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A global reputation, forged on campus

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

Being part of an institution of international renown such as ours means that many of us will travel far and wide. During September, for example, I made two visits to the Far East, primarily to meet our alumni. These ranged from this year’s new graduates to some who graduated 60 years ago. Many are great supporters of The University of Manchester and all wanted to hear about how we are doing in our core activities, and in particular about our global reputation.

Reputations, of course, can be good or bad – we hope for the former – but they are certainly about being well known and, ideally, held in high esteem. This is important locally, nationally and internationally, especially in the Far East.

At Manchester, we have core goals of world-class research, outstanding learning and student experience, and social responsibility. A strong performance against these is essential for our global reputation.

But it is not in itself sufficient. Given that there are many excellent universities, we need to highlight our distinctive features so that those outside (and indeed inside) our organisation can say what we are ‘known for’.

The results of our external stakeholder survey, undertaken every two years, indicate that our reputation is growing, helped in part by improved research performance, but also by clear messages about our strengths. This informed the thinking behind our research beacons, where we highlight five areas of strength, depth and breadth in research and innovation in advanced materials, biotechnology, cancer, energy and global inequalities.

We have now begun to identify areas of focus and distinctiveness in our teaching, too. We have just launched Stellify (meaning ‘to be made into a star’), a unique initiative for students to gain wider experience outside their chosen degree programme – for example, in Ethical Grand Challenges – by taking part in volunteering and leadership training that will prepare them for their futures.

If we can point to ‘what we are good at’ in research and teaching, then we can describe ‘what we are good for’ through our social responsibility agenda. In this area we are certainly gaining a strong reputation nationally, through awards and recognition, and importantly with our local communities, as a result of volunteering and our Manchester Access Programme, which has helped more than 1,600 students from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain a place at the University in the last ten years.

Universities have numerous audiences and stakeholders, including: current and past staff and students; future potential students (and their families); the many funders and partner organisations; regional and national governments; and, increasingly, international universities, alumni and businesses. Each of these groups has its own interests and expectations of universities, and they will vary widely.

Without doubt, students are among our most important stakeholders. With almost 40,000 students studying at the University, more international students than any other UK university and plans to increase our distance learning offering, our reputation matters greatly to them. It is critical that we improve students’ satisfaction with their experience at The University of Manchester. This will certainly depend on excellent teaching, but also on the much wider support and opportunities we provide.

Surveys, media coverage, personal anecdotes and the number of applications we receive (we still attract more undergraduate applications than any other UK university) can all be used to measure our reputation.

Another means is through the growing number of league tables, several of which include reputation, based on international surveys. It is therefore pleasing that we have risen in the three main international league tables (the Academic Ranking of World Universities, QS and Times Higher Education), but of concern that we have moved down some of the national tables that depend heavily on student experience.

For the future it is essential that we improve both our performance and our reputation. For this reason we have established a new role – Associate Vice-President for External Relations and Reputation, which will be taken up by Alan Ferns, currently our Director of Communications and Marketing. Senior colleagues and I look forward to working with Alan to further enhance our reputation.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell - President and Vice-Chancellor.

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