Through the centuries, students have been the lifeblood of universities, central to the values of higher education as a means of advancing society through knowledge. Until recently, however, the international standing of British universities has been measured and defined predominantly as a function of their research strengths. It is quite timely then, that a number of important legislative changes and societal pressures have sought to rebalance and refocus the importance of students. They are our greatest ambassadors, our finest assets, and our future depends on the way in which students use their abilities to shape the world around us.

An important change affecting the way students perceive universities was the introduction of the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF), which came as a counterweight to the highly regarded Research Excellence Framework (REF). Manchester Metropolitan was awarded a Silver TEF in recognition of its teaching expertise and we are committed to achieving Gold status. We are passionate about our teaching, and as the government strides towards the introduction of subject-level TEF, we feel confident that a number of our subject areas would already achieve Gold.

Last year, the Higher Education and Research Act brought a number of changes to our sector and introduced the Office for Students (OfS). The OfS will play a central role in regulating the quality and standards of teaching in universities. On pages 22 to 25, Nicola Dandridge, CEO of the OfS affirms the importance of placing students at the heart of universities. She emphasises the need to open up higher education to new groups of students, acknowledging the impact Manchester Metropolitan is having through novel initiatives such as our First Generation Campaign and in being the largest provider of degree apprenticeships.

Unlike its predecessor the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the OfS will need to balance the interests of a wider range of stakeholders including the government, businesses as well as taxpayers, whilst ensuring that universities are transparent, accountable and represent good value for money. These are principles to which we already fully subscribe.

I never fail to be inspired by the dedication and determination of our students

Sam Gyimah MP, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation similarly emphasises the importance of putting students at the heart of higher education. During one of his first university visits, the Minister spent a significant amount of time listening to the perspectives and opinions of students at Manchester Metropolitan. It was fitting that our University was recognised by the Minister; we have one of the largest and most diverse student bodies in the country.

We pride ourselves on having a strong working relationship with our students and with the Students’ Union (SU). I meet fortnightly with Amie Atkinson, the President of our SU, and my senior team and I meet quarterly with Amie and her fellow sabbatical officers for a joint executive meeting. Our work prioritises the delivery of better outcomes for our students. You can gain fascinating insights into the pioneering work of our SU in the articles in this issue featuring Amie and past presidents including Lord Scriven, Sibtain Jiwani, Liz Cross and Sarah Hardy.

I never fail to be inspired by the dedication and determination of our students. Just look at the feature on student volunteering on page 40, where you can find out about third-year student Ellie Ryan’s voluntary work with ChildLine and about our students volunteering with local mentoring charity ReachOut. Fifty-five per cent of our students come from the North West and 50% remain in the region after graduation, contributing immensely to our communities and also to our local economy.

In addition to our current students, we have around 290,000 alumni worldwide doing incredible work. Examples include David Fairhurst, Chief People Officer at McDonald’s responsible for well over one million staff worldwide, and filmmaker Loran Dunn who gave an inspirational talk about creative thinking and collaboration at our recent School of Digital Arts launch (see page 55). Five of our alumni were elected to parliament for the first time in 2017, more than for any other university except Oxford. If anybody were to doubt the value of a university education, they just have to consider the phenomenal activities and achievements of our alumni.

Countless creative minds derive inspiration from our students and the buzz of our campus life at the heart of Manchester. Read about Guy Garvey’s appointment as a visiting professor of songwriting, a role that will allow him to influence, direct and shape creative minds that choose Manchester Metropolitan as the place to study. A multi-award winning songwriter and lead singer of Elbow, one of the biggest and most successful bands in the world, Guy needs little introduction from me and we are delighted about this partnership.

The article on pages 56 to 59 focuses on the impact our Manchester School of Theatre is having on international culture. We feature some of the incredible talent bursting from Manchester Metropolitan onto the world stage, with outstanding achievements including earning parts in major US television series and winning BAFTAs.

The designer of the iconic BAFTA mask, sculptor Mitzi Cunliffe, has been gaining increasing posthumous recognition for her work in the 20th Century. Manchester Metropolitan’s Special Collections department houses one of Mitzi’s important works: A Flutter of Birds. Find out more in this magazine about Special Collections, about Mitzi’s recently discovered sculpture and read the commemorative poem written by Dr Helen Mort, our latest poet to have been named Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

It is these and other stories on the following pages that dazzle with the passion and ambition of our students and people past and present. As this edition celebrates our greatest assets and achievers, more than anything it is the energy, creativity and sheer resilience of our students that makes me feel proud of Manchester Metropolitan and optimistic for the future.