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The importance of our reputation

Nancy Rothwell and Alan Ferns

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

The University of Manchester has many great assets: a fantastic location in a vibrant and forward-thinking city; an attractive and evolving campus; a cosmopolitan and lively student population; and dedicated staff who are world-leading experts. Less obvious but every bit as valuable is our reputation.

Reputation is what people think of us. While we can try to influence it, it’s not fully in our control.  Great reputations are created by great outputs, positioned and delivered with consistently high standards right across an organisation and to our many audiences and stakeholders over the long-term.

Reputations, like anything precious, need nurturing and careful management. A good reputation is hard won, but quickly lost – as some well-known leaders, brands and institutions can testify. Our University has a strong reputation which has been built over nearly two centuries. It has been shaped by the honest assessment of the millions of people who have studied here, worked with us, visited our campus or heard about us first-hand, second-hand or through the media or other channels over that period.

Our current reputation is a tribute to the founders and past leaders of this institution and its predecessors, but more importantly to the efforts of the thousands of staff who have researched and taught here, helping to take care of our students, partners and visitors over the past 200 years, and who now also contribute to our wider social responsibility.

Reputations are not easy to measure and monitor. However, as a University we do try to assess our standing with key audiences. We do this through our performance in national and international surveys, and via a new reputation tracker, through which we and many other Russell Group universities are monitoring our standing with key audiences.

The evidence from these surveys and the tracker shows that we are performing well among most key stakeholder groups. In surveys of the global academic community by QS and THE, we are ranked in the top 60 institutions in the world, and 7th and 8th respectively in the UK. Among prospective students, we are still the most popular university for undergraduate applications.

Furthermore, we are ranked in the top six when parents and teachers are asked to name the best universities in the UK, and number three when the general public are asked the same question.

A more detailed picture of the University’s reputation emerges from our own External Stakeholders Survey. This is a qualitative survey conducted every two years by an independent research consultancy on our behalf. This captures perceptions of us among a group of around 70 engaged, senior stakeholders from business, the public sector and the third sector. Key strengths from the most recent survey conducted last summer show that we are judged to be:

  • a very impressive university with global strengths;
  • acclaimed for research quality, with our research beacons becoming well known;
  • located on an improving and vibrant campus;
  • recognised for high-quality social engagement in the region and more widely.

The research noted some reputational challenges, such as the lack of a single clear ambition to replace Manchester 2020 goals in a couple of years’ time, the relatively low profile of arts and humanities compared to science, and a perception that our teaching quality was not as good as our research quality (although there was recognition of a commitment to improve this and that there is a time lag between performance and perception).

We have formed a new External Relations Strategy Group to monitor our reputation and develop and deliver an action plan to address issues emerging from the survey. We are also aware that there is still more work to be done on communications to let more people know about the great work that is done here and, in particular, how we are distinctive.

In building and sustaining our reputation, we also need to encourage and support our staff, students and alumni to become effective ambassadors for the whole University, beyond their own discipline or School. We also need to tell our stories in new ways that engage our audiences about the impact of our activities on people’s day-to-day lives, rather than just describing what we do.

Great communications and marketing can tell our stories in the most compelling way, but ultimately, our reputation and brand strength are reliant upon the actual performance of the University, particularly the quality of our research, student experience and wider contributions to society.

Nancy Rothwell - President and Vice-Chancellor
Alan Ferns - Associate Vice-President for External Relations and Reputation