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Vice-Chancellor's Statement, Annual Report 2002-03

The academic year 2002-2003 has had major significance for the higher education sector. Never before has the UK witnessed such a wide-ranging public debate about the role and purpose of higher education in society and the social and financial implications of expanding the system. Much of the impetus for the public debate comes from the White Paper, The Future of Higher Education that was published in January 2003 and put higher education in the public eye. One thing is apparent - change is inevitable and universities need to respond positively to many of the challenges.
In the University of Leicester colleagues are already working very hard to bring about effective changes, to make the University more responsive, to develop strategies for teaching and learning, to develop and enhance the research base to engage in world class activities and to work in partnership with a range of institutions within and beyond the higher education sector. All together, the work of colleagues has contributed to the University being highly rated in a range of media league tables with our Medical School being named by The Guardian as the best in the UK. Overall, we were delighted to be placed in the top twenty Universities by the Financial Times for the third consecutive year.

To sustain and develop an effective university, it is essential to establish a firm financial base. This continues to be challenging but I am delighted to report that once again we achieved a surplus in the last financial year of £2.5 million on a turnover of £155 million. This is essential if we are to continue to establish a thriving University community. The success of my colleagues is all the more commendable at a time when the University has only received a small increase in government grant but has grown its turnover by 26% over the last three years. This result is the consequence of a team effort by all members of the University working to ensure that we achieve the very best in everything we do.

Our financial achievements have allowed us to think creatively about the development of our estate. Working with a team of Development Plan Architects, we put together our vision for the University of Leicester over the next thirty years which will see new buildings on our academic and residential sites and a range of refurbishments so that staff and students are working in state of the art facilities.
But plans are all very fine - it is essential they are translated into action. This year has witnessed the largest building programme in the history of the University. We have completely refurbished our Chemistry laboratories where staff, who have worked in a range of institutions, report they are working with the best facilities that have ever been made available to them. Our School of Archaeology and Ancient History has moved into a refurbished building complete with laboratory facilities. This will allow the School to develop its scientific activities and to grow its already thriving postgraduate community.

The first new building in our current development was completed in June. We now have appropriate space for our Mathematical Modelling Centre - an interdisciplinary research group that brings together staff and postgraduate students from Mathematics, Engineering, Chemistry, and Physics. In addition, more accommodation has been provided for our Space Research Centre. Meanwhile, the physical landscape continues to change with the construction of a £20 million Biomedical building that should be available by July 2004. Much time has also been devoted to planning the Library extension and refurbishment which it is intended to start in the autumn of 2004. This will give us a Library that is appropriate for the 21st century and will be central to our academic development.

All the activities that take place in the University of Leicester are intended to enhance and develop the quality of teaching and research. It is the contributions of our academic staff that gives the University a high profile. There are many detailed examples of academic achievement provided throughout this report. This year we were delighted when Professor Nilesh Samani in our Medical School was awarded a British Heart Foundation Chair (one of only 20 made available in the UK). This will bring additional equipment and staff to develop the very successful research in the newly established Department of Cardiovascular Sciences.

In the Social Sciences, Professor Alan Felstead and Professor Lorna Unwin have won a grant of over £1 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to study workplace education. This project is part of the ESRC’s Teaching and Learning Research Programme - a £26 million development that brings together social and educational researchers to build research capacity, to innovate in the social sciences and link with policymakers and practitioners. Indeed, there are many ways in which our research is for a wide audience and captures the public imagination. This year the Department of Physics and Astronomy has worked with the Open University in partnership with EADS Atrium to develop Beagle 2 - the UK’s first mission to another planet.. Missions to Mars have always been challenging, but Beagle 2 like others before it, has advanced our scientific knowledge and increased the public profile of British science - an achievement in its own right.

It is these research activities and many others that inform teaching. Our students are taught by academics who are leaders in their fields. They bring subjects alive, and get students to develop a range of skills that can be used in future careers. The graduating class of 2003 pushed the standard even higher in terms of the quality of degrees obtained. One group it was particularly pleasing to congratulate were the first graduates from the newly established two year Foundation Degree in Educational Studies for Teaching Assistants we had developed with members of Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln. This has led to many new developments in curriculum, pedagogy and assessment, and new partnerships with other higher education institutions.

Partnership has been at the centre of debate in the sector this year. The University already plays a major role in the region through the East Midlands Universities Association where ten higher education institutions collaborate on a range of research activities. In turn, we also collaborate in other groups that bring together institutions in the East and West Midlands. The Leicester-Warwick Medical Schools based on a federal structure is working effectively by bringing together groups of researchers from both Universities. Another significant development is the UK Healthcare Education Partnership involving City University, the University of Ulster, the Royal College of Nursing and the University of Leicester who are engaged in developing post registration courses in nurse education. This development firmly places the University in the forefront of e-learning initiatives which will link with our distance learning activities, where we are seen by the Financial Times as the market leader at postgraduate level.

The year also saw a huge amount of planning to put in place a new partnership agreement between the University, Bishop Grosseteste College (BGC) in Lincoln and Newman College in Birmingham. Each institution retains its autonomy but we can see the advantages of working together. Initially, the University will validate all courses at Bishop Grosseteste and Newman but it is also envisaged that a number of other projects will be developed. Already we have been successful with a new centre in Science Education with BGC and the University of Nottingham and new work for the Teacher Training Agency with Newman. This is just a start. We want to develop further activities between the three institutions and with members of the Colleges-University of Leicester network that has now increased in number from fourteen to twenty two.

The University of Leicester has continued to engage in a number of distinctive activities that rely on teams of people working together. Three different examples illustrate how developing strong working relationships is a recipe for success. First, we were delighted that our Department of Genetics won the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for its distinguished work in research and teaching. Several celebrations were held during the year. The most significant was marked by the Awards Ceremony at Buckingham Palace when students and staff were present to receive this award from Her Majesty the Queen. This award brings great credit on members of the department of whom we are very proud.

A further team effort of a different kind included all members of the Residences, Conferences and Catering offices who have successfully grown our conference business by 83% over the last four years. In addition, the conference trade in 2002-2003 increased by 20%. This is an achievement of which all can be very proud as the work involved raises our profile with conference visitors and contributes to the finances of the University and its academic development.

Finally, we held our second Sculpture in the Garden exhibition at the Botanic Garden. This year the show was more ambitious and received sponsorship from the Arts Council and a number of local companies. The exhibition resulted in two Sculptures being donated to the University and a further twenty pieces being loaned to us. It was all the result of tremendous hard work by the sculptor Helaine Blumenfeld and Emeritus Professor Bill Forster working with the gardeners, the graphics team and other members of the Estates Department. Again, a team effort brings success and in this case, contributes to cultural activities in the region.

These examples also highlight another feature of the University, namely that our success relies on our staff to whom I once again convey my thanks for their dedication and commitment.        

Professor Robert Burgess,

University's Financial Performance Among Best in UK: Vice-Chancellor highlights rapid growth in turnover [Vice-Chancellor's address to annual meeting of University Court]

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Last updated: 19 February 2004 11:00
Created by: Barbara Whiteman

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