At UEA, we have always been bold, passionate and pioneering in our education and research. Our academic approach has been distinctive, focusing on interdisciplinarity across subjects and creating a reputation as a first-class education provider. Research and education are intrinsically valuable, creating a repository of knowledge and cultivating wisdom, good ethics, and intellectual freedom. But they also provide the foundation for groundbreaking advances in major global issues and for vibrant new enterprises. Education and research enable people to improve their future earning potential and generate economic growth both regionally and nationally. In addition, UEA plays an important civic role, strengthening social bonds, breaking down social barriers, stimulating informal learning within our community, and contributing to wider public activities and services.
In the rapidly changing Higher Education landscape, now is not the time for UEA to stand still, but to do what it has always done best: challenge convention, embrace new opportunities and take managed risks where appropriate. In our Vision 2030 consultation, we reflected together on major global challenges and the key issues facing Higher Education. These challenges reflect the national and global context in which we will be operating and require our collective energy as we embark on our UEA Plan 2016–20.
Nationally, student funding in the UK is changing through the removal of maintenance grants, the transfer of nursing and allied health students from bursaries to student loans, the raising of the tuition fee cap, and the role of the coming Teaching Excellence Framework. With continued pressure on postgraduate finances, continuing professional development (CPD) and part-time numbers, universities will also need to review their offer in these areas. However, the removal of domestic student number control provides an opportunity for world-class UK universities to grow in quality through being more competitive in the domestic student market. UEA is one such university, but, to do so, it is essential that UEA aspires to offer a world-class campus environment and culture that supports student success, research success, staff success and global success.
Internationally, recent growth in UK international student recruitment is being tempered by a decline in student numbers from some countries, notably India, and by increased international competition. The USA poses a big challenge as it continues to grow international recruitment, while a number of European countries may emerge as stronger competitors as they commit to English-led teaching. China’s increasing investment in education may see it stand out as a competitor for international students, particularly in Southeast Asia, while internal investment in Higher Education within India could also affect net student migration. However, the rise of the middle classes in emerging economies, and the attraction of the English language and reputation, should continue to provide opportunities for UK universities, including UEA. Economic growth in Africa may also increase this demand. In South America, UK universities are increasingly engaging with and presenting an alternative to the USA for Latin American students. Greater connectivity will also open the door to innovative, technology-led approaches to international education and research. An institution’s global success in the international market is driven by its global reputation that, in turn, is strongly dependent on producing high-impact, world-leading research of global significance. Securing our position in the global market is therefore critically dependent on investing in research success.
In research and innovation, the commercial world may continue to evolve its own research capability, and research funding will continue to face pressures, but the need for innovation will also bring new opportunities in the form of initiatives to address major global, national and regional challenges. The UK Government is supporting place-based investments in the English regions, making it essential that UEA is fully embedded in regional development plans.
There will be opportunities for building upon our heritage of cross-discipline collaborations to address some major global issues. For example, over the timescale of our Plan, the global population will continue to grow in developing countries, increasing the pressure on food supplies, which may be further compounded by the rise of the middle class worldwide. The impacts of climate change bring the prospect of increased water shortages, changed patterns of disease, and increased risk of extreme weather events. As governments look to reduce carbon emissions, mix renewable with non-renewable energy resources and focus on energy efficiency, there will be a need to support innovation, education and policymaking in developing solutions. Population growth is driving urbanisation in developing countries, leading to the growth of megacities. Meanwhile, many developed countries will be experiencing the demands on its welfare systems of ageing populations, while the potential for personalised health technology may continue to expand, supported by growth in mobile broadband networks. More broadly, interculturalism and cultural sharing will expand as populations become more mobile and connected, and multicultural workforces increasingly characterise business cultures that were once geographically specific. Many of today’s prospective students will be acutely aware of these global developments and will be motivated by missions to improve the world. Such students may be keen to study and research at a university like UEA, which can be at the vanguard of the innovative cross-discipline thinking that the current global challenges require and which can be part of our own intellectual fabric in the years ahead.
For UEA, this is a pivotal moment where we can build upon a strong heritage of 50 years of investment in a distinctive campus that provides a top-class student experience and world-leading research. It will be a moment when we can initiate a new phase of campus investment to transform some of the older, but nevertheless iconic, buildings into new state-of-the art education and research spaces. These spaces will be supported by a strong IT infrastructure that will, for example, support the blending of the physical campus with digital technologies; the mixing of face-to-face interactions with virtual learning and research; the development of learning analytics to help measure the progress and outcomes of student learning; the research applications that create greater global access and scale; the enablement of crowdsourcing for research data and funding; and the enablement of the implementation of systems to improve efficiency and effectiveness, creating staff time and financial resources to devote to enhancing student success and research success.
Physical infrastructure and supporting digital capability will be important in creating a compelling student experience and research infrastructure, but our future campus development is not just about developing the right facilities or technology. It’s about creating the time and the space to innovate, and about the development of staff who will embrace technologies in a way that allows them to enhance teaching, learning and research. Critically, the intense competition between institutions for talented students will extend to competition when it comes to recruiting or retaining the most talented staff. So, UEA recognises the importance of investing in a campus culture that promotes staff success by developing, nurturing and supporting staff at all stages of their careers.