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Foundation Day:
The spirit of revolution

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell

The University of Manchester is where revolutions are created. Our people make this a place that influences the world: socially and technologically, locally and globally. In this, my first introduction to The University of Manchester Magazine, I would like to talk about revolution and what this means for our University today.

As Disraeli reportedly said: “What Manchester does today, the rest of the world does tomorrow.” He was speaking at a time when Manchester was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution – building new machines and developing innovative transport infrastructures.

Manchester was also home to individuals and movements that would have a lasting social impact – such as the first trade unions, the Chartists and the suffragettes.

The University of Manchester was born out of this revolutionary spirit, a spirit still demonstrated today in our refreshed Manchester 2020 vision.

The challenge outlined in Manchester 2020 is significant. We are committing to meet demanding targets in the face of pressures that include increasingly intense international competition, growing costs and changing global economies.

We are approaching this challenge from a strong position and our achievements since our formation in 2004 have been impressive. We have more than doubled our external research and contract income; increased our gift income tenfold; improved graduate employment; enhanced industrial collaborations – we have more income from UK industry than any other UK university; attracted world-leading scholars and significantly increased the number of students from less privileged backgrounds.

Our campus is a vibrant space of glass and steel, alongside beautiful and carefully restored older buildings like the Whitworth and our ever-growing public spaces, thanks to our £1 billion Campus Masterplan.

But a university is much more than its campus. We are committed to being a people-oriented organisation, supporting our staff and providing an outstanding experience for our students.

We have already improved student satisfaction scores, though we have more to do to achieve our aim of 90% satisfaction. Our 10,000 international students – more than any other UK university – are one reflection of our growing global reputation. Our University is inextricably linked to the city of Manchester and benefits greatly from our shared ambition. The Victoria University of Manchester was one of the first ‘red bricks’, widening a formerly elitist model of higher education to include people of all backgrounds.

This is still true today. Social responsibility is one of our three goals and is manifest in all our key activities.

In our local communities The Works has helped more than 3,500 local people back into work or training. Our School Governor Initiative has seen 438 staff and alumni taking up roles at 160 schools.

Many of these activities are carried out in partnership with our Students’ Union – including the award-winning We Get It campaign to raise awareness of, and tackle, all forms of harassment.

We are also one of only a handful of universities to be awarded the Race Equality Charter Mark, but we still have more to do to increase diversity among senior staff.

So, with finite resources we must focus on our strengths if we are to be a great, rather than just good, university. Now more than ever we will need to demonstrate that uniquely Mancunian revolutionary spirit.

We must clearly explain what is truly distinctive about our research, graduates, influence and impact – globally and locally. In teaching, learning and the student experience, we will deliver a new approach, giving our students the chance to take advantage of a range of activities outside their own degree, incorporating a new award, and enabling them to experience real-world challenges as soon as they join us.

World-class research is fundamental as we aspire to be one of the top 25 universities in the world. Progress is encouraging, but we have much more to do to achieve our ambitious goal, outlined in our new research strategy.

Among our huge range of research we have identified five research beacons. Each is an area of excellence where we are providing solutions to global challenges: advanced materials, biotechnology, cancer, energy and global inequalities. Put simply, we must demonstrate, with the passion and conviction of those early scholars and inventors, what difference our education makes to our students, and what difference our research and social responsibility work makes to the world. This is Manchester. Here we break convention. We forge revolution. We make a difference.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell - President and Vice-Chancellor. Adapted from Professor Rothwell’s speech at the 2015 Foundation Day, which you can watch above.

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