Vice-Chancellor’s Monthly Update – October 2019

There has been a lot going on over the last few weeks with new students joining us, current students returning and our Open Days taking place. I would like to say a big ‘thank you’ to all who’ve helped give our students a warm welcome this autumn, with our new ‘Hello Kent’ campaign really helping new students settle into university life and receiving excellent feedback. Thank you also to those who were at the Canterbury campus on Saturday for our Open Day. It was great to see many of you talking to prospective students and their families. A ‘shout out’ also to the School of Physical Sciences who were out in Ramsgate, engaging in some fantastic looking outreach work with young people and families! The Medway Open Day is this coming Saturday, with another in Canterbury later in October. These are really important events, and raising their profile is a core focus for the marketing team – we know if we bring prospective students to our wonderful locations, and they meet and hear from our fantastic staff and students, they are more likely to choose us. Finally, on the theme of arrivals, I’d also like to welcome our new interim appointments to Executive Group: Deputy Vice-Chancellor (DVC) Academic Strategy, Planning and Performance, Professor Georgina Randsley de Moura, and DVC Education and Student Experience, Professor Christina Hughes who joins us on 14 October.

All this activity is unfolding at a key time. As we had anticipated, our overall recruitment position remains challenging, with some areas exceeding targets, a number meeting targets and others, unfortunately, less successful. We face particular challenges in our intake of overseas undergraduate students and taught postgraduate students more widely, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate will have a further impact on our finances this year. Marketing and recruitment will therefore remain a key priority as we work together to address the shortfall. Many of you will have noticed increased activity in this area, around raising our profile and adjusting the tone of our communications. This is supported by the fact we have much to be excited about, including our new Medical School currently accepting applications for 2020 entry, new Engineering programmes also recruiting for 2020, and the upcoming launch of our Signature Research Themes. These signature themes, designed to bring together the very best of our interdisciplinary work, will be used to profile what we do here and help further ensure Kent is globally known for the strength of its discoveries.

Underpinning all of this is the work under our ‘Organising for Success’ banner, as we continue to make changes at all levels of the University to adapt how we work, help meet our Kent 2025 ambitions and ensure we are fit for the future. We are now working towards creating our new academic divisions. These will help us deliver a first-class student experience and empower staff. In turn, it will help us free up staff time to focus on work to enable a step change in our teaching and research performance. There are five core strands of activity needed to deliver this, each requiring careful thought to make sure we make the most of opportunities to improve how we work together. More details on these strands can be found on the Organising for Success website, with regular communications to staff as the project progresses. At this point, changes to the Executive Group positions are underway and Directors of Division and divisional Directors of Operations are currently being recruited to. The work strands are now fleshing out the work we will need to undertake to bring our schools in to the new divisional structures, devolve key functions into the new divisions and stand down faculties.

Finally, we still, of course, face a very demanding external environment, which we continue to do all we can to mitigate against. We have the very real possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit at the end of the month, with our Brexit Working Group leading on plans to ensure we are well prepared for all eventualities. Alongside this, as you may be aware, there is an ongoing national union ballot on USS pensions and wider university conditions. As an Executive Group, we regret this situation, and are actively lobbying Universities UK to enter into dialogue with the UK Pensions Regulator alongside the University and College Union. We are also talking with our local UCU representatives, and have new webpages with more information on the dispute and our response to it.

There is a lot to take in at the moment and I fully appreciate how unsettling this can be. I want to thank you again for your patience and hard work as we negotiate this period, and encourage all of you to complete our Staff Survey so we can learn more about how we can better work together. With EG members and colleagues across the University, I will also be holding further Open Forums later this year so we can update each other on changes across the sector and the University, get feedback on what is working, not working as well as we would like and how we can do things differently, as we navigate this period of change. We are all part of a fantastic University with ambitious plans for the future, and I will continue to take opportunities to meet with you in different forums, meetings and events to get your ideas, feedback and input on how we can build on our strengths to get there.