I’d like to start by thanking all those who played a part in the successful degree ceremonies we held recently. These are very special occasions for all our students and I am grateful to all the members of staff who helped to make them such a friendly, open and happy set of events. Even though our Chancellor Imran Khan could not be there because of illness, the ceremonies were well attended and I know that students and their parents and friends greatly enjoyed the events. In November I was also able to preside over degree ceremonies in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and we graduated over 700 students at those events. The reputation of the University was evident in the real demand for our courses in the region and members of staff in our schools are continuing to extend our provision overseas with graduations recently taking place in Delhi, Utrecht and a ceremony planned in January for students studying on our courses in Hong Kong. Working in partnership in this way is, I believe, a sustainable way of maintaining our overseas impact and continuing to generate revenues which can be reinvested across the University.
The outlook for the University
At the Staff Assembly in late November I spent some time discussing the changing landscape of the sector and, in particular, some of the challenges that we are likely to face. Specifically, the framework document, Higher Ambitions, lays out some of these challenges facing universities, irrespective of which party is in power following next year’s general election. I genuinely believe that we are in a strong and sustainable position to face these challenges. Our reputation is excellent. We continue to develop first-class research. Our links with business and the wider community are strong and we are focusing closely on how we support the learning of our students. It is more important than ever that we continue to thrive. We recruit a majority of students from poorer, under-represented groups and our ethnic mix makes us exceptional in the context of English universities. We should be proud of the work we do across a range of areas and, despite the difficulties we are likely to face in public finances, remain focused on what we do well.
There is a great deal of comment at present about the issue of raising student fees. I remain uncomfortable at that prospect because I believe that, despite bursaries and state support for students, there has been precious little change in the proportion of poorer students going to university over the last 10 years. Some would express satisfaction that, despite fees, that proportion has not worsened. For me, the fact that it has remained static is a major concern which threatens to ‘freeze’ the social and economic mobility that universities can provide. I am also convinced that raising fees will not provide the windfall in university income that some might anticipate. Given the pressures on finances I suspect the unit of resource provided by government will fall to reflect the rise in fee income. Raising tuition fees will not provide a way out of the financial difficulties we are likely to face. We should remain proud of the nature of our student population and reinforce our commitment to the way in which we can change people’s lives through higher education. We are well-positioned to face the challenges of the next three or four years.
Looking back at 2009
Reviewing what we have achieved over the last year I am impressed by the continuing hard work of all our staff in their various roles. The steady improvement in the student experience reflects the work of academic and support staff and our research and knowledge transfer work continues its high reputation. We are continuing to win major research grants despite an increasingly competitive environment. Academic leadership and a commitment to international research will be a vital part of our success. Wider initiatives such as our continuing work with employers through the Escalate programme, our growing international reputation in the field of sustainability, the string and confident links we are building at the local and regional level has meant our reputation continues to grow. In addition potential developments such as the link with Leeds College of Music and our involvement in a range of science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives mean that it has been an exceptionally busy year. Our work in the science arena will also be reflected in our plans to host the National Science Festival at the University in 2011. The opportunities for growing the work and the reputation of the University are greater now than ever.
Despite the rather gloomy economic environment I hope that we will continue to build on those possibilities and that Bradford remains an exciting place to be. For all the hard work that you’ve done over the year I remain very grateful. And I hope you have a peaceful and restful Christmas.