This past year was quite a change for higher education, culminating in government plans that could usher in sweeping reforms. It has also been a landmark time for the University of Leicester and myself as its President and Vice-Chancellor.
My first calendar year in post here began with us looking back in history, with world-famous and literally ground-breaking research that led to the moving reinterment of King Richard III. But by September, we had our eyes firmly fixed on the future, with a new vision and direction for the university to establish a ‘distinctive elite’ in international higher education.
As I write, many of the changes to our mission and organisational structure are slotting into place. These are, in part, a response to challenges presented by government policies that have created a more market-orientated sector, which requires universities to think harder about what they do and provide that is distinctive and offers significant benefits to students, staff and stakeholders.
For our staff at Leicester, we have instituted a programme to nurture talent at all levels, provide support at different stages of the research career, and tackle any gender bias that might impede the progress of women who are still woefully under-represented in university senior management across the UK. We are proud to be one of ten global universities chosen to spearhead the United Nations Women’s HeforShe campaign to involve more men and boys in supporting greater gender equality.
This is just one element in a transformative strategic plan to develop Leicester as an institution with innovation at its heart. It marks the start of a new era where we will pursue our vision of a discovery-led, research-intensive university which is inclusive and open to all who have talent.
The plan is the result of a year-long consultation with Leicester staff, governors, students and stakeholders. Among a number of deliverables, it will lead to the launch of a suite of interdisciplinary research institutes where Leicester can genuinely claim to have world-leading expertise. Our students will benefit from one of the most flexible degree curriculums in the UK, and the chance to engage in the kind of interdisciplinary research that made the Richard III discoveries possible.
I think it is tremendously important that our students can expect to be taught by the leaders in their field
We will continue to build on our distinctive approach of blending teaching and research. I think it is tremendously important that our students can expect to be taught by the leaders in their field, and our academic staff recognise the benefits to their world-class research of teaching and engaging with students. These are important points to consider as the government consults on its proposals for a Teaching Excellence Framework and conducts a review of research quality assessment and funding.
We also needed to look outside the institution both internationally and closer to home. We are immensely proud of our multicultural setting and I am committed to building on work with the city and beyond. Therefore this year we will launch PROUD, a commitment to work in and with the City of Leicester to help improve economic, social and cultural well-being, health and the environment.
Building academic links internationally is a priority and over the last year I have been heartened and inspired by the warmth towards the University of Leicester on my visits to Kurdistan in Iraq, China, Indonesia, Canada, USA, Japan and India. We have ambitious plans in a number of these countries.
Of course, it doesn’t stop here. Over the next five years we plan to invest in our campus and further develop the university. I think that changing times offer opportunities to be more adventurous and more ambitious. As long as we remain focused on the value of our distinctive qualities, we will have an even greater impact upon global scholarship and innovation.