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Dear Applicant

This time last year, I was in a similar position to you; I was considering moving on from an institution and a home that I had loved for almost 10 years to join the University of Chester. I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time in Chester prior to my decision, to speak to staff and students and get a real feel for the University. Unfortunately, you won’t now have this opportunity; a lot has changed in a year and there are many uncertainties right now. 

That is why I wanted to write to you directly, to reassure you that whatever the future holds, the changes we have put in place at Chester mean our students will continue to receive the best possible education and student experience in the given circumstances. 

Here at Chester, we talk a lot about producing strong, resilient, adaptable and ethical graduates who are ready to take their place in the world upon graduation. The last few weeks have left me in no doubt that our students, staff and whole community embody all of these things, and more.

We have been strong, continuing our teaching and learning even though students are scattered across the country and our tutors have the added pressures of working from home with all the distractions that brings. We have received lots of praise and very few complaints from students about our handling of this situation and it speaks volumes about our tutors, who have continued to be on hand to advise and support students. I have also kept in touch with students, writing to them each week, liaising closely with the Students’ Union and communicating with individual students to respond to their concerns. Next week, I will be holding a virtual focus group with students, and I am looking forward to a live Q&A on Instagram the following week. Our students will tell you that one of the things I enjoy most is chatting to them over dinner, or catching up with them as they take a break between lectures on campus. I am missing this so much at the moment and am grateful for these opportunities to keep in touch with them. 

We have been resilient; across our community, we have faced a multitude of obstacles on a daily basis but we have addressed them one-by-one, problem solving with good humour and teamwork. Our Students’ Union is doing remarkable work to keep our students connected with each other and with the University - both academics and support staff.

We have been adaptable, switching swiftly to online teaching for our students this term, providing learning resources for local teachers and schools, supporting the fight against COVID-19 with volunteer nursing undergraduatestraining facilities and PPE protection and of course, setting up virtual events for prospective students like yourselves.

Above all though, we have striven to be ethical. Many of our students were concerned about end-of-year assessments and work placements, particularly as they are now working in very different circumstances. To reduce pressure on students, we introduced a no detriment policy to ensure they received a fair grade.

On top of that, we gave our current students assistance so that they could return home wherever possible and for those who couldn’t return home, our 24-hour porter service remains fully operational to ensure that they are safe on campus. We have refunded accommodation fees for students no longer resident on campus, and we have helped those in private accommodation to secure refunds. Even small gestures such as waiving library fees have gone a long way to ease anxiety at this time. 

For you, our prospective students, we made an early decision not to use the exam uncertainty to pressurise you into making a decision. We have worked hard to make all the information you need available online, and our admissions team continues to take phone calls from their homes to answer your questions and make offers. More and more of our students have made themselves available online to answer your questions about being a student at Chester, and our academics have led live onlinechats and presentations to deliver information and answer your questions. I hope this has helped you in your decision making at this time.

I’d like to end by sharing a story from the beginning of my own career.

I had been teaching Secondary Science and had then gone back to university to take my Master's. Just at the end of the course, as I was handing in my dissertation, I was called in by the University Principal and asked if I would take on the role of Programme Leader and start teaching on the course in a week’s time, as my tutor needed to go into hospital for an urgent operation. I took up the challenge, was briefed by her hospital bed and we all coped very well. 

So, although different circumstances, I do sympathise with what you are facing. My experience was last minute and a sudden change of situation, but we all did fine - and I am sure that with your teachers’ support and a positive start to your university career, you will too.

I hope I will have the opportunity to meet you in September and, together, we can use what we have learned during this difficult time to become the graduates and professionals that we strive to be.

Professor Eunice Simmons