The start of term has been a busy one. The exam period was happily unaffected by the weather but the last few days have been challenging. I am especially grateful to all those staff who worked to help keep paths and roads clear. Often working very unsocial hours (including shifts at 2am and 7am) and in difficult conditions their work was vital in allowing the University to reopen with only one day of closure for the start of the teaching period.
Recruitment into the future
We received our grant letter for 13/14 which sets the context for funding that year and also sets out some key Government priorities for Higher Education in 2013-4. It makes clear that there will continue to be changes to the student contract number (which sets our recruitment parameters) and these changes will have significant implications for the sector.
Colleagues may have read, in the Times Higher today, about the 2012 end of cycle assessment data from UCAS which has revealed the shortfalls in undergraduate numbers by institutions across the UK.
It’s important to recognise that while Bradford’s figure is reported as a drop of 679 acceptances in 2012; in 2011 the University had extra numbers from the modernisation fund and we also over-recruited in the same year.
As I’ve mentioned in previous updates, this year the University was committed to focussing on the quality of our student intake, rather than lowering our entry tariff and I am pleased that after off-setting against over recruitment in 2011 the University achieved 94% of its 2012 recruitment target. This meant that we were within around 200 of our contract number. Not where we wanted to be but nevertheless not the meltdown that many might have anticipated.
The grant letter outlines key changes for the next few years. While our contract number would normally be reduced because of under-recruitment, that will not happen this year, because of the general fluidity in the sector. It is fortunate that this decision gives us some scope to ensure we recruit well in 2013.
In the longer term however it is clear that the government is set on allowing those universities that are able to grow to continue to expand their numbers at the expense of those that struggle to achieve their targets. We will therefore be moving over the next few years to a position of a much more open market which was what the government was seeking when it put the new funding model in place. Those that can achieve good numbers and that wish to grow will not be prevented from doing so by restrictions within the student contract number. If universities are unable to attract sufficient students they will experience a long-term decline.
Our funding depends crucially on our ability to continue to attract students to come to Bradford because an ever-increasing proportion of our income will come directly from student tuition fees rather than from government funding. We know that we did not achieve our contract number in 2012. We also know that our applications have fallen this year, although that is not the case in all Schools. It is therefore more important than ever that we continue to stress the benefits of a university education at Bradford to all our potential home and international students. High graduate employability, a good student experience, the benefits of a strong student support system and facilities, the experience of being taught by research-active staff are all factors which will be important in persuading students to come here rather than to our competitors. The ability to deliver those things that will continue to attract students to Bradford are very much in our hands which is why the projects that we have around the student experience, around the development of more innovative, student-centred learning, around improving our estate and facilities and enhancing our research reputation and league table position are absolutely vital if we are to continue to thrive in the new market. Students can and will be very selective. We need to ensure that Bradford is a positive choice for them. That is the way to guarantee a secure and sustainable future.
We are currently working hard on the submission that the University will be making to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) towards the end of this year. This national research survey will be vitally important in measuring and ranking the research outputs of the University. Those outputs will include our publications (books, research papers), the innovation our research has produced in terms of patents and company spin-offs, the research income we are able to generate and the wider impact on society of the research work we do.
It is important in showcasing the strength of research at Bradford and, given that we see research-informed teaching as central to a strong student experience, a lot of work is on-going to ensure that the submission is as strong as possible. We will be very tactical and targeted in what we submit and will only be submitting work which is likely to be ranked at an ‘international quality’ level. Our aim is to ensure that we achieve a Top 50 ranking for our research. This will be important in helping to improve our overall league table performance over the next two to three years to ensure we achieve a Top 50 ranking in 2016.
National Student Survey
On Monday February 4 the annual National Student Survey (NSS) will begin with an external organisation surveying our final-year students about their experience at Bradford and about the support and development they have experienced at the University.
This has been an important focus for us over the last few years and is a key contributor to league tables. We have improved our position over the last three years and I do hope we can maintain these improvements this year. Our overall satisfaction levels are at about the national average and I hope that the closer level of engagement we have had with students, and the very real improvements we’ve seen in a number of academic and support areas can be maintained.
We will be working hard to make sure the number of students filling in the NSS is as high as possible to ensure we have a representative view and I’d ask all staff to encourage students to complete the survey.
The results of the NSS appear in early-September and provide both an important barometer of the experience of our students as well as important pointers to how we can improve. Improving NSS results is vital if we are to improve our overall League table position.
Donations to Universities are an increasingly important source of revenue, especially for the creation of scholarships for students in particular need of support. Here at Bradford we have established a small ‘development group’ to explore ways in which we can increase donations for the work we do. I know that a number of staff already contribute to those philanthropic funds through monthly donations and I am grateful for the support they give. The funds raised through this payroll giving go towards student hardship funds.
Work with potential donors and with a range of charitable trusts are continuing as does the annual Telethon project which encourages alumni to give towards our student hardship fund and which has raised sizeable sums over the last three years which are distributed to student societies. I am also pleased to announce a five-year project with the Bestway Foundation which will provide £250,000 towards postgraduate scholarships for needy students from Pakistan, and an initial £75,000 funding support from a Saudi donor, Mr Yasser Homran, to help support a named three-year lectureship in Peace Studies.
These are just a couple of examples of the kind of longer-term work we are doing to grow the amount of philanthropic support we can marshall for the University.
Despite the weather, work on the Sustainable Enterprise Centre and the STEM Building are continuing apace. It is likely that they will be completed by the end of May and we will be looking towards a formal opening of both buildings when they are fully occupied and operational in early-September. The first building will be an important public face for our engagement with sustainability and with the business opportunities that we see that providing; the second building will connect university work in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) with school curriculums and will bring budding scientists into the university at an early age. Hopefully they will be the Bradford science graduates of the future. I am also pleased to let you know that the University has been able to buy a key piece of land adjoining the campus off Tumbling Hill Street known as the Beehive site. We were able to buy this at a very competitive price and it will provide an important addition to the footprint of the estate as well as an addition to the assets of the University. It will also allow us to plan for the development of a piece of land next to the campus which has been largely derelict for over four years.