This will be a crucial year for our university, with three - at least - big challenges ahead.
The new fees regime is our first test, and we have started well. We have successfully recruited a new intake of undergraduates with excellent exam results and clear potential to benefit from their time here. Increases in undergraduate fees have not appeared to impact on recruitment in general nor our widening participation targets. But the increased emphasis of the developing market in higher education will certainly give even greater prominence to issues like the quality of the student experience and value for money.
We are well placed to meet this challenge through the substantial programme of work under the 'students really matter' umbrella, and by keeping in focus our strategic commitment as a research-intensive university to create innovative and interesting learning opportunities for our students. We also have in hand a programme to spread 'best practice' in areas like feedback and assessment, partly in response to the findings of two national student surveys.
Students will enjoy new opportunities to study abroad, a wider range of work placements and the chance to hear the experiences of leading entrepreneurs. This year will also see a review of all curricula in the context of international issues, both to ensure that all our students (home, EU and international), understand the international dimension of their subject, as well as being exposed to ideas about globalisation.
The second of our challenges is to capture the huge talent and achievement of our researchers to the very best of our ability in our submission to the 2008 research assessment exercise (RAE).
The last RAE (2001) is still shaping perceptions of our university, our position in league tables and, of course, all aspects of research income. The next will be, if anything, even more important, given the current uncertainty over the future of the research assessment process and how it might inform funding. The results of RAE 2008 will affect recruitment of staff and students, industrial contracts and, of course, research income overall for many years to come.
Although we do not need to submit until November 2007, the vast majority of the work will be done this session. There is still time for individual researchers to finish off work to submit for publication. At an organisational level we will be working flat out, writing and re-writing, judging and fine-tuning our submission: this will be a massive team effort.
All researchers know how it feels when you put a grant in the post, and you've done the very best you can: you know you've assembled all the preliminary data and background information, planned the work carefully, fine-tuned the phraseology and intellectually justified everything in the proposal. A high-quality submission to the RAE must feel like that - a collaborative effort that generates a real sense of pride in our research achievements and future plans. Success in the RAE will give us the springboard to realise our strategic ambition; without it we will find it extremely hard to secure the world-class recognition we are seeking.
The third challenge for us over the coming months is to integrate and embed our strategic ambitions in the daily life of the university and, despite recent difficulties, to continue to spread the message that everyone's contribution matters and all have a role to play in helping achieve success. There is a lot of work to do to build the confidence, mutual trust and teamwork necessary for our ambitious future and this remains a key priority for us all during this session.
We spent a long time thinking through what we wanted to achieve, what direction we should take and what we needed to do to achieve our mission. We listened, consulted, shaped and reshaped our strategy, and we fashioned a series of measures to help us assess our progress.
Some people have said that the strategy is just writing down what we should be doing anyway, and in a sense they are right. It seems obvious, once stated, that we should be giving equal importance to our students, and their learning and teaching, and to our research; and how could we fail to benefit from integrating these two key functions? It must be the business of a research-intensive university to create, advance and disseminate knowledge, and to develop outstanding graduates and scholars. And what is all this knowledge for, if it does not make a major impact, somewhere, somehow, on societies across the globe?
So we know what we need to do. This then will be the year in which we work hard to ensure that our initiatives become fully integrated into our regular activities; that business as usual means doing things as well as we can, and that our overarching ambition is translated and embedded into our daily working lives.