The summer's nearly over, but we have every reason to have a spring in our step.
From the success of recent open days to significant improvements in how students rate their time here, and from the health of University finances, increased research turnover (to more than £126m per annum), to plans to invest millions in enhancing the student experience, there's much to feel proud and optimistic about.
This year will be our last to get everything in place ahead of the arrival next September of the first cohort of students paying £9k tuition fees. Expectations will be high and we will all need to think carefully about how we can contribute towards meeting them.
June's open days were our first experience of recruiting in the new fees environment. It was vital we got them right. A huge amount of planning led to a resounding success, with around 24,000 visitors to campus over two days greeted by scores of positive and well-prepared staff and student volunteers. Feedback was fantastic, with 95% of visitors rating the day 'good' or 'excellent' and praising the helpfulness of staff and students. Many commented on the positive feeling around the University - its spirit, its openness and its warmth. My thanks to everyone involved - it was so important to set such a positive tone for our future.
All universities have been through challenging times, but now we must remain tightly focused on our future. Spending £9k to study at Leeds will be a significant investment, but I am confident we will not have any major problems recruiting students. We've just completed the Integrated Planning Exercise (IPE) and even factoring in a 5% reduction in student numbers next year - a good forecast given subsequent White Paper proposals - financial projections are much better than last year. Despite ongoing funding cuts, we can feel confident that our hard work has brought us to a position that allows us to properly invest in our student experience and our future at this critically important time.
I know too some colleagues face ongoing uncertainty, and we are working closely with units in organisational review to ensure they are academically and financially sustainable. But the number of areas in review is falling. Seven have exited the process this year, most recently Research and Innovation Support and Student Services. I am confident more will follow.
I touched recently upon our graduates' employment prospects, but they are worth repeating. The Destination of Leavers from HE (DLHE) survey shows that 92.6% of our 2010 graduates were in graduate level employment or further study six months after graduation. According to this measure, we even outperform Oxford!
Great news also comes in the guise of the National Student Survey (NSS) 2011. 86% of our students say they were 'very satisfied' or 'satisfied' with their experience - an increase of 4% on last year and a result that puts us in 10th= position in the Russell Group. We also achieved improved scores across all categories including teaching, academic support, organisation and management learning resources and personal development - a truly fantastic outcome.
Viv Jones and our Pro-Deans for Student Education are to be congratulated for their highly effective leadership and their detailed and dedicated work in improving our performance. This year's success shows that with focus and professionalism, real progress can occur - a massive thank you from me to all staff concerned for this very timely result.
VCEG and the Deans are currently looking at how best to invest £12m in enhancing the student experience and the £9m we have added to our Strategic Support and Development Funds. The Deans' input in this, as in so much else, has been critical. Different views have been expressed with some incorporated into plans and some not. These are major strategic decisions, and collective input and ownership is critical.
Changes in the composition of VCEG will also help to refresh and sharpen our strategic focus. Dawn Freshwater, who takes over as PVC for Staff and Organisational Effectiveness, has been highly successful as Head of the School of Healthcare and has significant experience of leading change. David Hogg takes on a new integrated role as PVC for Research and Innovation. As Head of the School of Computing, he led a review which revitalised the school - he also brings considerable experience of leadership and personal success in research and innovation. Dawn and David are first and foremost team players and I am really looking forward to working closely with both of them.
Richard Williams and Steve Scott have been in VCEG for six of the seven years I have been here and I thank both for their outstanding contribution. Richard's major achievement has been getting everyone thinking about enterprise, innovation and research in an integrated way. Steve is a fantastic citizen of the University - I would highlight his painstaking work on promotions as his great legacy amongst his many significant achievements. Andrew Thompson made his mark as PVC for Research, as did Ed Spiers, who stepped in and also did the job brilliantly. I am indebted to both Andrew and Ed for great research results this year and getting our preparations for REF2014 well underway.
I hope everyone had some time for relaxation this summer and that all feel refreshed. The coming year will be challenging, but the success of open days and improvement in our NSS scores shows us just how good this University can be when under pressure. They also remind us of an important lesson - if professionalism is combined with effort and teamwork, we will get the results we want. Let's put our hearts and minds into making this year our best yet.