I attended the University Council’s first meeting for this academic year last Friday. The work of Council is increasing and I, and the whole executive team, greatly appreciate the time, energy and expertise that Council Members devote to the University, providing both the support and the constructive challenge we need as part of good governance.
One of the main items on the agenda was to consider the refreshed university strategy. Much has changed since the current Institutional Plan was approved in 2015. The Higher Education and Research Act has brought us a new regulatory framework with the Office for Students and UKRI. Public perceptions of higher education have changed, as have the expectations of our students. Brexit has added a wide range of other uncertainties: Erasmus, European student fees, Horizon 2020, the future visa regime and so on.
We face further headwinds. On finance, we have now had six years when our income has remained broadly static while our costs have increased. Tuition fees have been frozen and there is a review of post 18 education funding. We have had recruitment challenges this year – a combination of the demographic downturn and increasing competition. We have also seen falls in our league table position.
Against this backdrop, we have to build on our core strengths. Over the past year, I have been consulting with a range of senior leaders – including Executive Group, Senate and Council – as well as with staff and students on how we should frame the university response to our challenges. Many of you also contributed to a consultation exercise last term. The outcome of these discussions and consultations have informed our ambitions for our education, research and engagement activities and the actions we need to take to achieve them. Taking these actions will put us in good shape to meet the challenges we face, not least the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework and Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework assessments.
I sum up below where I believe we can and should be aiming to be in 2025, the timeline for our refreshed strategy:
- We will be delivering one of the best education and student experiences in the UK that enables and inspires our students. The University of Kent will be known for a transformative student experience and employability outcomes regardless of background. Our discoveries and research will emphasise existing and new signature areas, where we match the best in the world. Our education and research, and the talents of our staff and students, will support social, economic, cultural, intellectual and public life in ways that will make us one of the leading civic universities.
- We will have a balanced portfolio of programmes having deepened our science and engineering base, grown our creative and digital offer and opened the new Kent and Medway Medical School. We will remain distinctive among our peers in operating with a major stake in continental Europe and with a strong European dimension in our academic activity. We will be delivering education in a variety of ways face to face, on-line and through alternative routes, in particular, higher and degree apprenticeships.
- We will be rising back up the league tables
We will be taking action across three areas:
- Education and Student Experience
- Research and Innovation
- Engagement, Impact and Civic Mission
You can find further details on these actions on the strategy refresh in the slides used at the open forums. Council have agreed our direction of travel and asked for us to be clear in our over-arching strategy documentation about our strengths, the challenges we face, where are trying to get to and the actions we will be taking, and we will take the opportunity to flesh out this detail in our implementation plans as well. A number of initiatives are already in train and we have overhauled the planning process to give greater focus on longer term strategy and investments. We also have a refreshed comparator group of universities to provide the basis for new metrics against which we will measure our progress over the next few years.
Strategy implementation will be an iterative process that I want us all to be engaged with. While our 60th anniversary is providing a focus for the current strategy, 2025 is only a milestone in the University’s on-going development. I look forward to working on this with you all.
Professor Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor and President