May 9th, 2016
A message from Professor Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Nottingham.
My annual round of All Staff Forums, which has always offered an opportunity for us to discuss change, is scheduled later than in the last few years. That being so, I thought I should write on our changing environment, issues we will no doubt pick up on again in upcoming Forums.
Significant changes are taking place in our University this year. These are in response to changes in the higher education environment more generally, and necessary to help sustain our University as a successful, broadly-based and modern institution; offering excellence in teaching and research.
Key changes in the wider environment include: changing student expectations (embracing how students learn as well as what they learn); ever more pressing competition (domestically and internationally) to recruit high quality students and staff; and increasingly fierce competition to secure funding to sustain our research activity at levels appropriate for a University of our standing.
I believe that accelerating changes in technology, increased internationalisation, and further regulatory intervention will only intensify these pressures.
As we embark on planning and budgeting for the next financial year and beyond, I thought it would be helpful to set out the context in which current planning decisions are being made. I would also like to update you on progress in key areas, major projects and new investment.
Responding to change
When developing Strategy 2020 we emphasized that, overall the University is in a strong position globally. Over the last two decades we have increased our student population, invested in priority areas of research, enhanced our estate and facilities in Nottingham, and established two international campuses in the continent which will be the world’s centre of gravity over the next century.
Strategy 2020 embodies real ambition. But we were very clear: to take our University to the next level will require investment in our future. In a world of shrinking public funding more resources will need to be generated from sustainable growth, income diversification, and of course ensuring we are doing what we do efficiently.
For these reasons we have reviewed how we are delivering on our Strategy 2020 objectives. Faculty-level evaluations led by Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellors (PVCs) have been key to this process.
At a broad level, the outcomes of this review include plans to increase our international student numbers, whilst largely maintaining our UK student population. To remain competitive it is obviously vital we keep under review the courses we offer, to ensure they are fit for the future and meeting the needs of students. This is why, following carefully researched cases from the relevant Faculties, we are investing in new staff and facilities and offering new degrees in emerging areas such as aerospace engineering and food process engineering; and introducing an Arts Foundation course. At the same time certain areas are shrinking in response to the decline in numbers of A-level candidates – for example those wishing to study languages.
There have always been ebbs and flows in subject provision. However, tides change more rapidly now and we have to respond to changing patterns of student behaviour. This is one of the factors that led us to undertake a Portfolio Review in the Faculty of Arts, which began in February 2015 and is now at consultation stage. We have seen a trend of falling numbers nationally and this feeds through to applications. To maintain quality, and ensure sustainability, we have to make changes.
While some universities have closed entire language departments this is not a route we have chosen. A key outcome of the Arts Portfolio Review is to safeguard all existing disciplines in the Faculty. No Departments are closing.
I should also note that I asked our new PVC for Research and Knowledge Exchange, Dame Jessica Corner, to evaluate our Research Strategy with our Faculty PVCs to identify priorities for future investment. That work is now well underway.
Continuing to invest in core activity
The core principles stretching back to the foundation of our University – set out again last year in Strategy 2020 – include putting students at the heart of the institution, valuing our staff and supporting them to excel, focusing on quality and taking an international outlook across all activities.
Staying true to those principles means ongoing investment in the learning environment. And that means building a University which is flexible enough to adapt to a changing world; a University which is financially sustainable in an ever more challenging funding landscape.
So, we have continued to make significant investments in core academic activity, including promoting current staff and appointing new staff. Recent examples include: appointments in Social Sciences as part of the Q-Step Programme; new Chairs in Sustainable Chemistry; new promotions across all Faculties, and other appointments supporting new course developments and research initiatives.
We have also continued to invest in our infrastructure, for which there is comparatively little public funding. We have therefore to generate a surplus each year to help fund this. In truth though we cannot support investment on any scale unless we find others – partners, lenders, donors or sponsors – to share the cost of investment. And we have had success in doing that. For example, the £23 million Carbon Neutral Laboratories building on Jubilee Campus is almost entirely externally funded. For those who would like further detail, a breakdown of University finances can be found on our website.
A sustainable, successful future
We are also investing for the future through Project Transform. This will provide new technology, new infrastructure and a new staffing structure. Successful delivery will support the student experience at Nottingham. It will also mean we have much more joined up systems, much less manual intervention in processes, and more opportunities for career progression (dissatisfaction with all of which I have heard about in Staff Forums over the last few years).
I am aware there have been challenges in planning and implementation, as there always are with change programmes of this kind (and in all organisations). I am grateful for the effort and energy which so many colleagues have put into ensuring we deliver change to benefit all of us for many years to come. (You can read a more detailed update on Transform from Professor Karen Cox, our Deputy Vice-Chancellor).
Finally, there is much to be positive about. Undergraduate applications are up on last year, and up relative to our competitors and the sector as a whole. Moreover, we have more applicants with A*AA predicted grades than ever before, and we are all now working hard to convert these to ensure Nottingham is their first choice. Postgraduate applications are also up.
We also continue to be successful in attracting external funding for research. One recent example is the Energy Research Accelerator, which will bring £60m investment from Government to support world-leading work at Nottingham and our Midlands Innovation partners.
And our ambitious Impact Campaign, which set a target of £150 million, is now past £170 million; delivering new Chairs, new scholarships, new infrastructure. My statements to the University Council (which can be accessed online) give regular updates on these and other developments.
I look forward to working with all of you as we create a sustainable, successful future.
Responses to comments posted below (updated 9 May)
First of all, thank you all for reading my update and for taking the time to leave comments. Because of the range of issues mentioned, I thought it would be helpful to address some of the key points individually.
– Staff are our greatest resource, and quite properly we spend way more on people than anything else (£316mill, or 55% of total expenditure in 2014/15). But the truth is we have to invest in staff and facilities. Both are crucial. Our students deserve the best education in the best surroundings, and with the best facilities; likewise our staff deserve the best environment in which to work, whether that be office accommodation or laboratories.
It is worth noting that the funding streams for staffing and for capital investment are entirely separate: it is simply not the case that changes in staffing levels in one School or Faculty will release funding for new infrastructure. Finally, some infrastructure investment only takes place when we can secure external funding to support it.
– Project Transform is an entirely separate process that was started in February 2014. This is a University-wide programme to update and improve student administration systems, processes and organisational structures. In any big organisation, it is not unusual to see a number of major projects running at the same time. Project Transform and the Portfolio Review in the Faculty of Arts are separate and distinct projects – it is not the case to say that the former is being funded by the latter.
– Each Faculty of the University has a large degree of autonomy over its own budget, and a responsibility to balance the books. It is not the case that changes in one Faculty are channelled into new courses in another. Proposals for new programmes come up through individual Faculties, and not in competition with other Faculties.
More broadly, our University does not exist in a vacuum. It is subject to external pressures – to changes in student preferences, in legislation, in funding, in admissions policy and numerous other factors – to a far greater degree than it was 20 or even 10 years ago. We have to adapt, to be flexible, to respond to what students want. Where there are fewer students wanting to study certain languages, for example, we have to be aware of that and plan accordingly. It would be irresponsible for the University to plan its course offering in any other way, or indeed to refuse to respond to those changes at all.
Essentially, we have to respond to the world as it is, rather than as we would wish it to be. No University today – no large organisation of any kind – can afford to stand still.
– On the contrary, I believe changes are necessary to put Modern Languages on a sustainable footing for the future. We have worked hard to find a solution in which we could maintain all the current core languages – Russian, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese – rather than discontinuing some or all of these subjects, as other universities have done. The Review is intended to safeguard Modern Languages at Nottingham for the long term, and I believe it will do so.
– The proposal to create a single Department of Modern Languages and Cultures will mean a more coordinated approach in related subject areas, and will mean we can capitalise on existing strengths in Cultural Theory and Linguistics which are currently spread among different Departments. A single Department will also mean teaching approaches can be harmonised to improve the student experience and make it more consistent across Languages. Levels of resource will also be spread more evenly across the Faculty.
– I completely disagree. Indeed, were that the case, I would not be working here. The founding principles of learning, excellence, discovery, longevity and partnership are as crucial to us today as they were when the first Nottingham degrees were awarded more than a century ago. Those core principles are reflected in our Strategy 2020, from the first word to the last. The challenge for the University’s leaders is to remain true to those principles while investing in and safeguarding our University for future generations. We are doing exactly that.
– This is not the case. Responses are being sent to all letters, from the Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor. The large majority of correspondents have already received replies.
Thank you again for your comments, and for taking part in the ongoing conversation around the Portfolio Review in the Faculty of Arts. We are listening to students, staff and others, and we will continue to do so. I hope my responses have helped to address some of your concerns and to answer some of the questions that have been raised.
The Portfolio Review in the Faculty of Arts is still ongoing, and it has required us to make challenging decisions. But they are decisions that will help secure the long-term future of Modern Languages at our University.
Professor Sir David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor
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