Towards a new vision
As we contemplate the new strategy we might ask how we want to define our future as an institution and what futures we want for our students, ourselves and our community. Sometimes it can help to draw on our past origins to think about the future.
The roots of DMU are in Leicester School of Art, established in 1870. From that period until the formation of DMU in 1992, there were various iterations of schools, colleges and polytechnics which sought to bring together technology and craft, to bridge the sometimes felt divide between arts and science, but always with a mind on the needs of the trades and industries of the city.
But what of those early days of Leicester School of Art? We know that it offered a flexible education – in the daytime or evening, with twice-yearly starts and was open to men and women at a time when not all education was available to women. What do we know of the purpose and teaching of the school? One record that exists is that of Rev Dr Dickson, the curate of St Mary’s Church, who spoke of his observation of a class at the school’s first AGM in December, 1871:
“I felt as if matter were annihilated and that the spirit of beauty alone reigned there. There might be roughness, squalor, bare walls and cheerless hearths outside, but here was a little room in the heart of the town whence influences of the truest, refining and elevating character were quietly stealing forth to soften, to adorn, and to cheer.”
If this is what was important in 1871, what is important today, or even in 2071? How do we maintain that spirit of endeavour, of transformational change occurring deep in the city? What sort of institution do we want to be? Traditional? Early adopter? A challenger? It’s perhaps the time to consider a more transformational change, for as commentators point out:
“Already traditional universities are showing the strains of a broken business model, reflecting demand and pricing pressures previously unheard of in higher education.” ‘Reimagining Higher Education’
Responding to the outside world
A new strategy can’t just be driven by our own concerns and ideas but must also be responsive to the external environment. We need to look at the demographic and other social changes that will occur over the next decade, to the need for skills within the region and beyond, to the way in which our ideas and discoveries can help shape the future of society, and to the shifts in governmental funding.
Sometimes an outside eye can help shape our thinking and offer important insights. For this reason, as part of the strategy consultation exercise we have asked a number of our leading external partners and those in sector-leading agencies to offer views on what they think is important for us to consider. On our microsite we’ll be hearing from David Sweeney, at Research England; Mark Leach, at Wonkhe; Adirupa Sengupta, at Common Purpose Charitable Trust, and from many others as we prepare our strategy by drawing on informed experience and insight.
Creating a new strategy is also the time to reflect on past achievements, to hold a mirror up to ourselves and evaluate where we think we can improve. It’s for these reasons that I’ve been asking in my listening sessions, ‘What would you like to see changed? What do we not do well, or could do differently because it is out-dated or adds little value?’ And we might think carefully about some of these questions because if we want to be more outwardly successful we will need to recognise where we can improve and work to enable that.
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