Communication from the VC in March 2010
This is my first Update of 2010 and without a doubt we are facing a year of change and challenge.
At my annual address to staff, I took the opportunity to consider the wider environment facing the University in the coming months and what might guide our strategy and plans. I would like to share some of these thoughts with you in this Update.
You will all be aware of the various cuts to our funding so far, and that further reductions in public spending on Higher Education are likely, regardless of who wins the next election. I do not accept for a moment that it is sensible for the UK government to decrease its investment in Higher Education. We oppose that in every possible way we can - by explaining the impact we have on society, the economy and the country´s international competitiveness. The financial circumstances will require us to reduce our costs - particularly in the area of estates and carbon footprint - and to work together with even greater efforts to increase income from other sources. But it is vitally important that we focus on what we can do to preserve those things we value about our University, and to increase our income and effectiveness, rather than worrying too much about the circumstances around us.
I believe our values are fundamental to how we handle the way forward. Money is important, but the values of the University of Sheffield have seen it through some very difficult periods of history and will do so again. Of course, tough decisions will have to be made about how we implement the strategy based on these values. In the current situation of constrained public finances, it is clear that we cannot expect a substantial increase in funding to Higher Education for some time. Simply out of necessity we have to reduce, where we can, our dependency on income from a shrinking public purse.
I recognise that discussing values can be difficult. Defining what motivates us and what we most value can sound preachy or abstract, but in the current context it is even more vital to clarify to others the nature and value of what we do, and, for ourselves, to prioritise what is most important to preserve and develop in our current circumstances.
Through our work in defining the attributes of the Sheffield Graduate and the Sheffield Academic, we have, I believe, begun a vital process of discussion which should galvanise us around our core values. Professor Tony Payne recently led a small group to develop an updated statement on our Mission, Vision and Identity. This is something I want to make sure reflects the values held by people across our institution as a whole. A process of consultation will begin soon, and I look forward to hearing your views about the statement and how it reflects your own activities and aspirations.
We need to unite around our shared aims, and to use these to inform strategy and plans as an institution, as faculties, departments and individuals. This will require a vigorous discussion with real outcomes to inform our decisions.
In the last century, local people who wanted to establish a University in Sheffield displayed posters locally seeking donations. I find the aims they expressed remarkably robust in the face of a changing world: `The University will be for the people´, `The University will bring the highest education within the reach of the child of the working man´ (and woman now). `The University will help the local industries´, `The University will be the centre where the treatment of accidents and diseases will be studied´.
Today we are interpreting these guiding principles for a new age and in a challenging financial context. Our cross-cutting research themes which draw on skills across departments and faculties in the areas of energy and the environment, healthcare across the disciplines, and the digital world respond to very modern global issues. In Sheffield and the region, we are drawing together industry with the latest research to invigorate our local economy.
What all these activities have in common is that they are contemporary illustrations of timeless ideals. We will not shy away from vigorously defending what matters to us most. The massive national contribution of Higher Education to the economy and our proven local strengths in both research and the student experience give us every reason to be confident.
For those who were unable to attend my recent Address to Staff, a transcript and link to the recording of the event are available on the VC web pages.
Thank you again for your ongoing efforts and support.
Professor Keith Burnett