Inside Track - 8 December 2017 - Sir Alan Langlands

Focusing on what matters


As I write, the finishing touches are being made to our Annual Review for 2016-17. This paints a picture of a university which is committed to putting the interests of students front and centre, undertaking research of the very highest quality and making a difference in the world. We continue to address the challenges of higher education and research across a broad range of disciplines with energy and confidence and, despite considerable political, policy and economic uncertainty, 2016-17 has been a year of achievement and strong income growth in both domains.

We provide outstanding research-led education which attracts, excites and retains high performing students from diverse backgrounds, equipping them to succeed in a competitive global employment market. This is reflected in continued growth in student numbers and strong external recognition.

The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide for 2018 placed us at number 10 in the UK, our highest ever position. This reflects a Gold rating in the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), a top five position in the Times Higher Education Student Experience Survey and a leading position for Russell Group Universities in the National Student Survey. Over the past year, we have seen growth in activity in the Leeds Institute for Teaching Excellence. There have been investments in teaching accommodation, digital resources, the Edward Boyle library and Leeds University Union. We have achieved success through the Access to Leeds programme, while the appointment of two more National Teaching Fellows means – with 26 in total - we have been awarded more than any other institution in the UK. We have also become an ‘All Steinway School’, boosting opportunities in the School of Music and across campus.

The implementation of our plans to improve research quality, income and impact continues apace with recent investments in people and technology both paying dividends. Our new University Academic Fellows are energising the research community and the development of the Astbury Biostructure Laboratory, the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics, the Priestly International Centre for Climate and the Cultural Institute are all boosting research income.

New research awards have increased by 15% to £167 million in 2016-17 and we have recently been awarded nearly £22 million from the Global Challenges Research Fund, drawing on established academic strengths. Looking ahead, we have plans to develop existing strength in Med Tech; and planning permission for the £96 million development of the Sir William Henry Bragg building which will galvanise the links between physical sciences and engineering and provide a state-of-the-art research centre for engineered materials. We are also committed to a new technology campus which will accommodate a dedicated centre for excellence in high speed rail and systems integration, and for other heavy engineering facilities funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council.

These new initiatives and our active involvement alongside other top research intensive universities in the world-leading Royce, Turing, Franklin and Crick institutes and the National Centre for Innovation Excellence in Livestock, position the University to play a key role in the government’s Industrial Strategy. Nexus - our new £40 million innovation and enterprise centre which opens in 2018 – is also making rapid progress. The new Leeds Doctoral College will play a key role in supporting postgraduate researchers, developing highly skilled scientists and researchers and ensuring a new generation of academic and industrial leaders for the future.

This is also a time for the University to look outwards as we continue to enrich our academic activity on campus by stepping up our recruitment of international students and staff. We are putting comprehensive plans in place to boost our international research collaborations, engaging in a systematic way with our worldwide alumni, global companies, NGOs and university partners. The appointment of the new Pro-Deans International in each faculty will accelerate progress.

This is a pivotal moment for higher education in the UK - a time when the opportunities for education and research are so great, and the political, policy and funding uncertainties are so profound. Key risks linked to Brexit, university funding, over-reliance on home undergraduate students and pension costs remain and may have to be tackled in the year ahead. Faced with these challenges, the University Council has agreed that we should continue with our policy of growth and investment but that we should do so with due caution, and always be prepared to mitigate policy and financial risks should the need arise. That said, the underlying academic and financial strength of the University provides great confidence for the future.

As ever, none of this would be possible without the inspiration and hard work of staff and students from every part of the University. I thank you all and hope that you will have a good break over the holiday period. Following our Alumni celebration in November, I should also like to acknowledge the generosity and goodwill of our excellent Campaign Board, the North American Foundation and a wider community of alumni and friends who mentor our students, open their international networks to the University and donate many millions of pounds every year to support student scholarships, leading edge research and campus developments. Their contributions to the life and work of the University are vital to our work and greatly appreciated by us all.

Sir Alan Langlands

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