Vice-Chancellor’s Monthly Update – December 2019

The University Council met recently to sign off our annual financial accounts, which show a deficit of £60m for 2018/19 along with a forecast of a further deficit this year (2019/20). £45m of this results from the need to make significant provision on our balance sheet for future pension liabilities. But we are still showing an underlying deficit, largely as a result of our rising costs and external pressures (shared by the rest of the sector), plus our own recruitment shortfalls in 2018/19 and 2019/20.

Our current position

Our income is not sufficient to cover our costs and there are some hard choices ahead. To get our finances back into balance we have embarked on a change programme that remains focused on delivering our vision for Kent 2025 but which addresses some key challenges. We need to adjust the size and shape of the University through managed contraction and re-profiling our work force in some subject areas, and growth and expansion in others.

We are also changing the way we are organised to build in resilience and provide opportunities for sustainable growth, building a new leadership team that brings academic activity into the heart of our decision-making, supported by excellence in professional services and changing the way we do things. We all have our part to play in this activity. This is not about working harder or taking on more and more. It means fundamentally reviewing what we do and how we do it, and doing things differently if we are to be able to take advantage of new opportunities and the demographic upturn.

What are we doing to tackle this situation?

  • All schools and departments are working to meet their 15% budget improvement plans
  • We need to further reduce our staff costs. From now on, any new and replacement posts will need to be essential to the delivery of our new organisational design.
  • The second round of KVSS will open in 2020. We will need more restructuring if there are further decreases in income
  • Organising for Success is now in the implementation phase and will be the framework to enable these changes to take place in a planned way. An update on progress will be made this Friday

At the same time

  • We are continuing to prioritise our student recruitment activity including investing in marketing expertise and increasing our reach
  • We are increasing our efforts to boost and diversify our income generation – for example, through the work of the Centre for Higher and Degree Apprenticeships
  • We are streamlining our portfolio of modules and programmes, balancing choice with sustainability to improve our offer to students. This will be a priority for our Directors of Division together with Directors of Operations
  • The Kent and Medway Medical School has had a highly successful start. There have been more than 1,500 applications for 100 places and we are continuing to secure external funding
  • Work has taken place across the institution to identify our Signature Research Themes. These will be announced next year
  • Our Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries is taking shape under the leadership of Liz Moran and Professor Catherine Richardson and will connect us with the fastest growing sector of the UK economy

What more do we need to do?

While we cannot ignore the importance of the forthcoming NSS, REF, TEF and KEF, we should not be mesmerised by the metrics they require but respond instead to what we believe is important for us as a University.

  • We must focus even more strongly on our students as individuals and the transformative power of education. This means more contextual admissions where appropriate
  • We must ensure our students feel part of a learning community with academic staff available to support this. We have to continue our excellent employability and career outcomes record so students can be confident that a Kent education will equip them for the future
  • We have to make our research more visible. Innovation and enterprise activity will further raise Kent’s profile and narrow the gap with our comparator group
  • We need to understand better what our communities and partners want from us. Delivering new opportunities for others will create new opportunities for ourselves

The future

Our staff continue to deliver excellent teaching, research and student support. Our work continues to win awards including the recent Queen’s Anniversary Prize for DICE and the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Library Team. We are on a journey of change and I am hugely proud and appreciative of the work all of you do every day for our University. Thank you. As I said back in February, it is only by working together that we will build an even stronger and sustainable University.

I look forward to working on this with all of you over the coming months, and wish you all a peaceful Christmas and New Year.