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University's financial success highlighted in Annual Report by Vice-Chancellor to Court

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Professor Robert Burgess, announced a £3.5m surplus as he presented the Annual Report to the 46th annual meeting of Court.

He highlighted the key issues facing the University, describing the pursuit of research and teaching excellence as being central to the ethos of the University. The relationship between higher education and the economy and the need to forge strategic alliances with other institutions were also highlighted in his address.

Turning first to issues raised by the Government’s White Paper on Higher Education, Professor Burgess said he, and the University’s Senate, did not subscribe to the White Paper’s view that teaching and research excellence could be separated.

He urged members of Court and the University to write to the Government to present their views on the White Paper on what kind of University system is needed in the UK – and whether, as at Leicester, it is one that links high quality research with high quality teaching.

“This is fundamental to the life of any University- and this is what distinguishes us from other areas in education,” said Professor Burgess.

Reviewing the past year, Professor Burgess highlighted how Leicester was placed as a top 20 University by the Financial Times and Sunday Times.

Professor Burgess said: “A clear objective of the University is to ensure that we are ranked as a top 20 University by media league tables – whatever kind of variables are added together. I think being placed in that position is very important in terms of the public perception, and the way that attracts the interest of those who want to engage with us on research activities, those who wish to join us as students and those who want to support us financially in our academic endeavours.”

Commenting on the increase in international student enrolment, Professor Burgess said this fulfilled another key objective of the University and, quite apart from the income generation for the University, meant that Leicester was not a provincial and parochial university.

He said the University had some 3,000 staff, the academic numbers of whom were recruited nationally and internationally while others were recruited largely form the region.

Professor Burgess highlighted the University’s success in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise where 84% of staff were assessed as conducting research at national and international levels – an increase from the 56% that had been ranked at that level during the previous assessment in 1996.

“It is important that this is not seen as a baseline, but a point from which one strives for greater and higher achievements in terms of academic endeavour. It is absolutely essential that all our departments have to strive for national and international excellence if they wish to be in the game of doing research. This is the objective we want to achieve and we have reviewed every academic department in the last year in order to ensure that objective can be fulfilled.

“As far as driving the research enterprise in concerned, it is important for our staff to compete nationally and internationally in order to gain research grant and contract income which drives the research enterprise. This grant income has risen from £33m in the academic year ending  in 2001 to £46m in the last academic year. It is very important that people remain competitive in winning grants and contracts and raising additional income from research and development activities for business and industry.”

Professor Burgess commended those who had won prizes, distinctions and fellowships, stating that this helped enhance the reputation of the University. In this context, he highlighted the success of the Department of Genetics in winning the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. He said those members of Court who had visited the Department prior to the meeting had witnessed cutting-edge work in a top-rated research department.

But he also asked members to reflect on the conditions they saw in the building: “Ask yourselves- are those the laboratories in which leading edge work should be conducted? When British Vice-Chancellors say ‘the infrastructure of our universities is crumbling and we need to do better’ you might reflect on our Genetics department and say to yourselves: ‘What kind of environment do we want the leading scientists to work in?  What should universities provide?’

“No matter how much money comes in, we still have to make sure we have an appropriate infrastructure in which our leading researchers can engage in academic work and in turn engage in teaching.”

Professor Burgess provided an overview of improvements being made on the campus, including the upgrading of lecture theatres to provide state-of-the-art facilities to enhance the students’ learning experience.

Professor Burgess said the University was very proud of its success in its teaching performance with 18 subject areas being equated with excellence. He said Leicester also stood among the top 10 universities for student retention – adding that the very low student drop out rate reflected the high quality of care and concern exercised by colleagues in working with in order to make sure they achieve.

“This is very important – this is what the business of a University is all about. It links, inextricably, with the research function because if we are going to have a situation where we replenish ourselves with new generations of scholars it is absolutely essential that we induct the students into the academic way of life in terms of academic study, research and leading academic endeavour.”

Professor Burgess said prizes and grants were also available for special development and achievements in teaching. He said grants totalling 0.5m were won for new initiatives in teaching and learning in the fields of medicine and physics. This would have implications for students within and beyond Leicester.

He added that the White Paper referred to Centres of Teaching Excellence and Leicester had to make sure it had centres of this kind among its activities. This was needed in more than one area- indeed there was a need for several areas of teaching excellence.

“It is no good to say you are only good at teaching, or research or lifelong learning or business – you have to be good at all of these. This was said to me by a member of academic staff and I think he is absolutely right. It is the kind of academic vigour we need for all our academic staff because you need imagination, energy and creativity in order to bring off the teaching – learning – research relationship.”

Professor Burgess also emphasized the importance of universities not catering for an elite, but striving to improve access and widen participation in higher education.  He said opening up higher education to a wider range of people had meant the three Leicestershire universities were working together in what was seen nationally as a flagship project.

The Institute of Lifelong Learning also provided a variety of access routes for students at different stages of their careers. There were Foundation Degrees, certificate courses, CPD as well as general interest courses. Professor Burgess made particular mention of the Foundation Degree in Health and Illness offered with Loughborough College of Further Education as an example of how Leicester was reshaping the parameters of access to higher education.

“We have broken the system of higher education in Britain by linking higher education with further education in a dynamic relationship. This University demonstrates that very clearly through the Colleges-University of Leicester Network, working effectively together in areas of common endeavour.”

Professor Burgess described proposals for improving the physical estate of the University, creating a dynamic environment for staff and students. He outlined details of the £300m 30-year Development Plan and asked members of local authorities to support the University in its vision of the future and to help it to contribute even more to the economic vitality of the area. Emphasizing that this plan was a reality, he said projects amounting to £60m were already in progress.

Professor Burgess said the University continued to face challenges. This included recruiting high quality staff to deliver leading edge research and teaching; delivering new educational programmes – in this context over sixty joint honours programmes in the arts and the social sciences were due to start.

Professor Burgess said the £3.5m surplus was the first time in seven years that the University had achieved a surplus.

“This has been achieved through a lot of hard work by members of the University. It is absolutely vital that we continue to develop in this way and to find new projects to continue building a stronger, more dynamic University for the 21st century,”  he said.

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Last updated: 3 March 2003 10:55
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