July Update

Reflecting on the Budget

My apologies for opening with this but following the Budget, funding is inevitably a key topic for us. There has been much talk in the press about the difficulties that universities will face in the new funding environment. The suggested cuts of around 25 per cent in ‘unprotected’ budgets such as Higher Education will create very significant challenges, which we at Bradford will have to deal with. We have already projected some significant cuts when we prepared our financial forecasts some months ago and, perhaps inevitably, these are likely to be even more challenging now.

The need to try to keep our costs down is more important than ever and we are extending the Managing Staff Reductions scheme to the whole of the University. We will continue to seek cost reductions in staffing by voluntary means. However, it is important that we also seek to grow our income by whatever means we can and we need your support and expertise across the University to do that. New courses, strong recruitment nationally and internationally, new means of delivery and stronger research and knowledge transfer, are all more important than ever in the changed financial environment.

I would like to emphasise that I remain positive and confident about the future of the University. In the last two months alone we have been able to negotiate very significant improvements (around £6m in the last four weeks) in our recruitment numbers by emphasising to our funding bodies the distinctiveness of what we do. We have successfully appealed against over recruitment, secured  increases in our student number ‘cap’ and bid for additional student places which will provide us with some £3m extra funding at a time of financial challenge. We have a strong reputation for managing our affairs sensibly and for the teaching, research and support work we do. We should not lose sight of that confidence.

Tuition fees

Allied to the gloom about public funding has been the debate about raising the level of the student top up fee. I get the sense that for many Vice-Chancellor’s our only ‘hope’ is a major rise in the cap which might allow universities to significantly increase what they charge students. The Browne Review is currently looking at this issue and is likely to report later in the year.

The pressure to raise fees elicits at least two concerns for me. First, levels of student debt are already very high. Graduating with £20k to £25k of debt at the moment creates huge issues for students seeking to build their lives after leaving University. Like many people of my generation I was lucky to receive a full grant. I left university broke but without debt. I worry about the long-term implications of student debt and do not see a raising of the cap as a way out of current financial challenges.

Second, I have no doubt that any rise in student contributions would have to be accompanied by very significant investment in improving the student experience. Colleagues at Bradford have worked very hard to try to ensure we support and look after our students. I suspect we would rapidly need to have legally enforceable student contracts, contact hours and service level agreements to match the ever-increasing level of student contribution. I am not sure that is in the best interests of students or staff. I think it will be important for us to have as wide a discussion as possible once the broad outline of the Browne Review becomes clear.

Events on campus

There have been a number of great events involving staff and students over the last few weeks. The major Feel Good Festival was blessed with great support, strong sunshine, excellent food and a really nice atmosphere which I think everyone enjoyed. It provided a great example of our corporate values at work as we continue to build an inclusive and supportive working environment.

I was also delighted to present awards to 12 staff who have given 25 years of service to the University. It is always heartening to hear how committed staff are to the work of the University, and it was great to have the opportunity to recognise their loyalty and hard work.

Sustainability success

The Wellbeing Week also featured our ‘Green Impact’ award for staff and students. Over 100 of you came to the award ceremony and contributed to a really enjoyable event which celebrated the work you have been doing to help our ecoversity credentials.

We have also been widely recognised for our sustainability efforts, including awards from Business in the Community, from the Green Gown Awards and a seventh position in the Green League Table, making us the most sustainable university in Yorkshire.  These accolades emphasising how important your work and commitment have been.

Investing in sustainability

Building on this success, I’m delighted that we are installing a Combined Heat and Power plant, which will see us save over £8m over the next 20 years, whilst also maintaining our position as the beacon for sustainability within the higher education sector.

The plant will allow us to generate our own electricity and heating on the city campus, saving us £700k per year on energy bills (at today’s prices), whilst helping us to reduce our emissions. The project is also key to us meeting the emissions targets set by HEFCE.

A consequence of this work will be a short period of between four and eight hours when the electrical supply to the Richmond Building and potentially other parts of City Campus will be switched off. The switch off is currently expected to take place between 27-31 August.

Our business continuity team have been consulting with schools and planning units to ensure this disruption is kept to minimum.

Celebrating success

I am pleased to report that we have successfully retained Investors in People status for the next three years. Investors in People is an independent assessment of whether we have the right strategy for enhancing employee engagement, improving management effectiveness and evaluating what’s working best.  The external assessor reaches their judgement after speaking to a ten percent cross section of our staff. I feel it is an enormous accolade that you are saying that we are getting it right.

Of course, we can do more to ensure we support staff and help you to deal with some of the pressures and demands that can arise at work.  We will be focussing our efforts on those issues you have identified through the Quality of Working Life Survey and the recent focus groups held by an independent group, Stress In Perspective, who we asked to explore the findings of last year’s survey in more detail.  Both reports are available on the HR website.

Congratulations to Becka Currant and Peter Hopkinson who have both been made National Teaching fellows. We have also had another great month in terms of research and knowledge transfer. Some notable successes include:

  • Peter Cowling, Computing, has received a research grant worth £380,834 from Engineering and Physical Science Research Council for UCT for Games and Beyond
  • Vladimir Botchkarev, Biomedical Sciences, has received a £299,951 research grant from the Medical Research Council for a project entitled ‘The role for Genome Organizer Satb1 in the control of skin development and regeneration’
  • David Lewis, Peace Studies, has received a research grant worth £13,335 from the Dutch non-governmental organisation, IKV PAX CHRISTI to carry out an external evaluation of their strategy in Nagorno Karabakh
  • Neil Cooper, has been awarded £5,070 from the British Academy and £8,600 from the Trust for Research and Education on the Arms Trade. Both of the grants are to fund research on the history of arms trade regulation. This will include archival research in the UK, Washington and Geneva as well as semi-structured interviews with relevant government officials
  • Simon Shepherd, School of Engineering, Design and Technology and Clive Beggs, Kevin Kerr and Anna Snelling, Centre for Infection Control and Biophysics have received a research grant for £287,082 from the National Institute of Health Research for ‘The effect of room generated hydroxyl radicals on the survival of nosocomial pathogens in the air and on surfaces’
  • Mandy Turner has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Fellowship with a value of £44,116 to enable her to conduct research on ‘Statebuilding as Exclusion: (Re)Defining Palestine’. She will begin the Fellowship on 1 October and will spend around four months in Palestine conducting research

A full list of research and knowledge transfer successes can be found in the latest RKT bulletin

Despite the financial gloom, I hope you’ll agree it has been a very positive month, hence my continued optimism.