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From the Vice-Chancellor – March 2024

28 March 2024

8 mins

Vice-Chancellor Professor Nick Jennings in front of stained glass windows in Hazlerigg Building.

In my March newsletter: New Doctoral Training Centres, BUCS Big Wednesday, International Women’s Day, the Leicestershire Innovation Awards, the Vibrant and Inclusive Communities ambassadors, and the new brand campaign.

Students and staff working in an engineering lab.

New Centres for Doctoral Training announced

This month UK Research and Innovation announced more than £1 billion of investment in new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), which train researchers to address science-related problems for the benefit of society. I am delighted that Loughborough will lead the £20 million EPSRC CDT in Engineering Hydrogen Net Zero (EnerHy) and will be a partner in a further two: Offshore Wind Energy Sustainability and Resilience and Digital Transformation of Metals Industry

Led by Dani Strickland, Professor of Electrical Power Engineering, EnerHy has been developed in partnership with Cranfield and Strathclyde universities and more than 60 industry and civic partners. EnerHy will allow us to expand our existing research and develop the skilled workforce needed to enable rapid growth in green hydrogen-related technology.  

The CDT is also part of our ambitions for The Hydrogen Works – a strategic consortium led by Loughborough to drive skills, innovation and productivity to create a hydrogen superpower in the East Midlands.

The consortium is a partnership with the East Midlands Freeport and East Midlands Hydrogen, which will bring together academic experts and industry partners to make a significant contribution to realising the role that hydrogen will play in a sustainable future. It will drive an expansion of Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park that will co locate a skilled ecosystem alongside incubation and manufacturing, and research and innovation. It will also provide a skills exchange with the East Midlands Institute of Technology Future Energy Skills Hub, which aims to create the advanced workforce in clean energy needed by industry. 

Earlier this year, we were also announced as a partner in the Natural Environment Research Council CDT in Flood Risk. These CDTs show how we are collaborating in areas of research that have real impact to society.

The University has also launched a new research cluster in Model Based Systems Engineering which will receive funding direct from industry for PhD studentships, after being identified as the leading university in this emerging area.

This new funding equates to around 100 new Doctoral Researchers over the course of the respective programmes and a £30M investment in these research areas.

Loughborough basketball players lifting a trophy and celebrating.

Loughborough hosts BUCS Big Wednesday

Campus was the epicentre of student sport this month when the University hosted BUCS (British Universities and Colleges Sport) Big Wednesday. The event saw more than 2,000 student athletes here, with their coaches and performance support staff, to compete in 57 finals across 16 sports, drawing a crowd of almost 2,500 spectators.  

BUCS showcases the highest level of university sport, and Loughborough has been crowned overall champions for the last 42 years. It was fitting, therefore, for us to host the landmark event again this year, as we shall for the next two years. 

By the end of the event, Loughborough had secured victories in men’s and women’s badminton, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s tennis, women’s netball and women’s football. 

Hosting an event of this magnitude is a significant undertaking and its success is testament to colleagues across the University, the athletes, coaches, officials and support staff who were part of the competition, and more than 100 student volunteers from the University’s Coach and Volunteer Academy (CVA).

This event truly embodied our strategic aim of Sporting Excellence and Opportunity.

Grey background with purple and blue blobs. Text reads 'International Women's Day' and 'MAIA'.

Celebrating International Women’s Day

This month we marked the annual International Women’s Day, with a range of events and stories to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and to make a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. The event is an opportunity to mark progress made but also to highlight the erosion of women’s rights around the world, as well as the effects of gender violence and abuse. 

Our dedicated webpage features all the events run by both the staff and student networks, as well as inspiring stories of women at Loughborough. This year, Loughborough Sport ran a series of events under the EmpowerHer banner, to provide opportunities for women and non-binary students and staff to conquer barriers to physical activity in environments where they can feel comfortable and supported.

The theme of this year’s event was inclusion, which resonates very clearly with our strategic theme of Vibrant and Inclusive Communities. Inclusion is a fundamental principle that should be woven into the fabric of our society. It is about ensuring that every voice is heard, every perspective is valued, and every individual is given the opportunity to thrive.

The University's winners and finalists with VC Professor Nick Jennings.

Three awards for Loughborough at innovation event

This month the University hosted the Leicestershire Innovation Awards at SportPark Pavilion 4 – the first building on campus, and one of just a handful in the UK, to have attained Passivhaus Sustainability status.  

A record number of entries were made to this year’s event, with almost 100 nominations submitted, and I was delighted to see Loughborough come home with three awards. Two of the University’s winners were Loughborough graduate start-ups – both launched from LUinc., the University’s incubator on Loughborough University Science and Enterprise Park (LUSEP).  

Moti Me, a physiotherapy-focused product to help children with disabilities, won the Innovation in Sport, Wellbeing and Accessibility category. The company was founded in 2021 by Katie Michaels, an Industrial Design and Technology graduate.  

The Bug Factory, which was set up by Thomas Constant, who graduated from Industrial Design and Technology, received the Innovation in Food and Drink award. Thomas has created scalable, accessible and sustainable insect protein.

The third award, in the Innovation in STEM industries category, recognises the University’s pioneering work in the field of green energy. A team led by Professor Dani Strickland has developed the world’s first lead-acid battery-electrolyser, a low-cost system that makes it viable to use excess renewable energy to produce hydrogen gas. The innovation is being accelerated for use in renewable energy-powered microgrids that support the world’s poorest communities that have no access to electricity or clean cooking.

Our success at the awards is testament to the breadth of innovation among our staff and students. Congratulations to all the commended finalists and winners who showed real ingenuity and determination in addressing some of today’s most pressing challenges.

Vibrant and Inclusive Communities ambassadors appointed

Politics students Ghanim and Ahmad Muhammad Al-Muftah have been appointed as the University’s ambassadors for the Vibrant and Inclusive Communities strategic theme.

The theme ambassadors will help to enhance the University’s reputation and profile by acting as advocates for the University’s activities and achievements through their networks. 

Ghanim and Ahmad will work closely with the theme’s Associate Pro Vice-Chancellors, Professor Rebecca Cain and Professor Emily Keightley. 

Ghanim Muhammad Al-Muftah is a Qatari brand ambassador, goodwill ambassador and entrepreneur. He was appointed an ambassador for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and appeared alongside the US actor Morgan Freeman at the event’s opening ceremony.  More recently he attended the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup and attended the gala dinner alongside the FIFA President, Gianna Infantino, and Sheikh Rashid Al Nuaimi, President of the United Arab Emirates Football Association. Ghanim, who was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a disorder that impairs the development of the lower spine, is supported by his brother Ahmad.

Ghanim and Ahmad join alumnus Steve Varley who was named the ambassador for the Climate Change and Net Zero strategic theme in December 2023. 

VC Professor Nick Jennings in front of a purple background.

The World Can’t Wait campaign is launched

Our new brand campaign – to position ourselves as a bold, ambitious university that seeks to make change for a better world – has now been launched. You may have noticed the billboards and banners that have been put up on campus on the end of the Schofield Building and at the two main entrances to campus. 

The campaign began in earnest mid-month with an advertisement in the Times Higher Education – an open letter from me asking the sector to collectively take a stand and change the narrative that’s currently so damaging to higher education. In my accompanying thought leadership article, I outline why the UK’s universities need to turn the tide by showcasing the wide-ranging impact we have on individuals, regions and countries worldwide. 

The brand campaign has emerged from Project Reputation, one of the six strategic enabling projects. Project Reputation aims to distil and project our distinctive strengths and enhancing our reputation as a leading university.

Universities are operating in a very challenging environment at the moment. If we are to be financially secure and deliver value for our students and academic partners, research collaborators and policy makers, we all need to show the benefits that universities bring.

Vice-Chancellor's Communications

Opinions and comment from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nick Jennings

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