17 November 2010
In my update to staff at the beginning of the month, I explained that - in order to prepare for the new higher education funding regime proposed by the Government - I had set up a University-wide project to engage our whole community in laying out clearly the value of what we offer to students. This project, entitled Project 2012, will work within our existing University structures and committees to coordinate the detailed research needed to understand fully the range of situations which may impact on the University in the coming months.
But why do we need a project at all? Don't we already do all that we should to make this the best University that can be? Of course, in setting up this project, I am aware of the creativity and hard work already taking place in our University every day. But I think we do need Project 2012 to build on our successes and give a special focus to our preparations for the new era. I feel a real sense that the world of higher education has changed for good, independent of whether the proposed tuition fee increase is voted through by Parliament.
There is a new mood in the country and I believe that we should seize this opportunity to assert the values we hold in common and build stronger partnerships with our students, their supporters and potential employers. In doing this, we have to be true to our own values and mission.
On a personal note, I started considering our response from the perspective of my own deep concern when the Browne Report put forward the notion that University life should be driven by "The Market". I believe myself that is far too narrow a basis for making long-lasting decisions about our own and our children's lives.
However, in order to continue to build the University we want, we shall need future generations of students to be attracted to what we are, and willing to provide the funds needed for their education..
I feel very strongly that we need to build a new covenant across our whole community, with everyone at the University involved. By doing this I want us to be confidently in control of our future: expressing our ambitions for higher education in partnership with our own community. Project 2012 will help us to lay out more clearly the value of what we offer our students, understand the market in which we will be operating, and develop a principled approach to setting undergraduate tuition fees for student admission in 2012/13.
So where do we begin? It is our great good fortune that we have lots of success to build on, so many good stories to tell. We will need narratives about our academic, student and professional lives that are truly ours, and certainly not the narrow stereotypes that are sometimes thrown around in the media. This is, of course, what authenticity is really about. "This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man."
I would urge each of you to support Project 2012 as it interacts with your own work, and in coming weeks there will be a range of opportunities for you to make your contribution. The University Executive Board will oversee the whole project, with various aspects of this work led by academic members of the UEB. The project will link with work already underway across the University, and, crucially, will draw in the experiences and insight of students and all our staff so that we reinforce, not replace, our existing strengths and structures.
I will of course continue to work closely with our students, and am greatly encouraged by their own willingness to share in a positive discussion about how we go forward. While they face very real concerns about the future, they are showing great maturity and foresight in maintaining the genuine partnership between students and the University of which we in Sheffield can be rightly proud. For this, they have my profound admiration.
Thank you once again for your continuing support.
Professor Keith Burnett
My thoughts on Sheffield students in the light of the 10 November protest march in London are found in my recent blog post: