Since my arrival last August I have been meeting colleagues from across the whole of the University, in school and department meetings and open forums to discuss current issues facing us and aspirations for the future. You have told me what you think works well about the University, what does not work as well as you would like and what you would like to see done differently.
My first impressions have been reinforced by these discussions and my experience of being here at Kent over the last nine months. We have enormous strengths in education and research. We have a cooperative and collegial spirit. We have fantastic assets: our staff, our students, our campuses in Canterbury and Medway; our European footprint and brand; and our proximity to London. I believe we also have an incredible opportunity to further contribute to our region with the green light we have recently been given to establish the Kent and Medway Medical School in collaboration with Canterbury Christ Church University and NHS partners.
But there are also areas where you tell me we could do better. Many of you have told me that our leadership is too distant, we are too risk averse, our decisions take too long, we operate in silos and we can be overly bureaucratic. As an institution, our research and innovation income does not reflect the quality of the work we do and our external profile does not reflect the excellence and innovation of our research and education activity. Our finances are being increasingly squeezed, competition for the best staff and students is increasing and there is growing pressure from other universities in national and international league tables.
In addition, over the last year or so, there have been some major changes externally. There is a new regulatory environment. Brexit is casting a shadow of uncertainty. Future funding arrangements for Higher Education are now being examined in a major government review, pensions are in the spotlight, public perceptions of universities and their role is changing and the university sector as a whole has been receiving almost unprecedented negative media coverage.
So now is a good time to think about how the strategy set out in the 2015-2020 institutional plan might be refreshed to enable us to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. This is not about ‘ripping up’ the old plan. Rather it is about re-engaging with some of the original ambitions, mission and values on which our University was founded, building on our current achievements in Education, Research and Innovation, and Engagement, focussing our activity and investment in these areas and working together to re-imagine what we could be and how we want to do things. I want to use our 60th Anniversary, in 2025, as a focus.
Against this back drop people tell me they want our University to be:
- Forward-looking and responsive
- Both a magnet and a beacon for creative and ambitious students, staff and partners
- Making a difference to people’s lives
- Delivering outstanding academic, social, intellectual, public and economic benefits
- Demonstrating excellence in research and education
- Collegial, outward looking, embracing change and willing to do things differently
In order to achieve this vision we need to review our strategy and renew our ambitions for our research, education and engagement activities. Each enhances the other and we need to balance investment across these activities.
On Education, we must focus on continuing to offer one of the best education and student experiences in the UK. It is an area where we have done well. There is no reason why we cannot be a ‘top 10’ UK university in this regard. We have TEF Gold, we can be more agile if we choose to be and we have many assets to draw on.
On Research and Innovation, we need to raise our research profile and can do this through promoting and investing in our high quality, world leading areas of research that Kent is known for and create a ‘Halo effect’ for the University. We should do more to turn our ideas into the products and services on which our economy and society depends.
On Engagement, we need a renewed focus on our role as an anchor institution, understanding how we deliver outstanding academic, social, intellectual, public and economic benefits for our region.
Alongside focussing on what we want to achieve in terms of Education, Research and Engagement, there has to be attention to what we need to do to enable this to happen. We need to look at some of the ways we do things, how we work and make decisions, how we engage and communicate across the university.
We need clear strategies for supporting, rewarding and developing our staff, targeted investment in our physical and the digital environment, so that this aligns with our academic plans; appropriate international and European policies; and we will need to ensure that we have the resources to do all this.
Reviewing our University strategy is an iterative process and the renewed ambitions I set out above, and the actions needed to achieve them, of course require further input. While this will take place through existing University mechanisms such as Education Board, Research and Innovation Board and Senate I would like to hear from you directly.
The new Strategy Refresh Website contains a consultation document. I would like your views on our future, our ambitions and the actions we need to be taking now to ensure the University of Kent is successful over the next fifty years and beyond. I would like your thoughts, your ideas and your feedback.
The website will be open for comments until Friday 1st June.
I will be updating the University Council on progress at the end of the summer term and will include a summary of staff views. These will also be available on the Strategy Refresh Website.
During the autumn term there will be further work to refine and develop these ideas.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor and President