2022: Out with the old, in with the… what exactly?

A lingering plague and creaking supply chains are no university’s idea of salad days, but the simple fact that students returned to campus means we can file 2021 under Could Have Been Worse. What will be the abiding memories of those senior leadership teams charged with making it happen? And what grounds for optimism do they perceive in the year ahead?

Dr Sionade Robinson, vice-president (enterprise, engagement and employability), City, University of London

What will be your lasting memory of 2021?

After the shock of 2020, I’m very proud of the resilience, energy and creativity of colleagues and students that continued into 2021. It was a marathon! Resilience is often described as being able to bounce back after a challenge, but I’ve always found difficult challenges also create the opportunity to ‘bounce forward’. At City, we’ve innovated, problem-solved and worked together in so many ways. 2021 has strengthened our university.

What are you most looking forward to in 2022?

I’m proud that the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently ranked us the third best university in the country for social mobility, showing we are making a significant impact to both individuals and society. For 2022, I’m looking forward to building on our Employability Development Plan, which embeds career-focused education and the acquisition of professional work experience. It finds more ways for our brilliant academics, student experience managers and expert professionals with labour market insight to collaborate, thereby supporting City students and their pursuit of engaging and enriching working lives.

 

Professor Shane Weller, deputy vice-chancellor research and innovation, University of Kent

Lasting memory?

2021 was particularly memorable for the launch of our new Signature Research Themes – environment, food systems and natural resources; future human; and migration and movement – as well as our Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries. This coincided with the visit of Little Amal to the university and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to our former colleague and Refugee Tales patron, Professor Abdulrazak Gurnah. Kent was the only UK university to host a stage of Little Amal’s walk, which commenced on Turkey’s Syrian border in July 2021, and was one of the biggest international community arts projects ever produced.

Most looking forward to?

Above all, we are looking forward to 2022 being the year in which we can return more fully to face-to-face teaching and research activities, with staff and students being able to benefit from those more informal discussions that can be so productive.

The Kent and Medway Medical School, a partnership between the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University, will be developing its research profile in 2022, and we also plan to establish a new Institute of Health, Social Care and Wellbeing as a regional hub for the highest-quality knowledge exchange and education in health and social care.

 

Prof Liz Bacon, deputy principal and deputy vice-chancellor, Abertay University

Lasting memory?

Our progress out of the pandemic and the return to a more hopeful future will, of course, stand out for everyone. But the fantastic way in which our staff and students have embraced new ways of teaching, learning and carrying out research will be my lasting memory. Universities have been forced into the type of rapid change that would normally take many years to implement and I’m exceptionally proud of how we’ve adapted to that, and equally determined to retain the best parts of our new ways of working.

Most looking forward to?

There’s a huge amount going on at Abertay at the moment, including an institution-wide digital transformation project, the creation of new student social and study spaces, the implementation of our Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy, and work to design a new vision for our campus, so it’s difficult to pick out a single element. The opening of our new £18m cyberQuarter cybersecurity research and development hub will be a real landmark moment early next year, and I’m really excited to see how our students, staff and industry partners use it for collaboration and for bringing forward new innovations aligned to this important sector.

 

Jerry Woods, director of estates and campus services, Oxford Brookes University

Lasting memory?

Working remotely has certainly been tested to its limits. During 2021, the capital projects team worked on finalising a detailed planning application for a 1,100-bedroom scheme to extend Oxford Brookes student village. While many of us in the past had found that working on reports and having the odd meeting via hands-free phone was all very well, the idea of designing a scheme with a raft of consultants and experts, pre-pandemic, would have been dismissed as impossible. However, not only did the team work on the many design aspects of the scheme, we had meetings with the planners and held online community engagement sessions with the public to gain their views. This led to a 1,250-page submission to Oxford City Council in April this year with planning approval being granted in November.

Most looking forward to?

In 2022 I am looking forward to us starting work on this project, which is not being constructed using 3D printing but will instead involve actual people on the ground working together laying bricks, much like we have done for centuries. In some ways, there is something reassuring about going back to the past.

 

The Reverend Professor Elizabeth Stuart, vice-chancellor, University of Winchester

Lasting memory?

With the huge challenges students and staff have faced over the past 18 months, a lasting memory for all of us in the executive leadership team was being able to, at last, hold our graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 in the summer of 2021. Graduations are always the most joyous of occasions, but these were particularly special for those involved.

Most looking forward to?

We have an exciting year ahead with the arrival of our new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sarah Greer.

 

Professor Rama Thirunamachandran, vice-chancellor, Canterbury Christ Church University

Lasting memory?

To finally see our state-of-the-art Verena Holmes building teeming with students was very moving. Students are, after all, the reason we are here. They are at the very heart of everything we do, and it was marvellous to see so many of them on campus that day, excited to be at the start of their academic journey.

Most looking forward to?

“The thing I am most looking forward to in 2022 is celebrating our university’s diamond jubilee. Over the last 60 years, Canterbury Christ Church has transformed itself from being a small teacher-training college into a multi-disciplinary university. We have supported over 120,00 students to realise and achieve their potential and have made a long-lasting impact on the local and regional economies.

We have an exciting programme of events planned that will not only celebrate what our university has achieved since opening, but also look to the future with hope and enthusiasm. Although the university may have changed dramatically since its inception, our core values remain unchanged and our belief in the power of higher education to enrich individuals, communities and nations will be celebrated throughout the entire 12 months of 2022.

 

Chris Shelley, director of student and academic services, University of Greenwich

Lasting memory?

Seeing the majority of our students return to campus. It has been difficult, and of course there remains a risk of staff and students becoming ill which we have had to mitigate throughout, but to see them engaging with each other and creating a buzz on the campuses has really brought the university to life again. We also held graduation ceremonies face to face from July onwards, and seeing graduates and their families – many of whom have had to wait over a year longer than they expected to for this moment – finally get to have their celebration together was quite emotional.

Most looking forward to?

Implementing all the exciting plans we have for our students. We have launched a new strategy that puts students at the heart of what we do and are now working on all the sub-strategies and action plans that will make it a reality. Student success is our focus and I can’t wait for students to see what that means for them.


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