Before student development week, two of our editors – ALIX BOOTH and JENNA BURTON - organised an interview with recently appointed University of Chester Vice-Chancellor, Professor Eunice Simmons. They chatted about all things COVID-19, her role, responsibilities, and the future prospects for Chester University.
From the start of her tenure as VC – in January 2020 - Eunice has had to make tough decisions. But one of the hardest was whether to continue with face-to-face teaching:
“That was a tricky decision because we didn't know what other universities would do and we could have lost a lot of students to other universities whichever way we went with that decision”, she told us.
“Chester’s got so many good physical resources, it's got so many great staff. I think that online learning would have been a bit limiting so obviously we're staying very close to guidance and we've got low transmission rates” she added.
She described her role, as “making sure all the executive function of the university works, and what that means is all the finances, all the human resources, all the student provision.”
Though this was not an initial career ambition, Eunice felt like she was always able to manage people and worked her way up to her role by remaining authentic and being actively involved with her colleagues, which she feels are important attributes to have.
“I think that's why I have got the internal promotions in previous jobs because people know that I am as I am, and I will do the next job in a certain way”
“If you really are interested in everybody doing their job at every level within the organisation, not thinking about it all the time as a hierarchy, then it's a very powerful model because you're thinking about people and they are what make up the organisation - particularly a University.”
Despite her first terms as VC being nothing short of extraordinary, she is happy with the outcome so far and all with the help of her team and colleagues.
Inclusivity and semesters
“I'm very pleased we've set up the racism equality challenge group, for example, to really look at racism through the whole University on an ongoing basis and very interested in gender issues and whether or not we're approaching those correctly within the University.”
Eunice also wanted to do more with the outside community, such as volunteering, have more people onto campus, and get students out and about more, but nevertheless she feels they have made progress.
“We have been spending money on the student experience rather than saving money because we're not doing everything face to face”, she said.
The future of Chester University post-Covid, is positive according to the VC. She told us about the potential of reverting back to a semester system approach, depending on the results of Level 3 students, and continuing to have online meetings in some cases. Chester reverting to a semester system approach means students can get some of their assessments and examinations completed earlier in the year, which Eunice thinks is beneficial.
“Why semesters are good is that you get some of the assessment done in year and they are also very good for students to be able to go away for half of the year either into industry or abroad”, she said.
A question which has spiked controversy across social media relates to whether students can have their tuition fees partially refunded due to limited access to campuses, particularly during the first lockdown.
“At the moment not. It’s more expensive running the University like this. We’ve hired extra staff, cleaning staff, people helping us with the tracing system if anyone does get Covid”, she said.
“We’ve also done a lot of alterations so we're reopening the Chester workspaces on the Parkgate campus which are all bookable safe individual or two person spaces, so we've altered three buildings to do that. We have been spending money on the student experience rather than saving money because we're not doing everything face to face”.
Her final words of wisdom were to “make the most of getting to know your subject” and that we need a balance of the social and the studious.
One of the main things we took from the interview was the feeling that she has a real passion for her job – despite all the recent obstacles – and she is a breath of fresh air for University of Chester.
Written by Alix Booth