Vice-Chancellor's Foreword

When we embarked on the 2019/2020 academic year, we could not have predicted what was in store for us all. The pandemic quickly turned both our personal and professional lives upside down and presented us with the greatest challenge that we are likely to face for generations. Covid-19 was - and still is - a formidable opponent, one that has required us to adapt and innovate at pace to enable us to continue delivering for our students, staff, partners and wider community.

As I reflect on what we have overcome and achieved during the most difficult of times, what stands out to me is how the people, businesses and organisations across our city and county, have worked together and supported each other throughout the year.

I am indebted to our staff, who have worked tirelessly to maintain our forward momentum and deliver the best possible experience to our students, and to our students themselves, who have been true ambassadors for the University, displaying resilience and commitment that will stand them in good stead for the future.

University of Derby, Kedleston Road Site

This year has provided us with the opportunity to work even more closely with local stakeholders and partners as we navigated the complexities of managing the response to Covid-19 and limiting its impact. Together we stepped up to the challenge, combined our resources and expertise, innovated, supported the most vulnerable and found a way through the crisis that faced us. As a result, the foundations we have built, and the ways of working that have been embedded, give me confidence that both our city and county are in a strong position to thrive and prosper in the future.

While the pandemic meant our immediate focus had to shift, we have never lost sight of the promise we made in our Strategic Framework 2018-2030 - Everything we do is driven by delivering excellence and opportunities for our students, our staff and our region - and across the institution, a wealth of projects and initiatives have been driven forward in support of this.

As we move towards the Research Excellence Framework 2021, an assessment of excellence in research across UK Higher Education institutions, there has been a step change in our research capabilities and external impact. Our reputation and influence at both a national and government level continues to grow and, as a result, we have seen a significant increase in the number of successful funding bids and research grants awarded to the University and the partners we collaborate with.

Examples of this include a project commissioned by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to evaluate its Access and Inclusion Model, and an £850,000 investment from D2N2 for a new research and innovation Facility for Omics Research in Metabolism - work that aligns to a significant area of research at Derby in sport health on respiratory disease.

We also secured funding to be one of just four hubs nationwide to host events for Being Human, the annual, multi-city humanities festival led by the University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

Academics from across the University are engaged in important research that will have a real impact on society and support the government's 'levelling up' agenda, particularly given the challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Researchers from the Human Science Research Centre have been examining the urgent need to consider the long-term care needs of those affected by Covid-19 to ensure that it does not widen inequality, making the case for developing strong collaborative approaches that combine clinical and sports medicine disciplines.

In-depth studies into social justice are being undertaken by a research team in the Social, Cultural and Legal Research Centre, to address inequalities in relation to disadvantaged children, young people, families and communities. And our Sustainable Business Research Cluster is focused on delivering the 'DE-Carbonise' project, a collaboration with Derby City Council and Derbyshire County Council to support SMEs to increase their sustainability, and part of the broader ambition and commitment of the city to revolutionise the way low-carbon energy is used.

Our work with the Derby Opportunity Area continues to make a positive impact on our young people and, as Chair of the Opportunity Area board, I have been delighted with the strong collaborative working that has taken place across the city. The positive engagement we have received from both parents and teachers has enabled us to maintain delivery of the project during what has been an unbelievably challenging time for education providers. Moving forward, we will be concentrating efforts on where the gaps have widened as a result of the pandemic and I hope that we can quickly make up any lost ground.

As I look to the future I do so with optimism for the University and for our city and county. We have had very positive student recruitment, supported our new and returning students, and in the past couple of months alone have won three national awards - University of the Year at the Social Mobility Awards, the NEON HE Institution of the Year and The Guardian University Award for Social and Community Impact. These recognise our commitment to social mobility and to providing those who come to the University of Derby with the very best university experience that leads to better life chances, enhanced graduate opportunities and outcomes.

To assure this continued impact, we need the employers and organisations within the city and county to provide our students with opportunities to engage with the workplace and to enhance their cultural capital and ambition - they are our future workforce, hugely talented and worth investing in. Please do get in touch if you are able to support us with this.

In the meantime, thank you all for your ongoing support, commitment and counsel.

Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Derby