Annual Senate and Council dinner 2023
As the academic year draws to a close, I want to look back over the last 12 months; to celebrate some of our achievements and those who helped to make them happen.
Working in partnership is one of the core strands of our University strategy, Creating Better Futures. Together. We take our local and regional responsibilities seriously and are proud of our work on the Civic University Partnership this year. We have jointly invested in the Social Value Portal, which enables all partners to build social value and sustainability measures into procurement contracts. Then, in the autumn, the county’s universities will co-host a week-long event for overseas recruitment agents to show what great locations Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are for international students.
The ongoing support of our local partners is key to such engagements. For example, the grant we received through the Loughborough Town Deal supported the development of a fourth pavilion for the SportPark building, allowing us to attract even more sports organisations to Loughborough.
The SportPark extension achieved Passivhaus Accreditation, which is widely regarded as the most challenging energy efficiency and comfort standard in the world. It’s the first Passivhaus development on the University campus and a step towards our goal to decarbonise the University estate to meet our zero-carbon target by 2035.
The Town Deal grant is also helping us to get even more new businesses off the ground through our Business Startup Accelerator Programme. This provides entrepreneurs and early-stage companies in Charnwood with access to training and all-important business connections that will be the springboard for their future development.
We have a good track record in supporting new business ideas. We claimed more than half the awards, including the Innovator of the Year title, at the 2023 Leicestershire Live Innovation Awards, and we currently have a pipeline of six new spin out companies, in areas such as cyber security, sustainable biodiesel production and tissue engineering.
And we’re continuing to think big. Our involvement in Midlands Mindforge Limited – a new investment company established this year by the Midlands Innovation universities – is an exciting development. It aims to raise £250m to accelerate the commercialisation of university spinouts and early-stage businesses and will provide companies with early access to patient capital and create new jobs for the wider Midlands region.
I believe one of our key strengths as a University is to provide our staff and students with a vibrant and inclusive environment in which they can flourish.
The Black in Sport Summit is a great example of this. The Summit was established by four of our students, who wanted to change the narrative around black people in sport. The annual event celebrates the achievements of those working in the industry, showcases career path opportunities for university and school students, and is a platform for important conversations on racial inequality and under representation within sport.
In just two years, the Summit has become a transformative platform for a more inclusive and representative sports landscape. With Sky as its key commercial partner, the 2023 event drew an impressive line-up of speakers – Sir Lewis Hamilton, Team GB swimmer Alice Dearing and Tony Burnett, the CEO of Kick it Out, to name just a few.
Through the Summit, held at the home of European champions West Ham, our students are driving real change within the sports community. I was delighted that those four amazing students were awarded a University Medal at this summer’s degree ceremonies, in recognition of their services to the University and the broader sporting community.
The development of deep partnerships is a key aim of the University Strategy. By working together with others in the region, throughout the UK and around the globe, we achieve more. We make a real difference to people’s lives and we positively impact the world around us.
That’s an ethos also echoed by the UK Young Academy – a collaboration launched this year by some of the country’s most prestigious national organisations, including the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society.
Four of our academics were among the Academy’s founding members – no other university has more. The Academy members all share a passion to improve our world. Together they will inform the policy discussions that will shape local, national and global developments.
Our academics have long been influencing national and international policy. Our Centre for Research in Social Policy – which celebrated its 40th anniversary in July – has built a national and international reputation for high quality applied policy research. The Minimum Income Standard, based on research by the Centre, is widely used in UK policy and practice – to calculate the Living Wage, the Scottish Government’s fuel poverty measure, and cost of raising a child.
Our new Policy Unit, launched in the House of Commons this year, will help us expand this engagement with those who develop legislation to ensure we’re influencing regional, national and global agendas.
In this vein, our academics from the Centre for Renewable Energy Systems Technology and our Centre for Sustainable Transitions: Energy, Environment and Resilience spoke at the World Bank’s global energy conference that was held here on campus recently. It was fantastic for us to host such an influential international event and testament to the standing of our energy-related research and innovation.
I firmly believe universities can be significant contributors to the global sustainability agenda and can be real drivers of positive change.
We are one of the founding members of the new Nature Positive Universities Alliance – a worldwide coalition working together to promote nature on our campuses, in our supply chains and within our cities and communities. Loughborough will also soon be home to a new multi-million-pound national facility to further our understanding of solar cells and other electronic devices that interact with light.
This cutting-edge sustainability research and the way we manage our campus environments were key factors in our recent fantastic result in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. We were the top-ranked university in the UK (and 15th in the world) for the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 – advancing affordable and clean energy. We were also in the top ten of UK universities for Sustainable Development Goal 8, decent work and economic growth.
Supporting global development and enhancing our international engagement are cornerstones of our strategy.
This year, in response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, we signed an agreement with the Ukrainian Global University to help students and researchers continue their studies and be ready to support Ukraine’s post-war recovery.
And our partnerships are already starting to make a tangible difference.
We have welcomed our first Ukraine Academic Fellow to the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. Three Doctoral Researchers began PhDs with us in October, having received one of our Ukraine scholarships. And staff and students from the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering worked with Ukrainian students and school-leavers on a project to develop the students’ skills and knowledge that will be needed for the post-war reconstruction of their cities.
The delivery of academic programmes that are the stepping stones to students’ future success is also at the heart of our new collaboration with Cambridge Education Group. In the autumn we will welcome our initial cohort of around 300 international students to the campus as part of this new partnership. It’s an exciting development that will make our community more internationally diverse and allow us to offer a more culturally enriching experience for everyone here.
This year I also embarked on my first overseas trips as Vice-Chancellor.
In India we reinforced our long-standing links with the Indian Institutes of Technology and laid the foundations for exciting new research, innovation and education links.
For instance, we’re now exploring the development of a Loughborough-led Indo-UK Centre for Doctoral Training. This would be the first of its kind and a blueprint for future collaborative endeavours between institutions in the UK and India.
Our visit to the Middle East enabled us to explore opportunities around sport in Saudi Arabia and Qatar and potential links with Princess Nourah University, the largest women’s university in the world.
In the US I met colleagues at MIT to expand the collaboration between our institutions, building on the event we co-hosted with the MIT Sloan School of Management to explore the emergence and potential applications of the metaverse. At the University of Oregon, we discussed research initiatives that would harness sport as a vehicle for positive change.
I was also able to meet the team from the NFL. Just last month Emmanuel Okoye graduated from the Loughborough-based NFL Academy to play top-flight college football with the University of Tennessee. I hope we and Loughborough College, our partner in this venture, will see many more of our NFL Academy students carve out a future in American football.
Closer to home, Loughborough teams have enjoyed another outstanding year.
Last month, for example, Loughborough sealed the BUCS Super Rugby league title for the first time in our history, with an unbeaten home record, which helped to ensure we retained the BUCS Championship title for the 42nd successive year.
Loughborough Lightning also won their second Netball Super League title at the Copper Box Arena in London.
These are only a few of the achievements, successes and developments from the last 12 months. But I hope it’s made you feel proud of our university.
We have begun to make real progress against our Strategy. We have made a number of key senior appointments, including six Associate Pro Vice-Chancellors to focus on our strategic themes, twelve Special Envoys to lead on work in our six main international regions, and a Pro Vice-Chancellor for Sport – the first post of its kind in the UK. Our emerging core plan will also give us the clear direction of how we will deliver the strategic vision.
I’m very much looking forward to what the next year will bring.
Opinions and comment from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Jennings