VC's address to Academic Assembly

Vice-Chancellor’s Statutory Address on 8 May 2018

In last year’s address to Academic Assembly, I focused on one aspect of the University’s Strategy – postgraduate research – and spoke about the challenges and developments in this area.

Today will be my last address as I step down from the role of Vice-Chancellor in August.  I would like to take this opportunity to talk more holistically about the University’s progress against the 2016-2021 Strategy, to think about what still needs to be done and to share with you some thoughts on national policy and the implications this may have for the University.

University Strategy 2016-2021

This is an ambitious, all-encompassing strategy and I have been impressed by the way our talented community has risen to the challenge and already delivered outstanding results.

So what has been achieved?

Growing the volume of research and increasing our research power by recruiting more researchers and creating a vibrant environment to encourage discovery and impact.

We have celebrated considerable success in terms of research with the value of the University’s portfolio overtaking the £150 million mark prior to Christmas.  In 2016/17, academic colleagues representing all faculties and the School of Management won 40 grants in excess of £250K.

We recognise, however, that monetary value is not the only measure of success; social and environmental impact is critical when addressing issues of global importance.

The University’s response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East is a good example of this.  Through provision of a new PGCES programme to train Jordanian teachers who are working with refugees, and by sending multi-disciplinary teams of researchers to design housing for the displaced, the University has the potential to effect positive change on the lives of many.  Other examples include the creation of a non-invasive, adhesive patch which promises the measurement of glucose levels through the skin without a finger-prick blood test, and the development of biodegradable cellulose microbeads.  The first has the potential to assist millions of people worldwide with their day-to-day living.  The latter will help to reduce ocean pollution and the negative impact that plastics are having on the environment.

All of these projects are helping to increase our research volume and we are taking further steps to increase our research power. Our third round of prize fellow recruitment commenced this year, we have launched the Doctoral College to support our research students and we continue to invest in our faculty.

Recognition of research expertise has not been limited to funding and impact success.  Eight colleagues from the University were appointed to REF panels last month and I would like to congratulate Matt Davidson, Patrick Keogh, Ian Tonks, Jane Millar, Alison Walker, Mark Haskins, Joe Devine and Dylan Thompson.

Colleagues have also attracted recognition in other arenas.  Within the last month, Manuel del Pino has been awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship, Alma Harris and Nick Pearce have been named as Fellows of the Academy of Social Sciences and Carole Mundell has been listed in the 100 most influential women in the West.

The University’s multidisciplinary and industry-facing approach to research has also been recognised.  The Institute for Mathematical Innovation (IMI) has been praised for its work improving links between academics and industry in a national review of Knowledge Exchange in the Mathematical Sciences commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.  The University two year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with Spirent Communications, the world leader in Galileo, GPS and other global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) testing solutions, has been awarded ‘outstanding’ by Innovate UK.

The University’s strong research profile has facilitated two major projects which have been realised over the last year.  Firstly, we have successfully secured an initial £40m from government with further funding from industry for the IAAPS project.  IAAPS is an important development for the University heralding, as it does, a major step change in the scale of our activity.  It is estimated that it will stimulate £67m in research and development between 2020 and 2025, and will position the UK as a global competitor.  We congratulate Gary Hawley and Chris Brace, as well as others within the automotive research area, on this achievement.

Announced by the Prime Minister at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, the £20m Institute of Coding will be led by the University.  A consortium of universities, business and industry experts, the Institute will play a central role in developing a world-class pipeline of digital skills.

Stabilising our undergraduate student numbers in order to focus on enhancing the quality of the student experience. Attracting more graduate students by providing them with innovative programmes and first-rate training.

We have achieved our aim of stabilising UG student numbers this year.

Whilst we saw an increase last year in UG recruitment in 2016/17 due to the pipeline effect, numbers have decreased this year and have been offset by growth in PGT and PGR new students.  Particular recognition should be given to the School of Management as well as departments such as Psychology who have moved quickly to introduce new PGT programmes and recruit effectively to them.

Considerable efforts have been made to enhance the student experience, with a revised induction programme, the establishment of the new Centre for Learning and Teaching, and a revised online unit evaluation being just some of the developments.  We achieved a Gold award in the TEF and levels of student satisfaction have remained high with the University being ranked 4th overall in the 2018 THE Student Experience Survey.

The Doctoral College is a significant step forward in increasing the scale and effectiveness of our graduate provision.  We are delighted that Cathryn Mitchell has taken on the challenge as Academic Director of the College and that Jeremy Bradshaw has joined us to head up doctoral and international developments as PVC.  A Student Union Sabbatical officer post dedicated to PG matters has proven invaluable and the third incumbent is about to take up the post.

As well as an increase in core student numbers, we have seen a significant increase in visiting research student numbers – from 204 in 2015/16, to 253 in 2016/17 and 344 so far this year.  This demonstrates an interesting development for research provision resulting from collaborations with other universities in DTCs but also from international research networks.

Continuing to improve the infrastructure both on and off campus, allowing us to provide the facilities our communities require.

We have continued to improve infrastructure both on and off campus.  Last year saw the formal opening of the Virgil Building, 4 East South and the Pall Mall offices.  The Milner Centre and Polden are well underway and plans for the new SoM building have been developed.  The new £3.5m gym extension is also on track.  The Masterplan has been updated to consider how the campus might be developed further, recognising physical constraints and pressures on accommodation within the City.  Consultations took place in March and will inform a final version which will be submitted to B&NES for approval and inclusion in the Council’s new Local Plan.

Rankings have remained stable; 4th in the Guardian & we have retained 11th place in the Complete University Guide this year and are still the top placed university in the South West.  More importantly, two thirds of our subjects were recognised in the top 10 and 6 in the top 3: Accounting and Finance; Architecture; Marketing; Psychology; Sociology; and Sports Science.  Special mention must go to Architecture and Marketing who were ranked first in the country. This is a real achievement and I congratulate everyone who has played their part.

Financially, the University is reasonably sound.  The accounts to the end of July 2017 showed that the University remained well placed financially but very real pressures continue to grow.  Many routes are being taken to enhance our financial robustness and flexibility.  By the start of this year, we had reached a total of over £63m towards our £66m philanthropic fundraising target.  The Look Further Campaign will finish soon and I will be able to announce the final figure.  Such philanthropic support is extremely important – especially for the many scholars and early career researchers who benefit from it.

What needs to be done?

Higher Education is facing many challenges.  Our strategy is serving us well and our direction is strong but we need to continue to make progress against our objectives.  There is still much to do.

As already noted, growth potential on campus is limited.  The acquisition of the Bath & Bath Science Park will be extremely important to the University as it will enable us not only to realise the ambitions for IAAPS, but also to house other developments.  Increasingly, the University will need to think of itself as a multi-site operation rather than a single campus entity.

We are greatly indebted to the City of Bath and to B&NES Council for the support given to the University but we are aware that the local community has been affected by the growth in our student numbers.  We hope that our strategy to focus on PG growth rather than UG will help to alleviate some of the concerns, but recognise that there is work to do to regain the support of residents.  The incoming Mayor, Cllr Patrick Anketell-Jones, has indicated his intention to use his term of office to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between the City and its universities.

Partnerships with multinationals, such as those involved with IAAPS and the IoC, are vital to our future success.  Veronica Hope Hailey’s new role as VP for Corporate Engagement will help to increase our sponsorship for both research and learning & teaching activities with such companies as EDF and Unilever.

But we also need to work with SMEs, recognising their significance in this region.  The £5m HEFCE grant for SETsquared to identify fast-growing SMEs in South of England and connect them with universities to encourage research and innovation collaborations will help us achieve this aim. The £800k grant (£1.6m project) from the West of England ERDF for the Social and Innovation programme led by Dimo Dimov and £700k (£1.4m project) for the Sustainable Business Acceleration Hub led by Matt Davidson will also have a big impact on our region.

Our research volume, power and impact is growing but there is much to be done to ensure that we are ready for the 2021 REF.

We also need to be prepared for the introduction of the subject level TEF.  With the recent successes at subject level in the Complete University Guide, and the Gold award in the university-level TEF, I have no doubt that the University can perform well.

Although the University has made great strides in improving the student experience, feedback shows that more is required.  Increasing the amount and quality of our student study space must be a priority going forward.

International recruitment has become increasingly competitive and changes to immigration policy have created a further challenge.  We hope that the restructuring of the international recruitment team, our new PVC D&I post and the appointment of Catherine Montgomery as Academic Director of International Partnerships will offer a good base of support for all our international activities.

National policy and its impact on the University?

So what impact will national policy have on the University?  I will give four examples.

The first relates to Widening Participation.  In recent years, universities have been encouraged to promote access and participation in higher education amongst students from disadvantaged and under-represented groups.  Whilst this will remain important, there will be a shift in emphasis towards retention, attainment and progression by disadvantaged and under-represented groups.  Supporting such students to achieve their potential is something that we are able to do well at Bath.

The second is concerned with the national Industrial Strategy which is shifting towards targeting funding at high impact research (solving problems and enhancing competitiveness).  As I hope I have demonstrated, the University’s research is achieving economic, social and technological impact and I feel we are in a good position to optimise opportunities afforded by the Industrial Strategy and to access the funding that will be made available in a way that is appropriate for the research challenges we see as important.

My third example is the skills agenda.  The government aims to make sure that further and higher education provides the skilled workforce employers need and helps individuals reach their full potential.  In doing so, it will champion the sort of work we are doing with multinationals, with SMEs and with other universities in our region via GW4.  With our strong track record of graduate employment and engagement with business and industry, we are in a good position to be at the forefront of developments.

Finally, we now know that current Government reforms of higher education financing mean that income for teaching increasingly comes through students’ tuition fees and to a much lesser extent through the HEFCE/OfS grant. This supports the Government's aims of increasing student choice and supporting a more diverse sector.  However, we also now know that funding for high cost subjects will be protected and that the postgraduate supplement will be aimed at supporting high cost subject provision as a complement to the recent postgraduate loan support system.  This may be advantageous for us, ensuring that the University will not have to cross-subsidise certain areas.  It may also support our strategy for PG growth. Nevertheless, the political climate for tuition fees in uncertain.  It is hard to have confidence when planning university directions.  Not only the national and EU situation is changing unpredictably but also there are international movements in higher education that will make uncertainty the norm for some time.

There are clearly interesting and demanding times ahead and the University is fortunate to be able to attract highly qualified and talented people.  As I come to the end of my period as Vice-Chancellor, I am confident that the University can continue to thrive.  It now has the scale and resilience to have real impact and to become a globally recognised centre of excellence.

I would like to thank you all for everything you have done to ensure the University’s excellence.  And I wish you well for the future.

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