Looking forward to the new academic year
I know it will have been a busy summer for everyone, but I hope you all found some time to take a break and recharge for the new academic year.
You may have seen the news that Nottingham has climbed to rank 16 in the Sunday Times Good University Guide and has received University of the Year awards for both International and Sport. Like many of you, I have a healthy scepticism about league tables, but they matter to our students and alumni and—inasmuch as they measure things that are important to staff, such as research, teaching, internationalisation and investment—they are important indicators for us as well. It is good to see that Nottingham’s achievements continue to be recognised so publicly.
This week we welcome back our returning students and more than 12,000 new students to our community at Nottingham. I appreciate that for our new students particularly, the transition to life on campus will be both exciting and demanding. I hope that they will take advantage of the array of intellectual, social, sporting and cultural activities on offer, as well as the support provided through our academic Schools, the Students’ Union, Student Services and Welfare services.
I have a number of ambitions to achieve in partnership with staff and students this year.
For our staff, I will want to progress strategies to improve our governance and ways of working to deliver more of the covenant proposed last academic year. Governance reform was a key part of that document, as I would like to see staff feeling more empowered and accountable for the decisions we need to make as a University, some of which will be difficult.
To that end, I was particularly pleased that we received more than 270 applications to join the new UEB Sub-Committees. The UEB/Senate selection panel felt that the quality of the applications was outstanding, and there were many difficult choices. Letters will be going out soon to all applicants, and we will shortly afterwards publish the committee membership on our governance webpages. UEB colleagues and I will be keen to engage applicants who were not selected to ensure we involve as many of our talented staff as possible in relevant task groups and other activities.
We are a high performing, ambitious and innovative University. We need to continue to develop these aspirations, both supporting success and tackling poor performance within a culture of civility, respect and honesty. Therefore, later this term we will develop new plans to recognise, reward and support staff through a fresh approach to PDPR; launching wider benefits and wellbeing initiatives; and improving our effectiveness in equality and diversity matters—the latter led by Professor Sarah Sharples, our new PVC for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.
Of course, the issue of staff pensions has been a continuing theme across the summer, and I was pleased to read the long-awaited report of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) and its work in reviewing the valuation of the USS scheme. You can study more of the detail here. My hope is that the JEP report will support positive discussions between UUK, UCU and USS, and act as the first step towards a solution for the USS pension scheme that is workable, affordable for members and employers and meets UUK’s commitment to continuing to offer valuable defined benefits as part of the overall scheme.
There is of course much to discuss and, at this time, many unknowns, including the views of the USS Trustee and the government’s Pensions Regulator. However, Universities UK has today launched a consultation with employers, including the University of Nottingham. I would like to invite you to contribute your views to help inform the University’s response. UUK has published its consultation document and staff can submit their views by email to br-PensionEngage@nottingham.ac.uk.
For our student community, we will continue to enhance the support our students receive, not least on the issue of student mental health which was the subject of a recent public letter from Sam Gyimah, the Higher Education Minister. You can read my response to his letter here. We will be implementing the University’s new institutional Health & Wellbeing strategy for students, reviewing our disability support arrangements and developing new policies to tackle sexual misconduct on- and off-campus.
I will also want us to think hard as an institution about how we reach out ever further beyond our campuses. In terms of our civic role in the city and region, we will progress our collaboration with Nottingham Trent University and actively explore the forthcoming recommendations of the Civic University Commission. Taking the global perspective, we will refresh our strategy for global engagement, use tri-campus working groups to develop global programmes and differentiation, and develop new partnerships in North America, Australia, ASEAN, India and Africa. The new Nottingham Institute for Policy and Engagement will bring our researchers, national and international policy-makers closer together so that our expertise informs public life around the globe.
But without doubt, the most significant piece of work that will begin this term is a wholesale rethink of our University strategy to take a fresh look at our aspirations and priorities for the coming decade. Nottingham is a community of scholars, students and alumni that cares deeply about our institution and its future. It is vital that we engage that community in shaping its future from the very start of our thinking. So later this term, staff will be invited to contribute their views in the development of a ‘Green Paper’ of first thoughts on our strategy for further long-term success.
We are all working in a difficult environment for higher education. I wish you all the best for the new academic year and would like to thank you for the continued hard work and support which makes our students, our research and our University the success that it is.
Professor Shearer West
24 September 2018