The University Council had a valuable discussion about the challenges facing the sector and the University at its Strategy Day on 15 February. I want to share my impressions.
As I set out in my last blog (University Council: Behind the Scenes, 7 November 2018) the Council is the legal authority of the University. As the trustees of the institution, it is our job to ensure the University’s autonomy, reputation and financial sustainability. We do not oversee the academic activity of the University, which is the responsibility of Senate, but we are required to give assurances on the University’s research and teaching quality. We support and challenge the Vice-Chancellor and her Executive as necessary, without seeking to manage the University on a day-to-day basis, which is their responsibility. Our experience is drawn from multiple backgrounds. Mine is in the public sector, but we also have people who have spent their careers in local government, the law, finance, further education, business, the NHS, as well as our staff and student representatives. I value all their perspectives, and am committed to ensuring that debate and discussion at Council is as inclusive and diverse as possible.
As trustees, we have to recognise that when the University faces problems, as it does at present with under-recruitment last year and the certainty of a financial deficit this year and next, those problems are addressed. We are the authority that will be held accountable by the Office for Students, our regulator, on these matters. The aim of the plan that is being developed to deal with the financial shortfall is to restore the University to surplus financing over the medium term while also delivering the strategy for the University’s continued success in the fields of high quality research and teaching, as well as local, national and international engagement. The strategy in question has been extensively discussed by Council in previous meetings, and was unanimously endorsed by Council at its November meeting. And I should add that the Council’s endorsement comes with a very high degree of confidence that Kent can achieve the vision set out in that document. This is an impressive university, of which we are all proud to be a part.
The Strategy Day was not a decision-taking meeting. The aim was to enable Council members to discuss the University’s current situation, in the context of what is happening elsewhere in the sector, and to share ideas on the principles that should underpin the University’s response to these problems. These breakout sessions elicited a wide range of ideas, as the minutes will show when they issue. The context of what is going on elsewhere in the sector is important, but I believe that I speak for other members of Council when I say that we have a very strong sense of the culture and values of the University of Kent and that this informs our discussions of the way forward.
I do recognise that this is a moment of uncertainty, not just for Kent but for other institutions in the sector as well. My responsibility as Chair of Council is to ensure that future discussions leading to specific decisions are informed by as wide a range of views as possible. These will, of course, also be communicated through the existing channels and structures, including the formal mechanisms for discussion between the unions and the management of the University. To repeat two of the points made above – Council’s job is to challenge appropriately as well as endorse a direction of action, and we can only do that effectively if we have the widest perspective on how people think the current problems should be addressed, while at the same time ensuring that the values of the University can be upheld. Council has great confidence in the staff, the students and the management of this institution, and in their ability to achieve this goal.
Sir David Warren, Chair of University Council