As the summer period approaches and many of us anticipate a well-deserved break, we should also look back with a great sense of pride at the strides taken by the University and our achievements over the last academic year.
2020-21 was a year during which we received unprecedented external recognition of our distinctive Strathclyde approach to teaching, research and innovation. Everyone in the Strathclyde community rightfully assumed association with these independent acknowledgements and joined in the University’s celebrations.
Our run of awards began in September, as Strathclyde was named the Sunday Times Good University Guide, Scottish University of the Year for 2020, with the judges describing us as “a university on the up”, which very much reflects the Strathclyde we know and recognise. Our distinctive approach marked us out in Scotland and our deep commitment to collaboration and innovation were also recognised specifically.
The high point came two months later when we were named Times Higher UK University of the Year for the second time – the first university to achieve this. This prestigious accolade was awarded in recognition of our overall strategy of engaging with business, industry and government, investing in students and developing socially progressive policies. We were described as having an 'unconventional institutional mind set' and that is something I think we can all recognise in our place as the Strathclyde Way.
That same evening last November, in recognition of our socially progressive mission, the University also won the award for Widening Participation Outreach Initiative for Breaking Barriers. This is a life-changing programme which helps young people with a learning disability gain a university qualification and work experience. The impact it has made to the lives of the participants and their families is both moving and humbling.
Moreover, our sector-leading research and policy work was recognised later in November, when we were awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for excellence in energy innovation. Queen’s Anniversary Prizes recognise world-class excellence and achievement at academic institutions and Strathclyde’s long-standing leadership in energy research was the focus of the prize. I was delighted to receive the award on behalf of the University from Prince Charles at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace, attended by our Chancellor, senior academics and our students.
All of these awards were achieved by the collective efforts of the entire Strathclyde community and reflect our strength across all of our strategic objectives in teaching, research, innovation and socially progressive impacts. In any year, just one of these awards would be worthy of celebration and would mark the year out as significant and memorable. However, to be recognised in all four shows exceptional progress across the breadth of our activity.
These successes gave the University a fantastic platform to move to the next stage of our development with the launch of Vision 2025 in February. In a packed Barony Hall, I was proud to outline the progress made by Strathclyde over the previous five years and to set out the goals and aims of our leading international technological university towards 2025. It was incredibly motivating to hear the voices of our staff and students tell us what Strathclyde means to them, and the speakers on the day – recent graduate Marnie McKay and Breaking Barriers student Michael Higgins – were particularly inspiring.
Adding to this has been the production of our Strathclyde People Strategy which places staff at the heart of our plans and recognises that their collective talents, effort and commitment will be central to the delivery of our University’s ambitions.
Our strengths and our values were called upon like never before as we faced the challenges of COVID-19.
Our response to the pandemic has been truly exceptional – one where colleagues came together and our values shone through. Our relentless focus on safety and health, the student experience and the wellbeing of our colleagues has been the hallmark of the past months. The contributions we have made to the national efforts to fight the pandemic have been outstanding and were recognised publicly by the First Minister and by the UK’s Chief Scientist.
Despite the challenges since the lockdown began, I know we have continued to provide the highest quality teaching, ground-breaking research and collaborative innovation in a socially progressive setting.
With the Scottish Government making further announcements yesterday on the route through and out of lockdown, the work of our Return and Resume Development Group increases in pace and scope. A website is under development where all key information for staff and students will be placed – much in the way that we used the website to update you when the pandemic first hit. The Return and Resume Hub will feature key information, FAQs and will be a resource for all aspects of our safe and gradual return to campus.
Throughout this lockdown period, Fridays have been designated as rest days, an innovation that I know many of you have found extremely helpful in balancing work and caring responsibilities. These days were designed to recognise that we have been working under unusual and often challenging conditions.
In consultation with my Executive Team, I have decided that these Fridays will continue for the next six weeks, concluding on 7 August. This means that, during the summer weeks when you are not on annual leave but are continuing to work on University business from Monday to Thursday, you may continue to take a Friday ‘rest day’ in order to spend time with your family and take the opportunity to reflect and recuperate.
Once again thank you for all your efforts over the past year – a year that we can look back on with pride at our achievements and successes. Please enjoy the coming weekend and, if you are taking annual leave, the holiday period ahead.