From the Vice-Chancellor – January 2023
In my first newsletter of 2023: Funding for our DIGILabs initiative, the outcomes of the Staff Survey, launch of the Policy Unit, the challenges still faced by LGBT+ people, the inaugural King’s New Year Honours, and the UK Young Academy.
DIGILabs funding award
Just before Christmas, the Office for Students, the independent regulator of higher education in England, announced its allocation of a multi-million pound funding pot to support investment in new buildings, facilities and equipment. I was delighted that Loughborough is to receive £5.8m, the maximum amount possible through this process, for our DIGILabs bid. Thank you to Professor Rachel Thomson for leading the bid, and to all those involved in its preparation.
The new suite of DIGILabs will enable our students to develop the skills and knowledge to become future-fit for the world of work where digital skills, data analytics, virtual and augmented reality play a key part. The four labs – focused on extended reality learning; 3D data capture and visualisation; robotics; and simulation, modelling and artificial intelligence – will be based in refurbished existing spaces across the campus.
The development of the DIGILabs, which is part of our strategic aim and the emerging core plan for Education and Student Experience, will transform our teaching over the next few years, ensuring that our students and graduates are able to become familiar with the latest technologies and new ways of learning and working.
I look forward to watching the labs’ development and seeing how both our staff and students are able to utilise these new technologies to enhance their teaching and learning and develop new ideas.
Staff experience survey
Towards the end of last year we ran a staff survey to help us gain a better understanding of your experience at Loughborough. The survey covered a number of key areas, such as wellbeing, recognition, leadership, EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) and overall job satisfaction. We had a response rate of 66%, which was really pleasing. Thank you to all those who took the time to complete the survey and give us your feedback.
We have now received the results from People Insight, the external consultancy that managed the survey on our behalf. As well as providing us with a picture of Loughborough, we’ve also been able to benchmark our results on some of the questions against 38 other UK universities, providing us with insight into how our experience compares to other institutions.
The results are broadly encouraging, particularly when we compare our data with the other universities’ results in the benchmark group. The overall engagement score for Loughborough, which measures how engaged staff feel with the University, is 75%, which is slightly higher than the sector benchmark of 73%. This suggests that you feel trusted to get on with your job, that you are clear about how your work contributes to the University’s success, and that you care about the future of the University. Your feedback also shows, overwhelmingly, that you think your colleagues and the collaboration between teams and individuals are the best things about working here.
It is also clear that there are areas where further work is needed – these include reward and recognition, and support for your wellbeing.
The School Deans and Professional Services Directors will be sharing the results of the survey over the coming month and we’ll be developing a set of actions, both at University and at School and Service levels, to address the feedback you’ve shared. I will provide updates over the coming months.
On a final note, I’m delighted to confirm that 2,327 trees have been planted a result of this survey through a partnership with Eden Rainforest Projects. Thank you again for taking the time to complete the survey. Your feedback will help us continue to develop and improve our employee experience.
Policy unit launch
Universities are increasingly being asked to show the impact of their research; what might change as a result of the work and how it could benefit society. There are many types of impact, one of which being how research can influence and even bring about change in regional and national policy or legislation.
This month, the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) published a new report, for which I wrote the foreword, looking at the interaction between policymakers and researchers. Based on interviews with former Ministers, special advisers and officials, the report considers common errors and how researchers and policymakers can work together more effectively.
We have some excellent examples of how Loughborough’s research is influencing national policy. The work of our Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) on the Minimum Income Standard, for example, has informed the Scottish Government’s spending to reduce fuel poverty; and research by academics in the School of Design and Creative Arts into the blind spots caused by vehicle design features has underpinned the five-star rating scheme adopted as part of Transport for London’s Vision Zero agenda to eradicate deaths and serious injuries from the capital’s streets.
To help us to augment, better coordinate and amplify our engagement with those involved in policy and legislation development we have established the University Policy Unit. The Unit will support our researchers and academics in engaging with key opinion formers, such as politicians and their advisors, think tanks, research institutes, advocacy groups and trade associations. As well as internal events and support activities, the Unit will be running round-tables and other briefing sessions with senior policy stakeholders, using Loughborough research to showcase the policy impact of our work and to influence political debate. This short video from Professor Dan Parsons, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, explains a little more.
I know some of you will be used to engaging with policymakers and influencers; for others this will be a new area to explore. The Unit’s website has a wealth of resources to guide you, please do take a look; and if you would like to discuss how your work might be able to influence policy and government thinking, don’t hesitate to contact the Policy Unit team – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supporting the LGBT+ community
Just before the Christmas vacation I posted a blog on our Equity, Diversity and Inclusion site to reflect on the challenges still faced by the LGBT+ communities. I was prompted to write following this winter’s Fifa World Cup, with tournament host Qatar being widely criticised over its oppressive laws and treatment of LGBT+ people.
However, in my blog I also reflect on the hostility closer to home. The creation of a rainbow installation on our Loughborough campus, for instance, prompted a flurry of hurtful comments on social media, and we have had anti-LGBT+ vandalism on our campus, and incidents of anti-LGBT+ targeted bullying within our student community.
As I said in my blog, this is completely unacceptable. Everyone is welcome here and everyone should be valued and accepted. Such inclusion and belonging are necessary to achieve our ambitions as an institution and to create a vibrant University community.
At the end of my blog I’ve provided links to some of the reading that has helped me as I try to better understand the challenges faced by LGBT+ people. I’d encourage you all to take a look through them. Learning makes us all better, and we must all continue to educate ourselves.
King’s New Year’s Honours
National and international honours and awards mark people’s outstanding achievements and the contributions they make to society or their field of work. In the first of the New Year Honours from King Charles III, I was delighted to see that alumni and others from the Loughborough community had been recognised.
Alumna Jade Clarke was awarded an MBE for services to netball. Jade has made 195 appearances for England, making her the most-capped netball player in the country’s history. She was part of the historic team to win Gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia which also secured the side a prestigious Team of the Year award at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards.
Loughborough athlete Ellen White also received an MBE for services to association football. Ellen is England Women’s top goal scorer having scored 52 goals for her country and helped the Lionesses secure victory as European champions in July 2022.
Alumna Hilary Marshall, the former Treasurer of the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians, was awarded a British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to libraries.
Paul Taylor, FREng, and Professor David Price, who are both Lay Members of University Council, the senior governing body of the University, were named Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for public service and OBE for services to science and to research respectively. Until recently, Paul was a Science and Technology Adviser for the Ministry of Defence. David recently stepped down as Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation and Global Engagement) at University College London, having held the position for 15 years.
Dr Martin Read CBE, who received an honorary degree from Loughborough in 2000, was awarded a Knighthood for his services to industry and for public and voluntary service. Martin is the Chair of Wincanton plc and the UK Government’s Senior Salaries Review Body.
Not only do such awards bring honour to the recipients, they also bring reflected prestige to the University and help to raise our reputation. I am keen that we maximise opportunities to nominate Loughborough-linked people for key national and international awards. If you think someone would be deserving of such recognition, please email Alison Barlow or Ally McDonald Alonso.
UK Young Academy
This month it was announced that four Loughborough academics were among the founding members of the new UK Young Academy – a network of early career researchers and professionals established to help tackle local and global issues and promote meaningful change.
Part of the global Young Academy movement, the UK Young Academy is a collaborative endeavour involving some of the country’s most prestigious national organisations including the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.
Dr Ana Blanco Alvarez (Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering), Dr Anthony Kevins (Social Sciences and Humanities), Dr Kinga Morsanyi (Science) and Dr Dominic Willmott (Social Sciences and Humanities) will have the opportunity to help shape the strategy and focus of this new organisation, based on areas that matter to them. They will be able to inform local and global policy discussions and find innovative solutions to the challenges facing societies now and in the future.
Membership of the UK Young Academy is a real honour, both for those directly involved and for the University. With four appointments, we can proudly say that Loughborough is now home to more UK Young Academy members than any other university.
The application process was extremely rigorous and I would like to thank all those involved in the delivery of the intensive mentoring and training programme for those who wished to make an application. It is wonderful to see the quality of our staff recognised in this way, and I am sure you will join me in congratulating them all on their selection to this notable new Academy.
Opinions and comment from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Jennings