Nancy Rothwell / Global challenges, Manchester solutions

As I write we have more staff and students back on campus than we have been able to for 12 months. There is growing optimism and we hope
to be able to welcome even more students back in the coming weeks.

It is hard to speak of the future without reflecting on the unprecedented year we have all experienced. This was a year in which we have all had to make significant changes to how we live and work, and one, for me, in which the importance of ‘Global challenges, Manchester solutions’ has never been greater. At a time which has challenged us all, I have never been so proud to see the response and remarkable achievements of our staff and students.

Before the pandemic, when looking at improvements which could be made to our teaching and learning experience, we began investing in ways to introduce a more blended approach, exploring what is the best combination of online and in-person teaching for students. Indeed, our strategic plan commits us to ‘increased student choice and flexible learning through combinations of face-to-face, online and blended learning at greater scale’. The rapid move to online teaching last March provided a real, if unplanned, catalyst for progressing this immediately.

Each month that we had to remain online we learnt more about what worked and what didn’t. We will be taking the best of what we have learnt and using it to inform our future approach.

This has led to a significant investment in people and technology to make sure we can deliver a truly blended and flexible offer on campus in the future. Moving online is not without challenges and ultimately needs to work for our students and staff.

While many students are equipped for online working, some are not. To tackle this digital divide we have put in place measures such as providing students with laptops and access to Wi-Fi. We have also opened up thousands of safe study spaces on campus.

We are now factoring the likely effects of changes in ways of working into our long-term planning to make sure we can respond to the needs of our students and staff.

Our commitment to social responsibility has continued to run through everything we do, whether it is our COVID Research Rapid Response Group tackling the health, economic, political and social impacts of the pandemic or the huge response from our students, staff and global alumni community to support volunteering efforts.

Far from standing still, our University has embraced and adapted to the challenge. Universities are often seen as slow-moving, but from my perspective I see that out of an awful situation is coming world-class research that will help to drive recovery and innovation for years to come. Our new Productivity Institute and the Christabel Pankhurst Institute for Health Technology Research and Innovation are already pushing ahead, and soon we will be able to see how ID Manchester can make a difference and deliver the most effective innovation district in Europe.

The drive to provide solutions to key challenges shines through. We continue to be the most targeted university by the UK’s top 100 graduate employers and applications for study next year have increased again. This month, we will be launching a campaign showcasing how our research is helping deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In what has truly been a year of global challenges, I can see Manchester solutions that will help shape our future.

Since writing this foreword, The University of Manchester has been named the world’s number one university in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings. 

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