We are operating at a time when the external HE policy environment is on the cusp of significant change. The HE White Paper, published on 16 May, proposes an Office for Students to replace HEFCE and incorporate OFFA as well as the much-anticipated introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The seven research councils will be brought together in a new body called UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), with revised funding arrangements and an increased emphasis on interdisciplinary research.
This could be one of the most important moments for HE policy since the 1990s. The HE Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech on 18 May, will reinforce the messages of the White Paper. The new TEF, the opening up of the market to new providers and the requirement for more information to be published on application, offer and progression rates will all serve to increase competition.
All of these changes will have a significant impact on our core activities and we cannot afford to stand still. It is reassuring, therefore, that we are already moving ahead with a strategy that makes the most of the changing environment.
We aim to establish the University as an international centre of excellence in innovative graduate education. Our ambition is to grow the critical mass of the research we conduct and to continue to enhance the quality of the student experience we offer.
To achieve our ambitions in graduate education, we need to develop our postgraduate portfolio. With our solid basis of delivering an excellent undergraduate student experience, we are in the best possible place to do this. We need to take steps to ensure our curriculum is always informed by the best thinking in the relevant field and well attuned to the evolving needs of those who see how continuing their studies will enhance their future prospects.
Our new strategy envisages a University which is innovative in its modes of delivery. Many of you are actively pursuing initiatives which will lead to new academic programmes, more flexible and agile working processes or enhanced technological infrastructure. I anticipate we will see more examples of success like the unique doctoral training programme we are delivering in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in South Africa which is already gaining excellent feedback both from its first cohort of students and their sponsors. Our new facility in London will provide a base from which we can further develop our international profile, enhance the impact of our research and expand our executive education offer.
Those of you who attended, or viewed, the recent Let’s Talk meeting will have already heard how plans for a Doctoral College – or something similar - are developing and how the University’s investments in the city and on campus will increase our teaching and research capacity by 9.75% and student learning space by 20%. We have secured 354 additional bed spaces for our next student intake and postgraduate students will soon be able to make use of the ‘graduate commons’ space on the top two floors of the new 10 West building. Work is progressing fast on 4ES which will enable the expansion of the Faculty of Engineering and Design and provide a new home for Computing Services. Developments such as the new Independent Learning Centre in Manvers Street and the Milner Centre which will soon be a reality. Planning permission is being sought for new student accommodation on campus.
Whilst there remains much work to do to ensure effective implementation of our new strategy, I have been impressed by the energy which has already gone into planning our next steps and you will have a further opportunity to contribute to the discussion shortly. The positive feedback from colleagues to date indicates that you feel we are moving in the right direction and I would like to thank you for your continuing support.
In the almost 50 years since our foundation, this University has worked together to achieve great things. Our rich heritage of invention, enterprise and international engagement and the vibrant, diverse community we have become provide a firm foundation for our future.
We might have started life as a University on a hill overlooking Bath but our influence and physical presence now extend far beyond Claverton Down. The outlines of the next chapter of our story are already taking shape.