It is my pleasure to introduce this year’s integrated Annual Report and Accounts 2019-20. It demonstrates the commitment and hard work of the University community which has led to success in a wide range of activities, from national and international awards, through national league table rankings to valued local contributions. That this has occurred in a year with unprecedented challenges is a tremendous credit to our community. I am most grateful therefore to my colleagues for all they have achieved and to the Council, and in particular the Chair of Council, for the guidance and leadership that they have shown.
From the outset, this year was intended to be one of transition, innovation and learning. We were delighted to see the strengthening of leadership in Student Experience through the appointment of Dr Cassie Wilson as Vice-President, and our desire to support staff and students in as inclusive a manner as possible lasted throughout. We also agreed new initiatives to strengthen Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, which have now resulted in Professor Rajani Naidoo, Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management in the School of Management, being appointed as the Head of our new Race Equality Taskforce and our Chief Information Officer, Alex Butler, appointed as the Executive Chair of the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Committee. I look forward to working with them both over the coming year. We placed great emphasis on building up links with the local community, this resulting in the launch of “Our Shared Future”; later in the year, University members were to become heavily involved in COVID19 response boards both at local and regional levels.
Emboldened by an increased student intake, reversing the fall of the previous year, we recognised that we needed to think again about the special role that the University of Bath has, and how that can best be developed. This led to a hugely valuable and successful engagement exercise, ‘Our University, Our Future’, which facilitated valuable conversations with our students and staff. Over a number of events, this addressed a range of themes including enhancing student experience and research excellence, building our international partnerships, local and community engagement and widening participation. Feedback from participants is helping to inform our direction and planning, and along with a series of follow-up activities, has allowed us to reassess our overarching principles, strategic imperatives and values. I am very grateful indeed to everyone in our community who took part and contributed their thoughts.
Major projects, including a new building on campus for the School of Management and the development of the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS) off-site at the Bristol & Bath Science Park in South Gloucestershire have continued apace. Both will play a significant role in shaping our activities moving forward. We also adopted our Climate Action Framework principles and have reduced CO2emissions by 35% since 2005, despite significant growth in infrastructure. We have also had wider impact through two major research advances, each of which are predicted to reduce emissions by 500,000 tonnes CO2 per year or more in the coming years. One of these research projects, led by Professor Furong Li and colleagues, has already helped a major local distribution network operator to improve the accuracy of peak load estimation in low voltage distribution networks that form the “last mile” of the electrical supply chain, resulting in both cost and carbon savings.
Of course the year was not without its challenges. The impact of industrial action was felt again, and some of our members were particularly affected by issues arising from Brexit. I am grateful, however, to all those who have been affected by these challenges, that goodwill and a strong community spirit has continued throughout.
The outbreak of COVID19 at the start of 2020 and the ensuing global pandemic brought with it tremendous challenge across all our operations and for our whole community, from lockdown through to the gradual and phased reopening of services. I pay tribute to everyone who has played a part in the University of Bath’s response to this unprecedented situation and I am so proud of what we have achieved together.
For our academic staff, alongside colleagues in our professional services teams, this required the reconfiguration of all our teaching, learning and assessment online in record speed, demonstrating tremendous agility and ensuring Bath students continued to receive excellent support with minimal disruption. For example, within three days of lockdown, 5,000 hours of online lectures had been delivered, and our end of year evaluations showed satisfaction levels comparable with those before COVID19. I pay great tribute to our teaching staff and those in the Centre for Learning and Teaching and in Digital, Data and Technology who worked so hard to allow online provision to be so successful.
Early in the pandemic, our Widening Access Team transitioned their outreach work online to continue to support disadvantaged students across the country,succeeding in working with more students than ever before. It highlighted the additional barriers that the most disadvantaged students face due to a ‘digital divide’ of access to technology, the internet and digital skills.In response, the team set up a consortium of third sector organisations and charities to support approximately 100,000 post-16 students in schools and colleges, to bridge the gap and help them to succeed in their education.
Our researchers – from across the Faculties and School of Management – have been nimble and proactive in realigning their work to meet the demands of the pandemic. An array of new research from Bath academics is helping us to understand the science of the virus; its health and psychological effects; and its business, economic and political impacts on wider society (see report p16&17). Innovative ideas have arisen from new forms of research networking, not least concerning COVID19 itself. Drawing on their skills, experience and expertise, our academics are helping to shape significant, real-time national debates.
Most visible locally here in Bath, this commitment to respond to the global crisis has included the remarkable efforts of staff, students and volunteers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering and across the University. Since March they have been drawing on their skills to design, manufacture and deliver essential personal protective equipment to frontline healthcare workers – including our friends and neighbours at Bath’s Royal United Hospital. This extraordinary, voluntary achievement has now helped to deliver 200,000 face shields and eye protectors. We are enormously grateful to them for their contribution to the local community, which so well reflects the spirit of our forthcoming Civic University Agreement.
Of course, these feats could not be achieved in isolation. During this tumultuous year I have been struck by the strength of our community and our ability to pull together at a time of crisis. This is all underpinned by the exceptional day-in, day-out work of our Security, Accommodation, Hospitality and Estates teams, and others, who have helped to keep our campus safe and secure and to support our students throughout this challenging period. I have the highest respect for those both in academic departments and professional services who have worked so hard to prepare for our new socially distanced academic year. The innovations that have been introduced over the summer have been dramatic and more has been achieved in a few months than might have been expected feasible in much longer times in the past. The commitment to do our best to welcome back new and returning students to campus from autumn 2020 has been inspiring.
For the new academic year, we know that COVID19 will continue to be at the forefront of our minds and affect how we operate. We are of course grateful that applications to our University and our admissions remain strong. We are however vigilant to the threat posed by COVID19 and committed to ensure that Bath continues to offer its students the best teaching and learning opportunities possible in this context. This year, despite the upheavals, we find ourselves in the top 10 of UK universities for The Guardian, The Times,Sunday Times and Complete University Guide rankings. These accolades are testament to our University community’s sustained efforts over the last year and stand us in very good stead for whatever is to come.
As is evident from the pages that follow, despite unprecedented change and challenge this year, Bath has continued to deliver exceptionally well. I am most grateful to everyone who has helped to make this year a success and ensure that staff and students can feel proud that they belong at Bath.
With warm good wishes,
Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President