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Update from Acting Vice-Chancellor

Acting Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort has this morning written to all staff with an update on key developments at the University of Reading.

With the UCAS deadline now passed, I am in the position to update you on our undergraduate applications and what this means for us as University.  I am disappointed to have to report that our applications are significantly down from both UK/EU and overseas prospects as compared to the same time last year. For completeness, a table showing the applications on a School by School basis can be found on the Global Recruitment and Admissions internal webpages.

Across the sector, undergraduate applications are also down by a small percentage, as are applications to our closest six competitors. Some of the University of Reading’s decline will be down to the demographic dip, but we consider our relatively poor league table ranking, attributable to our recent National Student Survey results, as the main reason for this decline in applications. Quite simply, we are facing an increasingly challenging recruitment situation and financial position as a result.

As those colleagues who have attended my meetings with Schools and Functions will be aware, the University Executive Board has recommended to Council that we now look to focus more strongly on the quality of our teaching & learning and research.

Quality means maintaining our entry tariffs and ensuring that we provide an excellent academic and wider student experience by listening to the feedback students have provided and acting on it.  We need to take steps now to ensure that we can meet the needs and preferences of our current and prospective students so that, when numbers of university-age students rise significantly from 2022, we are in a stronger position to compete.

Quality also means that Schools and disciplines must continue to deliver the highest-quality teaching and research and the best possible TEF and REF returns. This means that how we use time and money may need to be redistributed, to support the very best and promising researchers and to ensure that the student experience is improved.  

In the meantime, the University now faces a very challenging period ahead and difficult decisions will have to be taken to ensure our financial sustainability. The voluntary redundancy scheme will play an important role in returning Schools and Functions to positions of financial sustainability, and the scheme is designed to minimise the need for compulsory redundancies wherever possible.

This will only be achieved if colleagues across the institution – particularly in those Schools facing the greatest student recruitment shortfalls – engage fully with the scheme. Further information can be obtained through an informal conversation with your line manager or HR colleague, or by contacting VR queries. I want to make it completely clear that all conversations and applications for voluntary redundancy are being reviewed fairly and will not, in any way, be seen to undermine anyone’s commitment to the University.

The voluntary redundancy option will not be appropriate for everyone, but there may be other ways that fit with your own requirements, including phased or early retirement, reduced hours or other revised working arrangements that allow you to balance your work with other commitments. If these options are attractive to you, I would encourage you to start a discussion with your manager and consider how more flexible arrangements might work for you.

I am well aware that these are unsettling times that will leave many of you feeling uncertain. So I want to finish by emphasising that, despite these challenges and the difficult decisions ahead, we remain a respected institution with excellent teaching and research. The reason for making these changes now, and talking about our strategy openly and honestly, is to prepare our institution for the future. We all work in higher education because we are committed to our ability to transform lives through our teaching and research. That is most certainly true for me, and I feel confident that the University can weather the current challenges and meet the future with confidence.

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