It is humbling to introduce this year’s integrated Annual Report and Accounts and to reflect on the last year, which has been one of extraordinary achievement in the face of ongoing challenge, chief amongst them navigating the global pandemic. It has also been a year where we have turned our minds not only to the next year of transition and recovery but to focus on the next five years and a new strategic direction for our University. At the outset, I would like to thank all members of our governing body, Council, and Pamela Chesters CBE, Chair of Council, for the ongoing advice and leadership provided throughout the last year.
That we remain in the top ten in all three major national league tables is a testament to the talent and dedication of our community. At the time of writing, we are eighth in The Guardian University Guide, ninth in The Times & The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2021 and tenth in The Complete University Guide 2022.
In a year where we have endeavoured to put the experience and wellbeing of our student and staff community at the heart of our decisions, the results from the 2021 National Student Survey (NSS) have demonstrated that our individual and collective efforts have been recognised by our students in the best possible way. Our students recorded overall satisfaction of 86.06%, more than 10% above the UK average of 75.41% from all UK Higher Education institutions taking part in the 2021 NSS. This result is an improved relative position for us, which this year is top in England, and second in the UK, when comparing Higher Education institutions listed in the Guardian University Guide. I am deeply grateful to all those colleagues who taught and supported our students with such care over the last year and in the face of such challenges.
It has also been an important year for our research, with an extraordinary effort to finalise our submissions to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021. This year, the size of our submitted research base rose from 473 researchers in 2014 to 798 in 2021. This has been a major undertaking and I pay tribute to those involved in putting together the submission. Bath has a strong sporting pedigree and it was a pleasure to witness no fewer than 20 Bath-based athletes performing at the Olympics and 8 in the Paralympics, as well as many in our alumni community. We witnessed exceptional performances with 10 medals, nine of them gold, being won by seven University-based athletes at the Olympics. At the Paralympics, the Bath-based ParalympicsGB wheelchair fencers brought home nine medals in six events between them. These athletes, and the teams that support them, really do inspire the sportspeople of the future, and indeed all of us in the pursuit of excellence in our own fields.
Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect individuals, communities and organisations around the world. In the 2020 to 21 academic year, our community has worked together to navigate its challenges in a remarkable way.
Colleagues across our teaching and research communities have had to adapt, time and again, to the changing external environment, including lockdowns and new restrictions. I pay tribute to our academic and professional services colleagues, who have worked together more closely than ever before to enable us to fulfil our core academic mission. We have learned a great deal this year, which we can deploy and adapt to meet future challenges and opportunities.
The care shown to our students by our colleagues has been truly remarkable. To support students who needed to self-isolate in our accommodation, we created a hub which helped transport students safely to testing sites, provided free, nutritious and varied meals, a laundry and postal service and games, activities and treats. In addition, our team of Student Living Ambassadors regularly checked in on self-isolating students. A dedicated team ran in-person lateral flow testing for students and staff both on campus and in the City. For students facing financial difficulties we set up a new Hardship Fund offering a non-repayable bursary to those most in need. We are most grateful for the generous donations of our alumni and friends to support this fund. Supporting people’s mental health has continued to be a particular priority. In addition to the ongoing support provided by Student Services, we invested in a new 24/7 service ‘Be Well – Talk Now’ to support students at any time by phone, video call or online from anywhere in the world, including in multiple languages.
The pandemic has also led to professional and personal challenges for our staff in the last year. We provided a range of additional support, including equipment to enable homeworking, and new mental health and wellbeing initiatives. For our whole University community, we also ran ‘Summer at Bath’, a range of wellbeing, development and social activities arranged in line with the UK Government’s roadmap out of lockdown, and designed to help staff and students safely reconnect with one another.
Our community has also continued efforts to play an active role in helping our local community, building on the initiative that produced more than 200,000 pieces of personal protective equipment for local health workers in Bath’s Royal United Hospitals (RUH) and beyond.
We made available, free of charge, 62 en-suite rooms and four flats in our City-centre accommodation to RUH doctors, nurses and staff in need of somewhere to stay close to their work, or while isolating from their families. In addition, another city centre building, Carpenter House, has been redeployed as an accessible COVID-19 testing site for the local community.
Turning to the future: our new 5-year strategy
Looking ahead, our aspiration is not only to recover well from the pandemic but to build on the innovation, collaboration and agility we have demonstrated in the last twelve months to support individual and collective success in years to come. Building on an extensive engagement programme with staff, students and alumni, we have now launched ‘Our University, Our Future: Connected’ our new University strategy. Our 2021 to 26 strategy sets out four pillars to focus collective activity: driving excellence in education, driving high-impact research, fostering an outstanding and inclusive community and enhancing strategic partnerships.
Indeed, we have already laid some firm foundations on which to build: whether investing in new digital technology to support our education ambitions, or progress in support of our new institutional research priorities such as the launch of the £17m Innovation Centre for Applied Sustainable Technologies, this highlighting the continuing commitment of the University to research in sustainability.
In terms of fostering an inclusive community, we’ve already made exceptional progress, having been awarded Athena Swan Silver at institutional level, in addition to numerous departmental Silver and Bronze awards. We have started working towards the Race Equality Charter Award and have commissioned major reports on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, and on Race in particular, these to be completed in the coming academic year. We remain committed to building an ever stronger and inclusive University community, which cherishes diversity, and where hate, harassment and discrimination are never tolerated and views can be freely expressed within the law. In working towards this, we launched a new initiative to tackle harassment and discrimination called ‘Be the Change’. We continued to develop new significant activity on widening access and participation to seek to ensure that our student community can be genuinely diverse.
We have also kept an external focus over the last year, appointing four new Global Chairs, joining new partnerships such as the UK-Singapore Universities Alliance for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and building on regional and local connections including through the initiative ‘Our Shared Future’.
Recognising our responsibility to global sustainability, we formed a team to drive forward our Climate Action Framework, this activity leading to key new major initiatives such as in education, where for example all new students receive relevant induction modules along with the opportunity to study further. We are working hard now to ensure we can meet our zero carbon targets and are grateful for the commitment shown by so many across the University to achieve this.
To help shape and implement our new strategy, we have appointed three Pro-Vice-Chancellors (PVCs). Professor Cassie Wilson has already started in role as PVC for Student Experience and we look forward to welcoming Professor Sarah Hainsworth OBE and Professor Julian Chaudhuri later in 2021 to take up their posts of PVC for Research and PVC for Education, respectively.
As this report outlines so clearly, despite ongoing uncertainty and major challenges we will face this year, our Bath community has continued to deliver outstanding success. I could not be prouder of our individual and collective achievements and look forward to working together to achieve our future ambitions as an energetic, connected community.
With warm good wishes,
Professor Ian White
Vice-Chancellor and President