A difficult start to the new year

It has been a very difficult start to the New Year, following the tragic death of our student Sui Tonge Ho, known affectionately as Tony. Tony’s popularity meant that the impact of his death has been felt widely across the University and I have been reassured to see a strong campus community, with both staff and students supporting each other and Tony’s family at this difficult time. The value of our support services has also been highlighted and I’d like to remind you all of their continued availability.

Financial Position

You will be aware of a great deal of regional and national publicity at the more difficult financial environment that higher education is likely to face over the next three or four years.  I have been able to talk directly to many staff about this through assembly meetings but it may be helpful to consider the position here at Bradford. We have known of the difficult budgets for 2009-10 and 2010-11 for some months, with a number of planned cuts from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, (HEFCE) the main funding body. We embarked at the end of 2009 on a process of looking to reduce staff through stringent voluntary management and this is likely to continue in both academic and support areas.

The projected level of likely reductions through to 2013-14 look to be especially difficult and are likely to mean further efforts to both grow income and look carefully at our costs.  Regardless of the outcome of the general Election the prospect of further reductions in funding is strong. Coupled with pressures on capital spending and probable concentration of research funding the outlook is not promising.

However I do want to emphasise that we should remain confident about our ability to deal with these issues. Our student recruitment is strong. We are continuing to look at innovative and sustainable ways of strengthening both overseas partnerships and overseas recruitment. Our financial position is challenging but it is sustainable in the long term. We have a realistic and affordable strategy for continuing to invest in the University. Our new Emm Lane building is now open. Plans for the sustainable student village are now agreed. Work on the new student union building and the School of Health building are progressing well.

Without being in any way complacent I think we have much to be confident about. Of course controlling costs, especially through vacancy management and voluntary redundancy is challenging but we do want to do this in a planned way and I will continue to seek these changes by voluntary rather than compulsory means. Ensuring that we continue to be innovative and creative in growing our income, especially in the areas of postgraduate teaching and research, will be an important part of protecting the University from the financial challenges it faces.

Our improvement strategy

Alongside our continued investment in a better infrastructure and estate, two priorities remain at the heart of what we do.  First we need to continue to ensure that students who choose to come to Bradford get a first class experience. In September I announced three new senior appointments to support Professor Geoff Layer in the delivery of the Academic Development Framework. Becka, Nigel and Donna are now in post and working with the Teaching Quality Enhancement Group, Learner Development Unit and the Graduate School as a ‘virtual’ Academic Development Unit lead by Geoff.

Our National Student Survey results are improving slowly but remain below average in some areas.  I would urge all staff, whether academic or support, to continue to work hard to provide the intellectual stimulus, the academic support and the services that help students to achieve their best.  We are likely to move increasingly towards a market in higher education, especially if the fee cap is raised. Are we confident that the students we teach and support here are getting the very best possible experience?

Second I would emphasise the need to maintain our reputation and track record in research and knowledge transfer activities. These are what characterise the University and maintaining a strong record in this area is going to be more, not less important. Both government and some universities are keen to radically concentrate research income in a much smaller number of universities. This would be hugely damaging both to us and to the sector as a whole. The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) demonstrated that there was world-class excellence right across the sector, not least in Bradford. Together with other vice-chancellors I am working hard to ensure that the voice of smaller, research-active universities like Bradford is not squeezed out. Strengthening our work in research council funding, in knowledge transfer work and in publishing in the best journals has never been more important in ensuring we can maintain our research reputation at a time of challenge.

Changes  in corporate services

Some changes in Corporate Services will take full effect at the start of this year. We are advertising for a new Manager of the Equality and Diversity Unit, reporting to Udy Archibong, our Professor of Diversity.  Staff Development is now back in the Human Resources Directorate and the post of Head of Staff Development will be advertised shortly. This post will also support Organisational Development as part of our HR Transformation Project.

Finally, I’m grateful to all staff who worked hard to ensure exams went ahead as planned during some of the worst weather in recent memory. I know that our students made major efforts to attend their exams.

Best wishes to everyone for 2010.