VC Voice | Wednesday, 28th February 2018

Our University: Shaping Our World

The All Saints campus as seen at night

Universities are operating in a dynamic external environment. I am confident in our ability to succeed in delivering our ambition because we have the advantage of being located in Manchester, we have a clear strategy, our scale and diversity afford us resilience and, above all, we have great people, doing great things, working together in partnership.

I have recently had the privilege of speaking to a large number of colleagues across the University at open briefings, updating you on the progress that we have made over the last 12 months, outlining some of the challenges that we face, and sharing future plans.

In this blog, I have summarised the main themes that I covered in the briefings. You might also like to watch the short film that I have made.

Watch the film:


A dynamic environment

We are operating in a dynamic and highly competitive environment. Competition for students is partly a matter of demographics: the number of 18 year olds in the UK population has been declining gradually since around 2014, and will continue to do so until the early 2020s, before rising again. We can add to that the impact of other political factors: the Higher Education and Reform Act, Brexit, and the Prime Minister’s sentiment towards international students.

In addition to the familiar competition for research funding, we are confronting a period of uncertainty about how higher education is to be paid for. I believe there are three important principles that must underpin the financing of higher education. It should be free at the point of access; everyone who can gain from the experience should have the opportunity to attend; and those who benefit - individuals, employers, and society - should share in the cost of providing it.

We are entering a new era of regulation with the advent of the Office for Students; we will have new priorities to adjust to and a potentially unfamiliar landscape to negotiate.

Universities are no exception to the prevailing mood of public mistrust in institutions. Whilst we welcome this public scrutiny, our universities are a global success story. It is incumbent on us to ensure that information about what we do is readily available, demonstrating that we are a force for good in our local communities as well as nationally and globally.

Focussing on delivery

Last year, I used these briefings to launch our new strategic framework and our five themes of place, ambition, partnership, community and sustainability. Since then, we have further articulated our ambitions in our three core thematic strategies: education, research and knowledge exchange, and internationalisation. Every faculty and professional service area has its plan. We know what we’re doing; the focus is now on delivery.

Great people achieving great things

Delivery depends on people and we have great people doing great things in every area of the University. During the year, we made a number of organisational changes aimed at enabling colleagues to succeed. We have restructured the Professional Services, established 13 University centres of Research and Knowledge Exchange, and embarked on our Student Journey Transformation Programme, which will support students, and staff supporting students, from application to graduation and beyond.

Getting the rest to match our best

Metrics are not the whole story, but it’s important to understand our performance data so that we know where to direct our energy. I was delighted that we were awarded silver in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). We are making progress but have a distance to go before we can secure the gold rating that I believe we can realistically achieve.

I am also confident that we can be honest with ourselves. Taking the NSS as an example, we have subject areas that are performing well above 90% for overall satisfaction, which is our 2020 target for the whole University. There are other areas that fall a long way short of this though. I believe that we know what needs fixing and how to fix it; as with other teaching metrics, performance is too patchy.

We are starting to see a steady growth in our research income. Research plays an important role in defining universities and, together with professional practice, feeds into teaching to give our students a unique education from people at the forefront of their fields. The skills acquired through research – the ability to hypothecate, evaluate and analyse; to create and innovate; to articulate and communicate; and to collaborate and engage – are highly in demand by employers. Our research is characterised by the real-world impact that it delivers.

The Dog Loukanikos and the Cat’s Cradle 

This is a piece of textile art by Professor Alice Kettle from our Manchester School of Art, which features a dog barking. I used this work to make the point that we need to shout much more loudly about our contribution to individuals and society. We need to be able to tell powerful stories about what we do, how we equip students to be the experts and leaders of the future, and the difference that our research makes to businesses and industry. This is a job for everyone.

These are busy and exciting times

As is evident from the film that I showed during the briefings, Our University Year, which you can watch below, there is a great deal going on in every part of our University. Everyone is busy, and I very much appreciate your dedication and commitment. Our strategy and plans will ensure that our energy is effectively channelled. It is hard to imagine a better place for us to be located than Manchester. We have a scale and diversity that affords us a degree of resilience and, most importantly, I believe we are able to act as one University, working together to deliver for ourselves, our students and the world around us.

Every single person has a part to play. Every member of staff will help us make the difference. Our future is in our own hands.

Watch the film, Our University Year:

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