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President's weekly update

15 April 2021

I hope you all managed to have some time off over the Easter period, including the two days of extra holidays, though I appreciate that a number of staff had to work over this time.

The government has announced that the remaining undergraduate students (i.e. those who do not have practical and practice-based components as part of their degree) will not return to in-person teaching until at least 17 May. The return will depend not only on infection rates and vaccinations but also on the extent of testing amongst students. This is clearly disappointing as we were hoping to be able to provide some on-campus, in-person teaching to all our students as soon as possible. While we continue to provide high-quality online teaching for those students who cannot yet re-join us on campus, we share their frustration at not being able to come back to Manchester when so many other sectors are reopening.

You have probably seen that just before Easter the government agreed to provide additional funding to UKRI to cover the costs of UK’s association with European Union Horizon funding for one year. This follows significant lobbying including from the Russell Group - I wrote to the Prime Minister. After that, funding for Horizon is still uncertain, but it is hoped that grants will flow into the UK from Horizon. Unfortunately there is still no money to meet the significant cut in Overseas Development Aid (ODA) research funding, including the UKRI’s Global Challenges Research Fund and the Newton Fund which support many international collaborations, particularly in low and middle income countries. The cuts are being delivered in a year which places a major burden on universities such as ours which attach great importance to these partnership projects.

Despite ongoing uncertainty about government funding, we are working hard to secure other sources of funding to support our core goals. Of these philanthropy is an important one which I discussed with Simon Collins, the chair of our Global Leadership Board. I am now planning to hold online meetings with alumni in the UK and across the world since it has not been possible to travel or hold in-person meetings.

At a meeting senior colleagues and I had with some of our researchers from across the University we discussed what would help them to succeed, given finite resource? What should we do to foster a culture of research leadership which is ambitious and builds a team environment and culture? What else can we do to get the best research and impact out of research partnerships with business and other collaborators/sponsors such as government, community, social and cultural organisations? What should we take into account when setting priorities for investment in research? We will now consider how we take the valuable comments from this meeting forward in considering priorities, including through the work of the University Research Strategy Group, led by Colette Fagan, Vice-President for Research.

Senior colleagues and I attended a workshop delivered by Stonewall to consider inclusivity and discuss ways in which we can further promote the sense of belonging of LGBT+ staff. I will be meeting our LGBT+ and our other staff networks and these discussions will feed into the development of our new University EDI action plan, led by Nalin Thakkar, Vice-President for Social Responsibility.

I met with Professor Shitij Kapur who will soon become the new Vice-Chancellor of King’s College, London. Shitij has just moved from Melbourne and has previously worked at Imperial College and the University of Toronto. We discussed the very similar issues facing higher education in the UK, Australia and Canada, where research is not fully funded, home tuition fees are declining in real terms and there is concern over dependence on international student fee income.

At Planning and Resources Committee we were updated on our applications, offers and acceptances for undergraduate and postgraduate students to study in the next academic year. All applications have increased with the exception of EU students, who will now be treated as international and will no longer have access to UK loans. We have been trying to diversify international students, so it is pleasing to see a large increase in applications from India and the USA, though in the latter case from a very low baseline.

The Board of Health Innovation Manchester (HInM) met and focused on digital health which is an area of growing importance for us and more widely. We heard the forward plan for HInM which includes representatives of all Greater Manchester (GM) healthcare leaders and the leaders of Manchester City Council, GM Manchester Combined Authority, and the major GM universities.

Our Board of Governors North Campus Working Group were updated with the process for selecting a commercial partner for the development of the site, known as Innovation District Manchester. We hope to be able to announce the outcome of that process in early June.

I’m sure we have all welcomed the gradual return towards some normality in our everyday lives as there is careful relaxation of the restrictions due to COVID which have impacted on all of our lives. I haven’t been to the pub yet (and in spite of the sunshine it has been a bit chilly to sit outside) but it’s good to know that we can now do a few more of the things we are used to doing.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor