Looking to the future with students and staff
2 November 2010
As I have highlighted in my recent updates, universities in this country are living through challenging times.
Following the Browne Review on higher education funding and then the announcements in the Government´s Comprehensive Spending Review, the sector has naturally been considering the implications for all of us. There are many concerns - and indeed many rumours - about what we in Sheffield might do in response to the changed environment in which we find ourselves. In this email, I want to be clear about what we will actually be doing.
Perhaps the most important message I want to convey is that we should be confident about our future. No matter how great and real our concerns for areas of great importance to us, we need to translate these into positive planning for our future. Every one of us has a part to play in this future. During challenging times, it is important to have a clear understanding of what motivates our work, of our values and our ambitions.
We have recently confirmed, in our mission, vision and identity statement, a commonly held explanation of who we are, what values are important to us and our ideas of where we are going. I hope you will take the time to read this at www.sheffield.ac.uk/mvi.
I am in no way proposing that we should be unaware of potential dangers or that we should be unprepared for what changes there may be. But I believe it is essential that, rather than focus solely on funding, we need to reflect on our ambitions for all aspects of what the University does, and be driven by these.
With this in mind, I have set up a University-wide project to engage our whole community in building on our successes and ambitions, and to lay out clearly the value of what we offer to students. I am asking the Registrar to co-ordinate this project, which will include the detailed research needed to fully understand the range of situations which may impact on the University in coming months.
The University Executive Board will oversee the whole project, with various aspects of this work led by academic members of the UEB, and linking with work already underway across the University.
A crucial complement to this internal work will be to develop a new covenant with our students and those who support their time at the University. We know both from the Browne Review and the Comprehensive Spending Review that, in all likelihood, students will be asked to pay considerably increased tuition fees in future.
Despite the concerns of students and parents about fees, I am confident that they will strongly support our open and inclusive approach. My aim is that our dialogue with them should be based on trust and mutual goals, rather than simply a commercial relationship dictated by the market for fees. That does not mean we can ignore what others ask students to pay - of course, we will need to consider all factors carefully. It is just that we should be guided by our own academic goals which we share with our students rather than 'cutting our feet to fit our shoes' as the Chinese proverb warns.
Once again, I would like to thank you for your continued efforts to preserve the highest standards of education during a period of major change, and for your support of me personally. I would ask you to maintain this positive focus as far as you can, whatever your role, particularly as we consider the detail of future plans and ensure that this University continues to provide the quality of research and teaching for which it is rightly held in such high regard.
Professor Keith Burnett