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Planning for a sustainable future: update from Mark Fellowes

Professor Mark Fellowes


Earlier this year, the new University Strategy was agreed – a strategy that has been built on wide engagement and input from colleagues across the University. Our strategy rests on four pillars – Community, Sustainability, Engagement and Excellence – which outline the ambitions that should underpin any institution with the history and global impact of a university like ours.

COVID-19 has changed many things. We work differently, we teach differently, we engage differently. Once the threat of COVID recedes, we will undoubtedly face national and international economic challenges and social uncertainty. Delivering our strategy must acknowledge these realities, taking the positives where we can and mitigating the threats where we can’t.  

In delivering our strategy, we have focused on two key principles. The first is that we must learn from previous change programmes, ensuring that colleagues have multiple opportunities to engage with projects that change the way we do things. My video update on 6 October was a part of this effort, as is the sharing of this high-level Strategy implementation proposal. I would like you to reflect on the proposals and help us refine our approach.

Your Head of School or Function will be contacting you soon to schedule a conversation about this, and I would request you to read the proposal document, watch the video and participate in your School or Function session.

As the plans develop, we will continue to engage and will use the new Planning and Change Board to ensure that our business cases for change are robust and the plans remain integrated as an over-arching programme for delivering the University Strategy. Second, the proposals are built on making best use of our resources, rather than by focusing on redundancies or closure of academic units as a way of making savings.

Instead we:


  • Make better use of our buildings by moving towards a model of shared offices, where flexible working is available if desired, supported by a new digital strategy that provides the equipment and infrastructure required to enable this way of working. This will free up a substantial amount of space, saving on maintenance costs and allowing us increase income by letting space and critically, by allowing us to grow student numbers. As we come out of the demographic dip and see a rapid rise in demand for HE, we need to be positioned so that we can take advantage of the coming opportunity for growth.
  • Make better use of our financial resources by moving to an organisational model that encourages long-term, integrated strategic thinking. By refining our resource allocation models, and working with Schools and Functions in a rolling programme of engagement that focuses on the long-term ambitions of each and encourages better ways of working together, we aim to avoid the existential challenges that units sometimes face, by planning for the long-term and supporting evolutionary change.
  • Review our teaching portfolio, to ensure that we reduce the administrative and organisational burden that those supporting our students and our teaching programmes, while continuing to improve how we teach. To achieve this we need to consider reducing assessment loads, numbers of modules and programmes, while considering embedding use of blended learning and thinking through the timing of teaching and assessment across the academic year. Together, these help reduce workloads, improve student experience, and combines with better use of our estate to enable growth in student numbers, an opportunity which is limited by our ability to timetable additional classes.
  • Finally, and integrating with an outcome from Phase 1 discussions with UCU and the Staff Forum, and also discussions about how we work, we need to consider workloads and expectations.


Your input in developing these proposals is very important. Please make time to attend the engagement sessions in your Schools and Functions and help learn from your experience and insight.

We will be seeking the University Council’s approval in November to the proposed package of change initiatives. In the past year we have developed new change governance processes, and each component project will be required to follow the relevant stages of approval and engagement before being implemented. These processes will ensure that relevant colleagues and students are engaged in shaping the final proposals for each project in the most effective way, that there is rigorous oversight by relevant University committees of the financial and strategic business case for each fully developed project, and importantly that consideration is given to the required resource and appropriate phasing of the proposals in relation to our wider portfolio of change initiatives, including work responding to the current Covid-19 challenges. This will result in increased visibility, transparency and understanding of the impact of our change initiatives as we deliver our Strategy.

In times of challenge we cannot ignore the dangers, nor can we solve them with silver bullets. Instead we must acknowledge them, ensure that the things we can control are well-managed, and that we have the capacity to absorb the things we can’t. This plan is not glossy nor over-ambitious and it doesn’t involve spending money we don’t have. It aims to make the best use of our skills and resources, and is focused on delivering a Strategy built on pride in our achievements and our ambition for the future.


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