Thank you to all those colleagues who attended one of my annual address sessions during October, it was very encouraging to see so many of you there and to have the opportunity to formally launch our new University Strategy.
The strategy, of course, only has meaning if we are all working together to turn the words into a reality and in many ways this is just the beginning of a positive journey of change for our University. We will now begin rolling out the underpinning strategies and associated work plans including the Research & Innovation Strategy, the Education Strategy and the International Strategy. This month I would like to focus on the most developed of our supporting strategies which is the Research & Innovation Strategy.
Growing our research and innovation
Research and innovation underpins the education we deliver and builds our profile both at home and internationally and so the development of the Research & Innovation Strategy, led by Pal Ahluwalia, is hugely important to the continuing success of our University.
During my annual address, I outlined the five Research, Innovation and Education cross-disciplinary themes that will be developed along with the plans to appoint theme leaders as Faculty Professors. I am confident that this will give due recognition of the importance of these themes to facilitate our research and innovation activity, particularly at a time when external funders are looking for innovative solutions to some of the world’s most intractable problems.
It is clear that solving those grand challenges requires us to bring our deep discipline knowledge together in new ways. Thematic areas will only be successful where we continue to develop and support the underpinning discipline research. The choice of five themes provides a manageable number of areas where existing research expertise can contribute and we should always be realistic that not all of the themes will develop at the same rate and some may not even be successful at all! We must, however, be prepared to take some risk and support their development as the world thinks in thematic terms and this will allow us to present externally a number of our research areas in a more coherent manner. The five themes that we will initially focus on are:
- Democratic Citizenship
- Future and Emerging Technologies
- Health and Wellbeing
- Security and Risk
- Sustainability and the Environment
Some of these themes are extensions of activity already taking place. For example, Sustainability and the Environment builds on the existing Environment Network and the Health and Wellbeing theme extends the ideas developed within the Ageing Network. There is significant activity already in place around Security and Risk and this theme gives us the opportunity to gather that diverse range of research together in a coherent manner. We have a strong technology history and the Future and Emerging Technologies theme will allow us to present the research already taking place in a new way, building on the new Future Technology Centre currently under development. The area which is least developed for us and therefore is the biggest leap of faith is the area of Democratic Citizenship. While we do not have deep pre-existing research strength, it is an area which is a critical international issue and one where I am sure we can have an impact in the future. There could have been other areas chosen and we may indeed extend our themes in the future as we see our University develop, but these do provide a strong platform to begin building our thematic presence.
The Research and Innovation Strategy is currently in its consultation phase and going through appropriate University committees before being presented to our Board of Governors for approval. The strategy will provide a blueprint from which the University will drive research and innovation activity and investment until 2021. The vision we have for research and innovation is one that resonates with our overall University Strategy; it is ambitious, responsible and open, setting out to deliver transformational research and innovation. To do this requires continued enhancement of the capacity, quality and contribution of research and innovation activities to the University’s portfolio. We are committed to solving real-world problems and working intensively with our key stakeholders in order to shape a better future, actively responding to key societal needs.
This will not be easy, especially at a time when government funding for research is becoming increasingly constrained and the competition for research funding is growing. I am sure that the announcements in November in the Comprehensive Spending Review will present more challenges for us.
It is therefore sensible at the same time as the R&I strategy is being developed, to review our Research and Innovation Services (RIS) to ensure that those engaged in research and innovation have the best support possible. We need to prioritise the myriad needs of our key stakeholders and ensure that we have a department that is able to support all those engaged in achieving the ambitious targets we have set for ourselves.
Acquisition of the Portsmouth Technopole
I am very pleased to be able to announce a new venture to support business start-ups. After much negotiation and discussions at UEB and the Board of Governors, the University has taken over the Portsmouth Technopole as a new company of the University. Acquiring this existing company, which provides start-up space for new business enterprises, places the University at the heart of business development in the City. It will provide many opportunities for the University and our students to become actively involved in supporting new businesses in the city and will provide additional income to the University.
Already we are developing plans to extend the facility to provide much needed follow-on space for those companies that are successful and require room for expansion. This extension to our business-facing facilities is much needed and will help significantly in growing our innovation profile in the region and beyond.
Exciting times for Department of Marketing and Communications
As a University we need to ensure that we establish our brand, presence and all that we have to offer, clearly and compellingly both to prospective students and others who have an influence on our success. We are in an increasingly competitive market and must be innovative in how we market ourselves to maintain our recruitment levels, enhance our profile and continuously improve what we may define as our ‘product’ to ensure our continuing success. An example of the competitive challenge is the fact that we have seen this year a fall in the number of visitors to our Open Days which means our conversion activities, including Applicant Open Days at the start of next year, take on even greater importance.
As we say goodbye to Peter Reader who will retire at the end of this month, I am very pleased that we have appointed a new Director of Marketing and Communications, Dorothy Albrecht. Dorothy brings with her extensive experience from a university and a country that has already been through the transition that we are now experiencing in the UK. She has more than 20 years of senior level marketing and communications experience and has successfully led the marketing and communications portfolios for Curtin, Swinburne and Monash Universities in Australia. Not only does she bring with her extensive experience of developing and leading new marketing strategies, but she also has an expertise in leading-edge marketing tools, particularly in using digital marketing and social media. I am particularly pleased that Dorothy has chosen to relocate to Portsmouth on the strength of our future vision, which she herself says ‘presents outstanding opportunities and some key challenges, as the University moves to position itself as a significant player in the higher education space.’
Dorothy will, I am sure, work with her team on creating new ideas and opportunities for us to develop our internal communications and external profile and as such this is a very exciting time for us.
Growing our external profile
At my annual address I said that we are often described as a ‘hidden gem’ and how important it is that we shout about what we are good at and get the message out whenever we can. This was exactly what happened last month when there was huge media coverage both nationally and internationally of Jim Smith’s research in collaboration with an international group of scientists into a long-term study at Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, where it was found that wildlife was thriving. I am confident there are other equally exciting pieces of research and innovation being undertaken within the University or through collaborative/partnership ventures which could have a similar impact and it is just about finding the right way to get the news out. People will not know the great things we do unless we tell them!
Marketing our University also means ensuring that external stakeholders, including the politicians who represent us, are aware of what we do. This month we have hosted 3 local MPs at the University, Flick Drummond, Penny Mordaunt and Alan Mak. Each of them welcomed the chance to see first-hand some of what we do and it was clear that they were surprised and impressed by what they discovered. It is so easy for there to be pre-conceived and out of date ideas about the scale, reach and quality of a University like us and the impact of what we do.
It matters what is published about us and I must confess to being very nervous when I was provided with an embargoed copy of the WHICH report into University practice in relation to consumer law. Knowing that we were one of the 50 Universities investigated was of concern, but I should not have worried! It was great for us that this focused investigation on information provision for Psychology programmes identified two areas of good practice and presented us as having no major areas of concern and one of the best performing of those investigated!
Many thanks to Registry, Marketing and, in this particular case, Psychology for keeping our web based information accurate and honest for prospective students.
And finally, it was very encouraging to see that for the first time we have appeared in the US News Best Global Universities League Tables. We were ranked joint 588th with three others, which in terms of UK Universities ranked us 46th. Another good news story which grows our International profile.