Minutes of the Sixty-fifth Meeting of the General Assembly held on 22 May 2002.
Present: 29 members signed the attendance list. No apologies were received.
The Minutes of the sixty-fourth meeting of the General Assembly held on 20 March 2002 were accepted as a true record.
2. Matters Arising
Performance Review Scheme – discussions are still being undertaken with the AUT and other Unions.
Budgetary Issues – The Vice-Chancellor reported that budget settlements are proving to be difficult this year, with the salary budget predicted to rise by 8%.
3. Draft Strategic Plan
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor gave a brief presentation on the draft Strategic Plan. The Plan is vital in determining the University’s broad priorities and direction. It is also a requirement for HEFCE.
A Council Strategic Planning Conference was held in October, the outcome of which was discussed by Departments, Faculties, Support Services and Senate. The draft Strategic Plan was produced by EMG in March/April, and has since been circulated for comment.
The major priorities of the Plan are for the University to strengthen its position as a research intensive university, and to consolidate its reputation for teaching and learning, and for the quality of the wider student experience. Research aims include significantly increasing the number of PhD students and ensuring that 85% of staff are in UOAs graded 5 or 5*. Learning and Teaching aims include maintaining a high reputation for quality teaching, looking at new methods of delivery, widening participation and the need to liaise with schools. The University also aims to strengthen its position as one of the leading universities for innovation and knowledge transfer to industry and commerce.
Compared to the Strategic Plan produced in 1999, the new draft integrates different sections more fully, to produce a coherent plan, rather than a series of stand-alone ambitions. The plan will be revised in June to take into consideration comments received from consultations, and the revision submitted to Senate in June and Council in July before its final submission to HEFCE. The Plan will then be used for planning and performance monitoring.
The floor was then opened for a discussion about the draft Strategic Plan. One member commented on Loughborough’s rise in the recently published league tables, suggesting that this was not caused by an improved research profile. It was noted that whilst Loughborough’s profile did improve, it was against a background of significant improvement across the sector, and the inclusion of additional specialist institutions, so that overall the University held its own in research.
A question was raised about the student:staff ratio, and whether in the light of the proposed increased research load, staff:student teaching ratios will change. The Vice-Chancellor replied that it is impossible to answer that question until the actual number of students is known, including the number of international students. A small increase in ASNs and international students have been built into the planning, however predicted student numbers have not been based rigidly on departmental predictions. The student:staff ratio is dependent on external income outside that received from HEFCE.
The Vice-Chancellor commented on the government’s target of 50% participation in HE by 2010, saying that Loughborough did not intend to increase significantly its student population on campus. Instead, an increase would be made through partnership with FE colleges and through Peterborough.
A member asked whether an increase in staff was planned. The Vice-Chancellor said that he could not give a definitive answer. The University management is aware of the current load on staff, and has set the objective of looking at the present systems for quality, administration, examination etc. for teaching, to see if the teaching load on staff can be lightened. Growth in research income and in numbers of international students reduces the student:staff ratio.
A question was raised whether departments in surplus could use the surplus to invest in more staff. The Vice-Chancellor replied that Faculties were expected to balance their budgets. Significant progress had been made in dealing with departments in structural deficit. This would remain a policy target, so that those in surplus could invest more of their surplus.
The Vice-Chancellor was asked what vision he had for the University in 2010, and whether, because of cuts, there would be fewer, larger departments in popular areas. The Vice-Chancellor disagreed that there have been a large number of cuts. He acknowledged that some have been necessary, but said that the University is above average in the amount of money invested in staff. Loughborough will continue to strengthen its position as a research-lead university, because the international brand of a university, its attractiveness for students and its added value in knowledge transfer, are determined by its research profile.
A member queried the value of the semester system and re-sits. The Vice-Chancellor replied that the University has to meet performance indicators, and that currently its completion rate is excellent. To maintain this standard, the modular structure and September re-sits must be maintained. However, he felt that there might be scope for relaxation of some of the current regulations, and for reducing the volume of assessment, and this would be looked at by Teaching and Learning Committee.
A question was raised about the University’s plans in the health/bio-science area. The Vice-Chancellor said that the University would not enter into major structural changes of departments without wide consultation and discussion. Molecular bioscience was extremely strong elsewhere and the entry tag too high. However, developments in the health field, particularly primary care and links with social care present a big opportunity for the University.
A member suggested that the University does not receive a lot of publicity. The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged that the Publicity Office is currently under-resourced through budget constraints, but felt that compared to other universities, coverage for Loughborough is not bad. It was queried whether receiving publicity for sport is always good. The Vice-Chancellor replied that the University's reputation for sport is a unique selling point and attracts good students. He noted that the University doesn't have to be attractive to all potential applicants, as we admitted only c. 1% of the UK/EU student population. The Vice-Chancellor noted that the significant investment into new sporting facilities on campus would create a world-class environment as far as international students were concerned.
A member queried whether the Library shouldn’t also receive greater investment. The Vice-Chancellor replied that there has been significant inflation in the cost of journals in the past few years, and it has not been possible to give the library increased funding to keep pace. Perhaps the way forward is to consider collaboration with other institutions.
A member asked whether increased funding would be put into Information Services. The Deputy Vice-Chancellor replied that the upgrade of the MIS is on the agenda. Following the Finance System upgrade, the Personnel and Payroll system will be upgraded, then the Student Management System. It was asked whether the University had considered an integrated system. The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged that it had been considered, but that there was not a good enough system available to handle all the needs of a University.
A member queried the aim to increase international student recruitment, and asked whether there would also be an increase in accommodation on campus. The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged that being able to guarantee rooms to international students helps international recruitment, and that the University needs more wardened halls. The necessary increase in rooms in hall had been identified, and ways would be explored to achieve this. The University was always open to the opportunities of acquiring more land to enable this to happen.
It was questioned whether the University had the proper facilities to support an increase in international students, particularly at postgraduate level. The Vice-Chancellor acknowledged that this is a potential issue, and said that an additional COMA charge for international students is being considered to provide these additional facilities and services. He commented that some additional resources have been put into international recruitment, and agreed that there is a strong rationale for this.
Some support was given by those present for a postgraduate teaching centre on campus.
With no more comments forthcoming, the Vice-Chancellor thanked all those present for a very helpful discussion.
4. Any Other Business
There was no other business.
5. Date of Next Meeting
To be confirmed.
Author: WJ Ferguson
Date: 23 May 2002
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