Principal's Report for year ended 31 July 2020

Principal's Report for the year ended 31 July 2020

This year was always set to be one of change and development at QMU, following the retirement of Professor Petra Wend, my succeeding her, our plans to refresh our strategy, and Brexit. But none of us could have anticipated the level of change that we have witnessed over the last few months. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought immense disruption and challenges. But it has also brought out the best in QMU, fostering within the University a deepened sense of purpose and community spirit as well as a determination to continue to function and to support our students and staff.

While we faced a challenging financial target for 2019/20, our student numbers this year have been higher than planned thanks to carefully considered and concerted work across the University. COVID-19 certainly tested, and continues to test, our finances and our resilience, but we have fared better than we might have expected through the pandemic so far.

Excellent cross-university working, creative approaches to problem solving and the strong interest in our recently refreshed course portfolio have all contributed to this. When I joined the University in October 2019, I was keen to build and reinforce our collective sense of ambition and confidence in meeting the challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

Over the autumn and early winter, staff across the University worked with me and the Senior Leadership Team to refresh our strategy, which we launched in early 2020. Our Strategic Plan 2020-2025 sets out how we will help to create a better society through teaching, learning and innovation and holds true to the ethos of social justice upon which this institution was founded. It also demonstrates how we will contribute to society’s recovery following COVID-19.

When COVID forced us to move our operations online in the spring, we did everything possible to continue to deliver the education and support that our students need and deserve, whilst also making sure that we supported our staff. Indeed throughout the pandemic, I have been deeply impressed by the positivity, commitment and creativity of our staff as they adapted to the new (and ever evolving) situation. As you would expect given our focus on social justice and our strength in health sciences, we have been playing our full part in the response to the pandemic. Our staff and students have been delivering services in the NHS and social care at this time of unprecedented need; our academic experts have shaped COVID-related policy development; and right across our academic specialisms, students, staff and graduates have been responding to the pandemic through volunteering and fundraising. And they stand ready, of course, to support the rebuilding efforts.

While we have adapted our operations because of the pandemic, we have continued to deliver research and knowledge exchange projects and engage with partnership initiatives, albeit we have had to put some projects on hold. In addition to continuing with pre-existing research and knowledge exchange work as far as possible, we have been successful in two bids to the Scottish Government for coronavirus-related research. In one of these projects, we are exploring the impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on loneliness amongst asylum seekers and refugees. The other is focused on supporting recovery from illness experienced in isolation due to a pandemic. Our Institute for Global Health and Development, alongside six other universities leading in global health research, has contributed to COVID-19 guidance for health ministries around the world, following a request from the UK Department for International Development and the National Institute for Health

One positive aspect of the response to the pandemic has been a strengthened commitment to partnership across higher education and well beyond. We have worked closely with local and national partners in our preparation for the current academic year, and building on our existing college partnerships, we have in this year expanded the range of courses delivered through such partners. The most recent example is our new BA (Hons) Creative Enterprise, delivered through Fife College. Internationally, the pandemic has underlined the importance of our international inter-connectedness, and our solidarity with the international partners with whom we deliver our courses across the world.

Having successfully launched our initial teacher education programmes in 2019, in 2020 we launched a degree in Paramedic Science. Run in partnership with the Scottish Ambulance Service, this new BSc Paramedic Science programme reflects the requirement that all paramedics entering the profession from 2021 must have a degree. Looking beyond COVID, Brexit remains a real challenge and cause for concern. We have, though, been planning carefully for this, and, as events unfold, we are as well prepared as it is possible to be in the circumstances.

One positive development on the international front, however, has been the re-instatement of post-study work visas for international students, through the new Graduate Route. This makes make study in the UK more attractive to international students than it has been since a similar scheme was withdrawn in 2012. Already we are seeing renewed interest from international markets.

Whilst there are real challenges ahead in recovering from the significant loss of income directly resulting from the pandemic and the outlook for public finances looks difficult, there are a number of reasons to be positive about the future of QMU. It will not be easy; difficult issues lie ahead, but our academic portfolio, our expertise and our ability to adapt mean we are well positioned to respond to the needs of communities in Scotland, the UK and countries around the world. We have the potential to emerge with a stronger than ever sense of how we can help to create a better society through education, research, innovation and partnership and how we can provide a supportive and creative learning environment in which students thrive.

With our focus on addressing the issues facing society through education and research, and our strong social justice ethos, we look forward to playing our part as society re-adjusts and re-calibrates beyond the pandemic.

Sir Paul Grice
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
February 2021