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Planning for the post-election future

Every so often, it’s worthwhile taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture: at Roehampton, the time is now, says Lynn Dobbs

We are 10 years on from the grant of our charter by the Privy Council, our Vice-Chancellor Paul O’Prey has been in post for a decade and we have just installed our new Chancellor, the celebrated children’s author Professor Dame Jacqueline Wilson. Coupled with these landmarks, our recent success as the best new university in London according to the Sunday Times’ Good University Guide rankings is a positive result from which we will seek to improve further in the years ahead, whatever the post-election higher education landscape looks like.

Our bold new strategic plan sets out our vision for the future of the University:

We aim to give all students a first rate university experience which creates well-rounded, employable, intelligent young adults. They may apply because of the strength of our degrees, but they leave with a head and heart full of extra experiences and an understanding of how they can positively influence the world around them.

We will continue to raise the standard of our research, and its impact, building our position as a centre of academic excellence. Through our TECHNE Consortium this year we secured £750,000 from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, funding 12 doctoral studentships, and this is just one example. Another would be Dr Pablo Romero-Fresco, whose work on improving subtitling in film, theatre and television is directly improving the lives of deaf people worldwide, thanks to partnerships with Ofcom and their international counterparts.

Creating an alumni network of ambassadors has become an area of great importance and now more than ever we need people who can talk with passion about what it means to be a Roehampton graduate. Providing mentoring and connections for our alumni will benefit them in their workplaces, and as they go through their careers, our hope is that they will assist current students, and in time, show their support for the University.

We will give our annual cohort of graduates every chance to break into the workforce by embedding employment skills across their degrees and in their extra-curricular activities. Thanks to the work we have done in positioning workplace skills high on the agenda, we are already succeeding: the most recent Destination of Leavers of Higher Education Survey in July found 92.3% of our graduates were working or studying six months after graduation.

The University of Roehampton was borne from the ever-closer union of four independent colleges, primarily providing teacher training which were established well over 150 years ago. Froebel College was established to continue the tradition of the German educator Freidrich Froebel, Whitelands College by Anglicans, Digby Stuart College by Roman Catholics and Southlands by Methodists.

Shortly after he arrived in Roehampton from Bristol, Professor O’Prey began a process to bring the governance of these four bodies together. The process was completed in 2012, but in doing so, to coin a phrase, we made the four greater than the sum of their parts, making a stronger, more efficient and attractive University.

Our colleges continue to play a significant role in both pastoral and academic life, giving their names to research centres like the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Catholic Studies and the College Cup which our students vigorously participate in.

That important task accomplished, we continue to look forwards. Next September we will welcome the first undergraduates to our new Law School, headed by Dr Giles Proctor and a team of experienced lawyers. Initially two qualifications, an LLB in Law, and a BA in Law and Criminology will be offered, with plans for a Graduate Diploma in Law being developed as well. Roehampton’s aim is to structure the degrees in a practical way, to attract students who may not have considered law as a career. Specific work will be carried out to attract students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

To quote Dr Proctor: “My take on law is it needs to be taught as it will be practised, and that will influence our entire syllabus and structure. The school sits within the University’s Department of Social Sciences, so our students will have access to wider opinions on social justice, human rights and criminology. In turn, my hope is that our new team of lawyers will bring different thinking and ideas to our colleagues’ own studies – strengthening the University’s research offering and its impact levels.”

We have great confidence in our own future, whatever is thrown at us by next May’s politicians. I could also cite the launch of the Roehampton Poetry Centre, the Centre for Applied Educational Research, and the very recent founding of our Centre for Research in Social and Psychological Transformation, led by Professor Mick Cooper.

To be really future-proofed though, we have to be at our most efficient, and focused on the front line teaching and services students directly experience. Institutionally, we have to be easy to deal with, and have capacity in our budget for unexpected electoral hand grenades.

To make that happen we have just completed a full review of all our administration services, down to the micro level. We have moved processes online, re-focused teams and brought other areas into the limelight. Together with an overhaul of our orientation process for new first years, and a real drive towards targeted, evidence-based undergraduate recruitment, I am now confident we are in very good shape.

We have put our house in order, and during the past two years, have expanded our horizons, most notably through alliances with American-based educators Laureate and Schiller, and leading European hospitality college Glion. We work with each differently, using our brand to its fullest extent and extending our profile in countries we might not otherwise reach.

This entrepreneurial outlook is always measured against our primary role as a seat of learning recognised amongst our peers as per the Sunday Times guide, and which last year gave out its highest ever number of first and upper second batchelor’s degrees – a tribute to our students’ increasing commitment to their studies. First and foremost we are here to use the power of education to change lives, but we will give full consideration to opportunities to widen our income streams for the benefit of those students and our staff.

The political waters ahead may not make for plain sailing, but I’m clear we are ready whenever Westminster’s waves strike.

Lynn Dobbs, is the University of Roehampton’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor.

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