Uppermost in our minds has been the importance of being flexible and sensitive about how we engage with the many colleagues across the University whose advice and expertise we rely on. They have been facing some huge challenges and uncertainties as they try to maintain something resembling business-as-usual, and plan ahead for the next few months. However much we need them, we have tried our best not to ask too much of them at this time.
Nevertheless, while COVID-19 and restricted operations are inevitably going to affect StARS+’s long-term plans, we have been able to continue to make progress on several fronts.
As well as establishing the technical foundations for the rest of the programme during the past month (many of you will have noticed the recent Banner downtimes), the team has also been making progress on a number of key services which are a priority to support the University’s operational response to the current situation.
Right to Study checks for international students, and student letters
Working with the International Students Team and Student Services, we are on course to deliver an interim solution to take Right to Study checks for international students online this summer. This will replace the notorious queues at the Welcome tent every September and empower students to take ownership of their own Right to Study.
While more work will be done to refine this for 2021, the upheaval that international students are going to face this year makes it really important to give them one less thing to worry about when they eventually get onto campus by enabling them to complete their RTS check in advance of travelling to the UK.
Since starting this project it has also become operationally essential to move away from the old mass-gathering, face-to-face process to help the University comply with the social distancing measures that we have to imagine will remain in place for some time.
In that same vein, we have also recently started exploring an online way for students to obtain the letters they need to open bank accounts and the like, without having to visit (and queue up in) the Student Hub.
My thanks to everyone in Student Services, IT Services and other areas whose commitment has helped us continue to drive these projects forward in a short space of time.
With many of our previous ways of working now impossible we are all being challenged to think differently and work more flexibly. In that context StARS+ spent much of April and May responding to an urgent request from the Colleges to explore interim measures to support attendance recording for the next academic year, ideally in a way that would reduce the amount of manual effort required.
This exploratory work has now been handed over to be incorporated into Colleges' planning for bi-modal teaching and learning delivery.
Part of StARS+’s scope was always to support longer-term University thinking about attendance recording, so we will be returning to this soon with lessons to learn from whatever interim measures are put in place in the short term.
Leave of Absence
Work has continued on a redesigned Leave of Absence service. The intention had been to go live with this in time for the start of the next academic year. But bearing in mind the pressure colleagues in central divisions and Colleges are under we are now looking to release in the first quarter of 2021.
Nevertheless, design “sprints” have been continuing with our user groups and supplier. We appreciate the time that College, Academic Services and IT Services colleagues have continued to commit to working with us.
Those involved in and affected by these upcoming changes will hear more from the programme soon. We will also share news about StARS+’s longer-term plans once the full implications of the current crisis become clearer over the next few weeks and months.
In the meantime, thank you for all you continue to do for our University, for our students and for one another. Stay safe.