sod it, we're staying. They're still out there...

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:17 am

I hope your students stuck in Australia have jobs or an independent source of income. International students have been excluded from all the short-term job and income support mechanisms just as the bottom dropped out of the casual jobs market and the flights home disappeared.

I'm sure a bit of light starvation won't discourage the international students we will desperately need to fund our universities post-covid. Not at all...

(Though the US is doing a good job of being even less friendly to their international students, so maybe we'll connect some of theirs...)

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bewildered » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:47 am

Squeak wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:17 am
I hope your students stuck in Australia have jobs or an independent source of income. International students have been excluded from all the short-term job and income support mechanisms just as the bottom dropped out of the casual jobs market and the flights home disappeared.

I'm sure a bit of light starvation won't discourage the international students we will desperately need to fund our universities post-covid. Not at all...

(Though the US is doing a good job of being even less friendly to their international students, so maybe we'll connect some of theirs...)
Yes that is horrible and another disaster for unis here. Australia is also not a cheap place to be without income.

Not sure how the VISA restrictions will work regarding an alternative job (and even if legally they can, it will damage them academically), but postdocs could end up in a similar situation if they can’t travel home or to a new position. One of my postdocs just managed to keep the flights they booked for china when their contract finishes (they are Chinese so getting into china is at least ok for them). I may have a serious problem too as I can’t start my job in china til i go there and get final medical / paperwork but I can’t travel there now as they won’t issue work permit til Covid-19 is safer and both Chinese relations with Australia and COVID-19 where I am are getting worse. So if I can’t travel by the time my contract here ends (end of this year) I will be stuck here with no income.

Sorry for not replying much in this thread after starting it. It just makes me too depressed sometimes.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Wed Jul 15, 2020 11:02 am

I'm really sorry to hear that, Bewildered. Is your uni doing anything to help stuck post-docs at all?

Mine is at least treating casuals and short-term contract people as "staff to be retained if we can" and are making vaguely reassuring noises about post-docs. There's also been little pockets of supportn in my institute to keep our international students fed. But since I'm only engaging through Zoom meetings and I don't actually work with the students, I have no idea whether those things are actually doing enough.

And in the meantime, I'll keep my fingers firmly crossed that China will let you in by the end of the year to start your new job. :/

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by FlammableFlower » Wed Jul 15, 2020 2:04 pm

Luckily, they're based at a research institute (Future Industries) linked to USA so they've been supporting them really well. Whilst it's an industrial placement and they're doing research, they still enrol as students there. They're now making arrangements to return from emails I've received.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by monkey » Wed Jul 15, 2020 3:16 pm

Squeak wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:17 am
(Though the US is doing a good job of being even less friendly to their international students, so maybe we'll connect some of theirs...)
Thankfully, Trump walked back on the sending international students home yesterday.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by bolo » Wed Jul 15, 2020 6:05 pm

The (US) National Academy of Sciences is holding an "exploratory virtual workshop" next Tuesday on "Reopening U.S. Research Universities". Details here:
https://www.nationalacademies.org/event ... l-workshop

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bewildered » Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:18 pm

Squeak wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 11:02 am
I'm really sorry to hear that, Bewildered. Is your uni doing anything to help stuck post-docs at all?

Mine is at least treating casuals and short-term contract people as "staff to be retained if we can" and are making vaguely reassuring noises about post-docs. There's also been little pockets of supportn in my institute to keep our international students fed. But since I'm only engaging through Zoom meetings and I don't actually work with the students, I have no idea whether those things are actually doing enough.

And in the meantime, I'll keep my fingers firmly crossed that China will let you in by the end of the year to start your new job. :/
Nothing as far as I am aware. The discussion has all been about making sure no-one with a job gets cut, or rather no more than necessary because we’ve been told significant job cuts are coming. For postdocs this means at least allowing ones where we have more years of funding on the grant and already offered this to them, but HR only initially gave a shorter contract, actually get the renewal contract. We have been jumping through lots of admin hoops for one postdoc in this situation, whose current contract runs out in September, and any spending in the budget is getting scrutinised heavily. So I doubt there is any prospect to help postdocs where the grant funding has actually run out and same goes for me, except that it’s my own grant that runs out and I have savings (which I was trying to hoard since I go to a lower paid faculty position in china, with no pension)

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:19 pm

Bewildered wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:18 pm
Nothing as far as I am aware. The discussion has all been about making sure no-one with a job gets cut, or rather no more than necessary because we’ve been told significant job cuts are coming. For postdocs this means at least allowing ones where we have more years of funding on the grant and already offered this to them, but HR only initially gave a shorter contract, actually get the renewal contract. We have been jumping through lots of admin hoops for one postdoc in this situation, whose current contract runs out in September, and any spending in the budget is getting scrutinised heavily. So I doubt there is any prospect to help postdocs where the grant funding has actually run out and same goes for me, except that it’s my own grant that runs out and I have savings (which I was trying to hoard since I go to a lower paid faculty position in china, with no pension)

I'm really sorry to hear that. It's such a sh.t position to be in. :(

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Wed Jul 15, 2020 10:20 pm

monkey wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 3:16 pm
Squeak wrote:
Wed Jul 15, 2020 9:17 am
(Though the US is doing a good job of being even less friendly to their international students, so maybe we'll connect some of theirs...)
Thankfully, Trump walked back on the sending international students home yesterday.
Indeed. That would have been a complete disaster. Still, I'm sure he'll find new ways to make their lives miserable. :(

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Jul 16, 2020 2:29 pm

UK gov has just released its strategy for "helping" universities struggling with the impact of the pandemic. https://www.gov.uk/government/publicati ... ing-regime

I've not read it yet and it'll take time for informed commentary to be published, but university people on Twitter are not impressed, eg this thread https://mobile.twitter.com/martin_eve/s ... 25249?s=09
Para 5: HE is a market with student choice being important, apparently, but the government wants to direct institutions to deliver "strong graduate employment outcomes in areas of economic and societal importance, such as STEM, nursing and teaching."

as though universities can deliver job opportunities, rather than this being totally dependent on the economy -- which has been wrecked by COVID-19.


an attack on student unions in para 6: " The funding of student unions should be proportionate and focused on serving the needs of the wider student population rather than subsidising niche activism and campaigns"


"we are actively considering how to reduce the burden of bureaucracy imposed by Government and regulators"... OK, that would be good.


Para 7: "In every case this must involve a much stronger alignment of the courses delivered with the economic and societal needs of the nation".

If this government had designed "sex education", it would now be called "sex training".


Para 14: government will intervene when it feels like it. Or rather, "There is a clear economic and value for money case for intervention: not all providers will be prevented from exiting the market"

also: "The failure of the provider would cause significant harm to the national or local economy or society".

Basically broad enough that Gov can arbitrarily choose which HE providers to support and which to let go bust.


Para 16: "Any financial support provided will be in the form of a repayable loan. An assessment of the provider’s business model will determine the precise terms and conditions"


"We will also require assurance that providers are fully complying with their legal duties to secure freedom of speech under section 43 Education (No.2) Act 1986"

They are seriously still banging on about this.

P19 "The assessment will particularly look at supporting the provision of high-quality courses, with strong learner outcomes that develop skills that are aligned to local and national economic and social employment needs"

See @dkernohan
for those non-existent low-quality courses
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Jul 16, 2020 2:35 pm

As it looks like I'll be working from home for at least the rest of the year I've been trying to think up strategies to keep me feeling part of the "academic community" - more regular meetings with my supervisors, for one, and at the opposite end of the spectrum spending more time on Twitter (which I basically just only for work) ;)

I've also just subbed to Nature. (I'm basically trying to replace campus gossip - keeping on top of the lit in my own area is easy enough).

Anyone else trying to come up with clever strategies like this?
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Thu Jul 16, 2020 2:40 pm

Finally, an analysis in Nature showing what I think we all suspected - that the pandemic's impacts are felt pretty unequally:
A survey of principal investigators indicates that female scientists, those in the ‘bench sciences’ and, especially, scientists with young children experienced a substantial decline in time devoted to research.
Overall, we found a decline in total working hours, with the average dropping from 61 h per week pre-pandemic to 54 h at the time of the survey (Fig. 1a). Although only 5% of scientists reported that they worked 42 h or less before the pandemic, this share increased nearly sixfold to 30% during the pandemic. However, the pandemic appears to have affected scientists in different ways. Although 55% reported a decline in total work hours, 27% reported no change, and 18% reported an increase in time devoted to work.
Whereas total working hours decreased by 11% on average, time devoted to research declined by 24%. In terms of the share of time allocated across the tasks (Fig. 1c–f), research is the only category that saw an overall decline.
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-020-0921-y

I've got absolutely no idea how many hours a week I work, but I'm sure it's less than 55. Mind you, I'm not a PI. And midsummer is my quietest time as I'm not doing fieldwork.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Mon Jul 27, 2020 1:26 pm

Our university rector has just sent out a message detailing the plans for September - changes afoot, but nothing enormously drastic: increased cleaning and monitoring, staggered timetabling, reduced face-to-face contact with priority given to new intake cohorts, along with obvious stuff like compulsory mask use and distancing.
Dear members of the academic community



The academic year that is about to end demanded a lot from us. Faced with an unprecedented crisis, our students, scholarship holders, teachers, researchers and staff have adapted to difficult circumstances and telework, in a collective effort that we can be proud of. We responded to requests for support from external entities and showed that we are able to work with health units in the region. Thanks to you, the University of Aveiro proved to be up to the challenge.

I would also like to thank those who never left the premises: the volunteers who did thousands of COVID-19 tests, including 2000 of our students, scholarship holders, teachers, researchers and staff, who were able to return safely to the premises; our security and cleaning workers; the Social Action Services, which kept canteens and residences running; and the Technical Management Services, which ensured the maintenance of goods and equipment, the monitoring of ongoing contracts and essential day-to-day tasks.

The next academic year will be marked, we hope, by the progressive return to normality. Having heard the Pedagogical Council and the Directors of the Organic Units, with whom the matter has been discussed since May, and also the President of AAUAv, the teaching activity at the University of Aveiro will be mainly face-to-face, starting in September.

The safety of each of us will be the first priority. To reduce the pressure on spaces, we will combine face-to-face activities, which will be dominant, with distance learning. First year students will receive special attention, considering the importance of the face-to-face dimension in their first contact with the University.

Classes will be smaller, and schedules extended over time, including for example Wednesday afternoons. We will start earlier or end later, but we will try to avoid Saturdays, except for courses where this was previously established. To avoid overcrowding in transportation, cafeterias, libraries and other services, the schedules will not start or end at the same time.

Cleaning and disinfection of common objects and spaces will continue. The use of a mask will be mandatory throughout the University. Thanks to the Technical Management Services, separate entry and exit routes are already in operation, with appropriate signs, disinfectant mats were installed, and gel dispensers have been made widely available. Disinfection tunnels were placed in critical locations and precautions were taken to ensure physical distance and to reduce the occupancy rate of spaces.

We will be having classes in rooms that so far have not been used for the purpose. Classrooms that raise doubts about the risk of infection (due to ventilation, carpets or other reasons) will be serviced.

In cafeterias and bars, the distance between tables and seats will continue to be maintained, in accordance with safety regulations. In the residences, all rooms will be individual, with additional cleaning and disinfection precautions.

The University of Aveiro hired a specialized international company to independently evaluate our procedures and assess their suitability. The process includes verification inspections, biological load tests and fluorescent marking on frequently touched surfaces. The checks will continue over time, in order to collect significant samples and increase the confidence in the results, which will lead to the application of COVID-19 security seals.

With or without COVID-19, we will continue to invest in teacher training and curriculum innovation. Several actions are planned for September to support the preparation of the school year, including those of the newly formed Support Team for Curricular and Pedagogical Innovation.

It is impossible to accurately predict the evolution of the pandemic. I don't know what the future holds for us; but I do know that, regardless of the size of the challenge that we will be facing, our community will do everything to overcome it successfully.

I count on everyone for this, with absolute confidence.

I wish you a good vacation and good health.

https://www.ua.pt/en/reitoria/mensagem- ... comunidade
Note that this is in Portugal, which has been running at 250-450 new cases per day (2.5-4.5/100k) since mid-May, mostly now concentrated in the Lisbon periphery which is ~250km away. (The case numbers here include asymptomatic and unconfirmed cases, which makes it tricky to compare with UK figures. Daily deaths are in single digits, whereas the UK's are double/triple).
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Aug 05, 2020 2:20 am

University of Michigan are planning to reopen, despite high local case numbers.

They're going to buy staff life insurance, due to the risk of death or disability from coronavirus.

I mean, wow. And they're presumably not the only one.

https://twitter.com/jw_lockhart/status/ ... 24000?s=19
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by JQH » Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:18 am

I imagine their lawyers will be having kittens; they've pretty much admitted liability for any future covid deaths or long term problems.
And remember that if you botch the exit, the carnival of reaction may be coming to a town near you.

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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Bird on a Fire » Wed Aug 05, 2020 11:47 am

JQH wrote:
Wed Aug 05, 2020 9:18 am
I imagine their lawyers will be having kittens; they've pretty much admitted liability for any future covid deaths or long term problems.
Nah, they're getting all the staff to sign waivers that absolve the university.
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Re: Impact on Universities

Post by Squeak » Wed Aug 05, 2020 12:33 pm

A couple of my European colleagues mentioned something to me this week that might be useful for forum members with tenuous career status.

Unlike Australia, where all our travel budgets have been clawed back to pay for salaries, apparently many* EU-funded science projects have to spend their travel money on *something* by the end of the year to avoid having to pay it back. So, some of these organisations are trying to put together little data tidying or analysis projects to use up those funds and do some good in the process.

It's nothing that would ever get advertised but now might be a good time to have a quiet word about your analysis skills with people who manage EU budgets.

*All? A few weird ones who don't play by the rules? I dunno, I'm just passing on the chatter.

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