Reporter 429, 18 January 1999


Vice- Chancellor's foreword

Has the new dawn arrived? I argued in last year's Annual Report that the two years 1996- 1 998 were transitional and developmental years for the University. The first was the year of the restructuring debate; the second was both the first year of the implementation of the new structure and the year of the Dearing Report.

Where have we got to'? The new structure is generally working well, in some areas exceptionally well. We are developing our policies on key post-Dearing themes such as lifelong learning and widening access. We had already anticipated Dearing's recommendations on partnership development. The Research Assessment Exercise for 2001 is looming, and the transfer market is hotting up. The Government's Comprehensive Spending Review (the CSR) has eased some of the financial pressure, but not much; and not enough to make any radical adjustments to salaries. The student numbers cap has been lifted slightly. The post-Dearing Universities- Government Compact has not quite materialised. In summary: we now have excellent foundations for planning our own way forward hut many of the pressures remain. It seems a good time, therefore, to chart the way ahead in terms of priorities, hoth as a summary of what has heen achieved in the last two years and as pointers to the future.

I have always argued that our priorities should he determined hy thinking ahout academic development. Our support for the core disciplines continues to pay dividends. While some universities have closed, for example, Physics or Chemistry departments through student recruitment difficulties, we have grown in confidence in such areas. The restructuring programme has produced some new schools which are already showing the fruits of a strengthened hase - for example in Biomedical Sciences and in Process, Environmental and Materials Engineering. Our new structure reflects and represents our strength in depth across all faculties. It has also heen part of our policies that this provides an excellent platform for interdisciplinary research and teaching and further developments in this area will he a priority - encouraged hy the successful Heads of Interdisciplinary Centres Forum which currently represents almost sixty centres. We plan major developments in areas such as biomformatics and enhancements in areas ranging from the environment through systems engineering to international studies.

Academic development will he sustained by our student numbers' base and our research and teaching and learning policies. New academic development has been constrained by the student numbers cap. While we are hopeful that there will be significant relaxation of the cap from 1999-2000 onwards, we are considering reducing admissions' targets in some areas to retain the flexibility for supporting innovative courses. Most categories of student recruitment remain buoyant. The full impact of the economic crises in South East Asia is uncertain, but we hope that it is a short run issue and we are supporting students from those countries in the meantime. We do, however, anticipate a potentially serious problem of postgraduate recruitment in three years' time when the first students who have had to pay tuition fees graduate. We have a number of initiatives in hand.

In research, we have clear targets for the 2001 RAE and for grant and contract income. We are supporting the effort to achieve these targets with a substantial strategic spend together with a continuation of our research fellowships' programme and investment in appropriate sabbaticals. The increase in the Science Budget from the CSR should enable us to strengthen our research infrastructure. We also hope to be successful in our bid to the University Challenge Fund to enable us to invest more extensively in exploiting the products of our research.

Teaching and learning continues to represent both opportunity and challenge. As a research university we can offer a particular kind of teaching which enables our students to approach the knowledge front- line. But we must continue to reduce our costs while at the same time enhancing quality. The new challenge is to enhance our lifelong learning position. We have a long and distinguished record in the delivery of continuing education, particularly through our School of Continuing Education, but also through many departments. We now plan to create an Institute for Lifelong Learning to provide a focus for academic study of the field and, within the Business School, an Institute for Corporate Learning to facilitate the development of partnerships with large employers - locally, nationally and internationally. This will be part of an extended outreach policy to which I now turn.

A large and successful university is always connected to many nodes in the global knowledge network. In our case, these links are represented by the range of communities from which our students are recruited and by the diversity of our research grants and contracts. We will continue to enhance these networks. But the global knowledge economy offers new opportunities which fit well with the University's academic objectives. There is an increasing demand for professional development within a lifelong learning framework which is reflected, for example, in the development of so-called corporate universities set up by companies to enhance their own intemal staff development programmes. A university such as Leeds has the knowledge base in many fields to contribute to such programmes in partnerships. There is also a corresponding demand for applied research. These activities potentially offer a third arm for University development to add to our core base in teaching and basic research. Our internal task is to provide an organizational framework to enable us to respond to these needs without deflecting the continuing development of our existing core work. A number of initiatives are now bearing fruit and should help to establish a strong position for us in the future. These include: .

The VSP, after four years of development and prototype testing, went live on 15 September and provides a platform for presenting the University nationally and globally; it also facilitates joint interactive electronic working with partners irrespective of distance. We have a well developed strategy for encouraging new University company start-ups: more than fifty proposals were received during the 1997-98 year. The new Business School will be ready for the 1999-2000 academic year. We expect the Innovation Centre to be completed at the same time - and this will function as an incubator unit for embryo hi-tech firms, many of them generated from within the University. The White Rose Partnership has already generated substantial income to support research student training and projects in biotechnology and the Faraday Centre.

Both ongoing development of the core, and realising the potential of the third arm, demand investment - and a strengthened programme will support this. As always, the key for the future will be our staff and this year we have launched an enhanced leadership and management development programme. We also need to continue to build an appropriate infrastructure. Our estates' developments will cost something of the order of £20 million for each of the next two years; and investment in IT is now just as critical. We are now well into a £4.5 million management and administrative systems investment programme which will benefit both resource centres and the University centrally. Other IT investment is now worth some £3 million per annum. It is also possible to meet some of our capital needs through partnerships. I believe that with hard work and imaginative thinking we have achieved a lot; and we have clarity of purpose for the future. Much of the resource base for that future can be generated by our own enterprise. We also need the promised, or at least hoped-for, post-Dearing Government-Universities' pact to take firmer shape to provide an effective and supportive environment.

Alan Wilson

November 1998