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Start of Term message from Vice-Chancellor Sir David Bell

Start of term message autumn 2016


At the start of the 2016-17 academic year, I want to take the opportunity to update you on recent developments and bring to your attention some of the priorities in the term ahead.

Student Recruitment

Following a smooth and successful arrivals weekend, I am absolutely delighted that we have around 4,200 undergraduate students enrolling for this academic year. That is 300 more than last year, representing a 7% increase on 2015 compared to a sector increase of 1%. Undoubtedly, this success is down to colleagues throughout the University who have worked hard to exceed our targets again this year. 

It is a bit early to give the final picture on postgraduate recruitment. We should be able to confirm these numbers in the next month or so, but I know that considerable effort has gone into maintaining our year-on-year position. Thank you for all that you have done to provide Reading with such a great intake in these ever-more competitive times.

I remain convinced that our award-winning Open Day experience plays an integral part in our recruitment process. So attention now turns to our Open Days on the first two weekends in October. Again, I recognise how much time and effort (as well as weekend working) on the part of both academic and professional staff goes into making these days so successful. Thank you in advance to everyone for their contribution.

Global world rankings 

We have maintained our 200 worldwide position in the latest Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2016-17. This firmly places us in the top 1% of more than 20,000 universities around the world.

The results released yesterday rank Reading 192nd worldwide meaning that, in five of the last six years, we have been ranked in the top 200 universities worldwide. The University is also 32nd in the UK out of 91 institutions.  The ranking increased the number of global universities this year to 980 from 800 last year – showing that we continue to compete in a tough global market. 

Earlier this month, we achieved our second-highest ever ranking in the QS World University Rankings published. Reading is ranked 175th overall out of over 4,300 considered by the compiler in the world and 28th out of 73 UK institutes.

Global reach

We continue to grow as a global institution and two weeks ago, Vincenzo Raimo, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement), and I spent four days in China – visiting four cities in four days.

China is important to the University of Reading. Last year, 6% (604 students) of the University’s newly enrolled full-degree, international fee-paying students came from China. In addition, we have two major teaching partnerships with Chinese universities - NUIST in Nanjing and the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT).

Highlights of our trip included well-attended alumni events in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing. In Beijing, we also awarded the President of BIT, Professor Haiyan Hu, an honorary DSc

At NUIST – where we have the Reading Academy - we signed two important agreements. One was an application to the Chinese Ministry of Education to include Meteorology and Applied English Language in our suite of joint programmes. The other was a general Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) expressing a desire to develop our collaboration beyond the Academy to include further research collaboration and new opportunities for postgraduate students.

Enzo Raimo continues to be very active in building our relationships with China. He is back out in China this week as part of a UK delegation which includes Higher Education Minister, Jo Johnson MP. In a coup for Reading, our partnership with NUIST will be highlighted by the Minister in a signing ceremony with Chinese officials. 

Sector changes

One of my most important objectives is to ensure that the University of Reading is actively engaged externally. I want our interests to be represented nationally so that we are well-equipped for the changes ahead. This will be an important theme in my all-staff talks coming up later in the term. A few highlights follow.

Teaching Excellence Framework

In a recent letter to RUSU, the University Executive Board (UEB) set out its position on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). We strongly agree with the underlying principle of the TEF to improve the student experience by ensuring that teaching in universities is of the highest standard. But we also recognise that there is further work to do to ensure that TEF is fit for purpose. Read more including our Frequently Asked Questions.


Lord Stern of Brentford was recently asked to undertake a review of the Research Excellence Framework (REF). He published his report, Building on success and learning from experience, in late July. Generally, his conclusions have been welcomed in the sector, including here at Reading. We now await the formal consultation paper on the next REF which is likely to appear later in the year or early in 2017.

We continue to perform strongly in generating research income. We had an excellent year in 2015-16 as our income topped £40m for only the second time in our history. We continue to be in the top 200 of universities world-wide which, in part, reflects our research reputation and outputs. 

Universities and schools

The recently published Green Paper, Schools that work for everyone, will undoubtedly provoke debate in the higher education sector. One proposal is for universities to establish a new school or sponsor an academy in the state system as a condition of being allowed to charge higher fees. 

While I share the Government’s ambition for universities to work with schools (as we do already through outreach work and partnerships with a number of institutions including the University Technical College in Reading), we have to be careful that the proposal is not seen as deeply patronising to schools and school leaders. It is also questionable that universities have the capability and capacity to do this work. I suspect too that linking fee increases to work in schools, and not in universities, may prove to be controversial.

Embedding change

We have undergone a period of considerable change recently. So our focus must be on embedding different ways of working in the newly-configured functions and services. UEB will continue to take a keen interest in how our support services are operating with regular discussion at our board meetings. For my part, I am also the UEB sponsor for Executive Support, and I will help resolve any issues that may arise through the transition to a new support service.

Communications and all-staff briefing sessions 

As Vice-Chancellor, I continue to meet with as many colleagues as I can, attending team meetings, undertaking on-campus visits and hosting many events, both here and elsewhere. As I mentioned above, I am also running a number of all-staff briefings (see the staff portal for dates and times). 

Like everyone else, I have a very busy diary. But if you give me some notice, you will always find that I am happy and willing to attend your meeting or event.

In conclusion, let me thank you for all that you do to ensure that we continue to thrive as a university.  I wish you a successful term and year ahead.

Kind regards.


Sir David Bell KCB


University of Reading

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