The following insights from colleagues at the forefront of policy and strategy within higher education help provide a wider context of the world in which we are shaping our new strategy. They address some key ideas and considerations that may help you explore your own thoughts on the future of DMU.
Nick Hillman, Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI)
"I have always been most impressed on my visits to DMU by its students and its facilities. The opportunities that the institution offers first-in-family students and people from under-represented groups is always very exciting to see. So continuing to give your students the tools to meet their aspirations across a broad range of disciplines will, I know, remain at the heart of DMU’s mission. Beyond that, I think DMU’s contribution to the diverse East Midlands will remain crucial to the area’s economy as well as wider society. The national commitments to increase R&D spending should also give DMU an opportunity to continue improving the quality and extent of its research, helping to bolster the UK’s future success.
"While demand for higher education is expected to continue getting stronger in the years ahead which will stand DMU and other institutions in good stead, I would – above all – urge the DMU community to be brave in deciding those areas it does not wish to focus on. That way, there will be an even greater commitment to, and more resources for, the areas where the institution can make the most of its huge future potential."
Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International (UUKi)
"I grew up in Leicester and went to school across the road from De Montfort. I have seen how the university has transformed the area it is in, and injected new life into a deprived part of the city.
"De Montfort has also been responsible for two of the most brilliant initiatives I have come across in the sector. One of these was the Square Mile project, which sought to deploy of resources available to the university to address challenges in a square mile in the city, through research, volunteering and community engagement. I believe the initiative was subsequently replicated in a square mile area in India, through DMU’s relationship with a partner university. The other was an initiative to promote global opportunities to students, a BA sponsored ‘departures board’, positioned in a central square on campus, flicking through the opportunities open to students – many of whom would probably assume the usual study abroad options just weren’t options for them.
"These initiatives seemed to me to exemplify the way that a university can use its geographical position, its diverse community and its global links to do something no other organisation could do – creating benefits at individual, community, national and global levels.
"De Montfort already has a strong global network, but there will be new opportunities to leverage its distinctive strengths and build its reputation through partnerships – especially with the government backing the expansion of international research collaboration and transnational education. Better visa policy could also see an increase in international student numbers – although in the short to medium term this is likely to be counterbalanced by falling EU demand and the impact of Covid.
"DMU’s focus on employability could be an important strength in its international performance, especially if you consider how international graduates might make the transition to the UK labour market, and how UK graduates might take advantage of international employment opportunities."
Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation, Office for Students
"I’ve just finished reading Peter Mandler’s book The Crisis of Meritocracy, which is about this country’s transition to mass education since the second world war. The book suggests that despite criticism from all parts of the political spectrum about the expansion of educational opportunities at all levels (the left arguing that we have not been radical enough and the right that we have eroded standards), this has successfully improved lives. This is not, the book suggests, due to the ideology and decisions of national leaders, but instead to the ambitions and expectations of families and communities across the country, their influence over their local educational institutions and authorities, and ultimately national policies responding to demand. The expansion of educational opportunities has enabled social mobility, but stage by stage absolute social mobility, rather than the transformational mobility that is often claimed for educational interventions, or indeed relative mobility.
"What does this mean for university strategy? Firstly, focus on the needs and aspirations of your local community, now and into the future. Secondly, don’t try to claim more than you will achieve. It is valuable enough to improve the lives of the students in your university and the people in your surrounding community. That won’t always be transformational, but it’s important in itself, and it will be crucial for universities to continue to demonstrate that stage by stage improvement as participation rates continue to grow.
"Also, take the long view. Across the last few decades, women and black, Asian and minority ethnic groups have moved from a position of significant under-representation to higher than average levels of participation in higher education. But this has itself opened up new frontiers, such as the proportion of women in senior positions and the awarding gap for black students. We need to tackle these new frontiers within universities, whilst also bringing through the people who are still outside the system, many in ex-industrial towns and parts of cities in the north and midlands, and coastal towns across the country. Given existing attainment gaps in schools and the anticipated effect of the pandemic on this, this is unlikely to be achieved by recruiting young full-time students directly from schools. It will require different routes, involving further education as well as higher education, and adults as well as young people."
Douglas Blackstock, Chief Executive, Quality Assurance Agency
"When a team of expert academics from QAA reviewed the University in 2015, all national expectations were met, with the university commended for its approach to the enhancement of student learning opportunities. The new strategy should be rooted in the university’s existing strengths and capacity to innovate. One of the features most notable in the current context is the degree to which the university has taken technology and data-driven decision-making seriously.
"We identified DMU’s effective use of data management information in enhancement as ‘good practice’, and this has developed across the university’s academic monitoring and strategic planning. During the Covid-19 pandemic, DMU’s Centre for Enhancing Learning through Technology has served as a well established platform to draw upon in order to adapt. This is an important feature of the university which DMU should seek to continue to develop in quality assurance, engaging with its students and working with external partners to encourage collaborative enhancement.
"Another area where DMU has a particularly strong record of accomplishment is in expanding access for underrepresented student groups. The role of equality and diversity in curriculum design and delivery was, again, highlighted in our 2015 review, and today more than half of DMU undergraduates are black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic (BAME), while four out of five students are the first in their families to attend university. DMU should be proud of its achievements in opening access to education and seek to build on them.
"The Covid-19 pandemic required emergency responses and adjustments to teaching and learning and the broader aspect of the experiences of students. As we emerge from this crisis, all universities should be alert to maintaining (and reinstating) the aspects of the broader experience that students’ value, for example the DMU Global programme."
Mark Leach, Editor-in-Chief, Wonkhe
"There will be a temptation to say that, coming out of the pandemic, everything has changed, or nothing has changed, but universities need to plan for a new hybrid world. Does Covid show us that all teaching should now be online? Clearly not. But what have we learnt about what works online that we didn’t previously think was possible, and will students now expect more of a blend of delivery? What resources will they need to accomplish this, how will this impact how we plan their physical environment?
"On many occasions, Covid has shown the sector at its very best, and universities that have been seen and felt to have looked after their community during this time with compassion and flexibility will have been bolstered by trust and loyalty with staff, better engagement with students, local communities and in international reputation where safety is now a top concern. Building on the best of this work will be crucial, as will putting the care of staff and students, the safety, health and wellbeing of the whole community front and centre of any successful university strategy for the coming years."
David Sweeney, Executive Chair, Research England
"The Covid-19 pandemic has been an overwhelming experience. A challenge in producing a new institutional strategy will be in sifting between your enduring purposes, beneficial changes that can be made sustainably, and mitigations against further short-term destabilisation.
"The pandemic has exposed larger issues about the stability and sustainability of the research base, and the interplay with teaching, that will need to be considered nationally and possibly for the long-term. The current fiscal position will make it challenging to implement significant funding changes and you should not assume that additional funding will be available to support strategic institutional choices.
"The equality, diversity and inclusion agenda has and will continue to gain in importance. There is a significant late-mover penalty for those resistant to addressing new directions so immediate attention to ‘front foot’ steps is likely to be beneficial.
"The research base and universities have made enormous contributions to the nation and society more generally to help come through the pandemic. Universities have reasserted their strengths but often failed to address public perceptions. Disproportionate attention is often paid to minority views and those institutions who have managed to adopt a common position with student leaders are again in a ‘front foot’ position.
"The myth that universities and business, as an example, cannot work together has been debunked (though there is still more than can be done). Business, like universities, is facing destabilisations, particularly in certain sectors such as aerospace or automotive, and of regions and cities. Partnering, whether economic, societal or civic, will need to be sensitive to the pressures on all parties."
John Rance, Chief Executive Officer, Phoenix
"I’ve seen DMU grow into an inclusive multidisciplinary community of learners and scholars centred on a modern vibrant civic campus. While broadening its global reputation, the university has continued to apply its knowledge, energy and resources to issues of public concern and the development of its host city. And long may this continue!
"As CEO of Phoenix, I hope DMU will continue its commitment to the cultural and creative life of the city. Its sustained contribution over many years has done much to promote Leicester as a great place to live, study and work. Its investment and commitment to lasting partnerships has enriched many lives and resulted in new talent and cultural experiences that celebrate the diversity and creativity of Leicester’s communities.
- ‘Opportunity 1’ is to include many more people in arts, culture and creativity - in particular the excluded and marginalised.
- ‘Opportunity 2’ is to develop and apply the intellectual capital of the university as a force for good in the impact of technology on society and new forms of cultural expression, production and inclusion."
Angela Hillery, Chief Executive, Leicestershire Partnership Trust
"The NHS started in July 1948; since that date health and care has continually evolved. The Covid-19 pandemic continued our evolution and inequity was clearly visible in today’s society. Differences in wellbeing, years of healthy living and life expectancy became very apparent through this pandemic.
"In the UK we all now have the opportunity to change our approach and the ways we do things, to address issues around wellbeing and inequity. DMU has a key role to play in the preparation and support for a new workforce in the health and care sector, and in promoting thought and action to address inequity, in working with communities and organisations to make a real difference to increasing the number of healthy years we will all expect to live as well as our increasing our life expectancy.
"In Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, we know that people with learning disabilities have a shorter life expectancy than the average life expectancy in our area. Our society conversations on vaccines have highlighted the need for communities to do more together. Preparing and supporting everyone working in the health and care sector and their families to look after their own wellbeing is very important. We need to work together to tackle these inequities and the many others we face.
"In Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust our vision is to provide high-quality, compassionate care and wellbeing for all. As an employer, as part of our local communities and as a partner, we are very interested in working together with DMU to improve wellbeing and health."
Rebecca Brown, Acting Chief Executive, University Hospitals Leicester
"We are proud to have a longstanding partnership with DMU that has brought many benefits to both our organisation and to the wider NHS through the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences and the DMU Business School.
"With Covid impacting on international travel and student movement, we would like to see the university revisit and strengthen links with ourselves and other local health and social care providers and colleges of higher education. We need to focus on future supply routes and attract our local communities to undertake not only health and social care programmes but a wider range of study at DMU that will lead to long-term careers in the NHS and social care across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.
"UHL is in a very fortunate position in having two university partners (DMU and University of Leicester) providing high-quality education and lifelong learning to our workforce. DMU has a wide range of professional programmes supporting the concept of ‘team around the patient’ and this should be used as a stronger selling point for the university to attract students who are able to appreciate the wider multi-professional team. Both universities need to avoid overlap or duplication of new courses in the future because this will result in inefficiencies for all organisations. We would like to better understand what DMU’s ‘USP’ would be in terms of developing and delivering healthcare programmes as part of their long-term strategy. For this to happen, there needs to be more opportunity for service and professional leads alongside executive colleagues from both organisations to have regular, open and frank discussions about quality and flexibility of programmes and future direction of travel.
"The potential of increasing virtual teaching and learning resources to save on face to face teaching time post pandemic, will benefit universities in the short and long term but we hope that DMU will not go headlong into the development of more online courses for healthcare programmes to create efficiencies / save money. We hope that there will be an opportunity for your students to provide feedback on their experiences of online teaching over the last 6 months. "
Adirupa Sengupta, Chief Executive Officer, Common Purpose Charitable Trust
"The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how unready UK higher education was to:
- Shift to different modes of learning
- Generate new income streams when current income streams dwindle.
"Any ongoing or future UKHEI strategic thinking must take these into account.
"In order to shift to different modes of learning, UK higher education institutions need to be prepared to offer equivalence in learning experience, learning content, assessment, pastoral support and teaching delivery across face-to-face, remote and mixed modes.
“There is a strong business case for investment in this preparedness that also equips UK higher education institutions for switching to different income streams when faced with the current set of challenges or what the future might throw at them.
"There is the additional requirement of UK higher education institutions being fit for purpose, to meet British and international employers’ needs in post-pandemic and post-Brexit worlds. The higher and further education system in Singapore, where I lived and worked for five years, offers excellent examples of using foresight and being in a state of perpetual preparedness for any swings in employability requirements."
Louisa Dale, Director of Insight, Jisc
"Through the pandemic we experienced so much … dizzying levels of change, stomach lurching challenge … and sometimes so little, stultifying in lockdown.
"Pandemic aside, given the environmental, cultural, and political turbulence of 2020, we must now reconcile ourselves that change and challenge inevitably lies ahead of us. It’s important then, to focus on what really matters and to take care to ensure we’re ready and resilient, to shape something better for everyone.
"No doubt technology will play a significant role in our futures. There is huge potential in digitally re-imagined education (and indeed research), but technology here is only an enabler. The purpose, power and responsibility of transformation lies with us.
"So I’d encourage the most creative, explorative and inventive consideration of visions of the future for staff and students.
"Aside from being great fun, the imagination and ingenuity which springs will inevitably provoke debate and stimulate ambition. It could also motivate, maybe even energise … no bad thing as we ready ourselves to shape a different, yet bright and brilliant future.
"If you’d like some inspiration of the future for higher education, you can check out our learning and teaching reimagined visions."
Ambassador Macharia Kamau, CBS Principal Secretary
"The primary pursuit of the sustainable development agenda is to fulfil the needs of today, without compromising the future of tomorrow. The role of universities, in this regard, remains to advance insights and address the analytical, empirical and practical challenges of the sustainable development agenda.
"I am glad to note that the sustainability strategy for DMU consists of five key areas which include: teaching, research, building, health and well-being, and community engagement. Indeed, at DMU, you have exemplified the ‘walk the talk’ principle, by remaining accountable through several channels including; the SDG Accord, the University League and the Times Higher Education Impact Assessment.
"Universities have a critical role in ensuring that we prioritise our common sustainable agenda, ensuring that we bridge the generational and informational gap by providing platforms for young minds to not only express themselves, but articulate, from their perspective, what they view as the challenges, and what they see as the solutions.
"It is through institutions such as DMU that we will maintain momentum and relevance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We must continue to create new knowledge through research and assessment, offering the implications and practicability of the SDGs in a way that inspires collective global action. We must aspire and work towards practices that are in tandem with the spirit of ‘leave no one behind’, where ethical values of fair trade and equity are weaved into the fabric of everyday life.
"We must continue to prioritise science, technology and innovation as a key driver and accelerator towards a sustainable world. I am glad to note that DMU is ranked Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework, in recognition of the incorporation of technology in the effort to enhance the student learning experience. Indeed, universities must step up as hubs and incubators for new ideas, new innovations, new science, and new technologies.
"The current Covid-19 pandemic has threatened to take back the gains made towards the realization of the SDGs. Now, more than ever, I am pleased to associate myself with DMU in the quest to build back a better, greener and a more just world.
"We can appreciate that global challenges are surmountable if a multi-stakeholder approach is deployed in a manner that attracts consensus, not only in the appreciation of the challenges, but also in the evolution of practical response strategies that protect our planet, its biodiversity and the future of human kind.
"I wish to commend Professor Katie Normington on her appointment as the new vice-chancellor and cheer you on as you take on the mantle, and commit to inspire this next generation of sustainability thinkers and doers.
"To, you, DMU students, this world is yours as well as ours, help us take care of it."
Scott Knowles, Chief Executive, East Midlands Chamber of Commerce
"The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transformation strategies of all businesses, irrelevant of size, geography and sector. Strategies that were measured in years had to be delivered within weeks in 2020 to ensure that businesses remained visible and accessible and, importantly, that revenue streams were uninterrupted and businesses remained sustainable.
"As we emerge from the effects of the pandemic in 2021, coupled with the end of the transition period with the EU, ongoing digital transformation and the adoption of current and emerging technologies to support the development of new markets, to create efficiencies, productivity gains and multi-faceted mechanisms for engaging customers are of paramount importance.
"Leicester, Leicestershire and the wider East Midlands is becoming a recognised centre of excellence for world-class logistics, the space sector, digital including augmented and virtual reality and holography, as well as its historic expertise in manufacturing and engineering, textiles, automotive and aerospace.
"DMU and the Chamber’s strategic partnership with DMU will result in the delivery of digital skills to Leicester and Leicestershire’s small- to medium-sized enterprises with the aim of exploring and introducing these new technologies and supporting the development of new ways of doing things to ensure that business models are future proofed for post-pandemic ways of working and living."
Gary Loke, Director of Knowledge, Innovation and Delivery, Advance HE
"As I look towards a post-pandemic world there is no doubt that we will continue to live with the virus and there will be long-lasting economic and social impact. Covid-19 has already shone a spotlight on structural inequality. It has also added new mental health pressures, highlighted technology skills gaps, and changed the way we work, the way we consume and the way we live. The way we collectively operate will have to change if we are to navigate the post-pandemic world.
"I believe that for De Montfort University, the way your new strategy capitalises on your heritage as a longstanding bastion for inclusion and diversity will be critical for your future role and success. Stefania Giannini, Unesco’s assistant director-general for education, called upon higher education institutions to put the values of inclusion and equity on their Covid-19 recovery ‘road maps’.
"Why is that important? Often diversity and inclusion has been considered without really thinking about outcomes. But as the world is waking up to the indiscriminate effects of Covid, so it is also waking up to the fact that a collaborative and creative world response is required to ensure the continued health of the planet and to navigate the new (hopefully fairer) normal. This will require a diversity of thinkers if these outcomes are to be achieved.
"So, the diversity of DMU’s community is a strength that should fundamentally be built upon as you develop your new strategy. It is a strength that you should capitalise on as the core of your organisation. Embedding equity as a value and diversity of thought, representation and methods into pedagogy, curriculum and ethos will be critical, not only to allow the diverse range of DMU’s students and staff to succeed, but to ensure that there is diversity in our future scientists, politicians and world influencers that will support the world to achieve a more sustainable and fairer future."
Sir Peter Soulsby, City Mayor for Leicester
“As a city, we are immensely proud of everything that DMU has contributed to Leicester over many years. It is without question a dynamic, diverse and inclusive university; entirely fit for the 21st century.
“DMU deservedly holds a reputation based on proven academic quality, though crucially, its continued promotion and recognition of equality and diversity should serve as an example to other organisations within the city and beyond.
“DMU has also always placed a huge focus on helping communities in Leicester to develop and prosper, and as we begin to think about life after the pandemic, the renewed sense of community that many of us have come to depend on in recent months is one that must be harnessed.
“As we build resilience and create a sense of self-reliance as well as the capacity and ability to support one another better, a shared long-term vision for the city is crucial for ensuring the long-term success and prosperity of our city and local economy. Such a vision will also of course focus on a commitment to provide a programme of teaching, training and volunteering that enhances the education of our future generations as well as providing many other benefits for the city.
“I am delighted that Leicester City Council will continue to work closely alongside DMU as they develop their exciting pathways for their future work over many years to come.”