Vice-Chancellor's Foreword

As I look back on the past year, I do so with a sense of true pride. As a university we have demonstrated our agility, responsiveness and ability to deliver excellence through our teaching and learning, research and stakeholder engagement, and keep our ambitious plans and strategic objectives on track despite the many challenging external factors bearing down on us.

The shadow of the pandemic continued to loom over the 2020/21 academic year, placing ongoing pressures on us all. Balancing hybrid working with the demands of our personal lives has been a challenge for many. The resilience of our students has overwhelmingly impressed us, as has the support we have received through the tireless commitment of our staff, to whom I am extremely grateful.  

The core focus at Derby has been to ensure our students remain engaged and motivated to study, as well as promoting the important values of our applied university, especially given the challenging economic environment. Traditionally, Open Days have provided us with an ideal opportunity to showcase the University and welcome prospective students onto campus, but with restrictions on large gatherings in place last year we had to take a more creative approach.

Open Day Live, which first took place in September 2020, was our first ‘virtual’ Open Day and a real game-changer for us. Delivering an event of this scale, with many colleagues working remotely, was a huge undertaking that required a cross-university effort. We were grateful for the support of our staff, but also from members of our alumni community, some of our strongest advocates, who willingly gave up their time to help and demonstrated the life-long connection you can make with your university.

It proved to be one of our most successful Open Days to date and marked a step-change in how we deliver events at Derby, demonstrating that anything is possible if you have the right vision and team in place.

 Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge sitting down to speak to staff and students about mental health at the University of Derby

We were honoured that the University was selected as the host venue for HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, who we welcomed to Derby last October. The Duchess’s visit took place ahead of World Mental Health Day, exploring the impact of the pandemic on student mental health and wellbeing.

During the visit we were able to show Her Royal Highness our outstanding support services, discuss our partnership with Student Minds, the UK’s student mental health charity, and provide an opportunity for her to meet students and staff, all fantastic and resilient ambassadors.

I am delighted that Derby’s reputation for delivering research with real impact and being at the forefront of innovation continues to grow. This was even more prominent during the pandemic, resulting in a significant rise in the Times Higher Education Global Rankings.

The impact of our research is evidenced within the report and is a critical feature on how this is supporting business, communities and individuals to respond to some of the more immediate challenges of the pandemic, but as importantly, to move forward positively and thrive in both the short and long-term.

We continue to support and influence regional economic growth, with high-profile projects of national significance – including our partnership with the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, our continued success with Invest to Grow, and our current application for the East Midlands Institute of Technology bid, in partnership with the Derby College Group, Loughborough University and Loughborough College.  

A key feature of our influence is to enable our business community to upskill its workforce, innovate and scale-up through knowledge exchange partnerships and initiatives such as Ascend, which we run with Derby City Council, De-Carbonise, a collaboration with both the city and county councils, and importantly, funding for the government’s Help to Grow scheme. This work has received national recognition in the Knowledge Exchange Framework, and we are now in the top ten per cent of universities for ‘Working with Business’ and ‘Local Growth and Regeneration’.

I have also been working across a range of activities that keeps a perspective of the challenges facing many of our communities. Our work with the Opportunity Area continues, supported by a further year of funding, and I have been representing both the University, sector and our region at government level, influencing important national agendas including levelling up, research and innovation.

This Impact Report provides an opportunity to reflect on our significant achievements, but it would be remiss of me not to mention our recent Award Ceremonies, which took place for the first time since the pandemic began.

We were delighted to welcome so many students back to Derby and to reignite their engagement with the University through such a momentous occasion. Celebrating the classes of 2020 and 2021 is one of the highlights of my tenure as Vice-Chancellor.

I know I speak for the whole university and regional dignitaries when I say that we were full of pride and admiration for every single student who crossed the stage. They had achieved so much and waited patiently, so it was wonderful to congratulate them and give them their moment.

We were disappointed that we were unable to go ahead with our Buxton ceremony but have planned this for next year and look forward to celebrating with our students then.

Our mission remains resolute to opening doors, providing new and challenging opportunities which we believe can influence the course of an individual’s life, undertaking research that makes a genuine difference in the world, and enabling businesses to innovate and grow so that they make a positive impact on society.

This year has provided a stronger sense of community across our region and beyond. We are an ambitious university and acknowledge that our accomplishments benefit from our strong and diverse partnerships. The higher education sector is complex and challenging, but it is paramount that we move forward at pace, assuring we deliver excellence in terms of the services we provide to our students and the outcomes they achieve. Our success is dependent upon the continued commitment from our students and staff, and the willingness of our partners and stakeholders to engage, support and work with us.

I hope that you will continue to join us on this journey - thank you all for your support this year.


Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL

Vice-Chancellor & Chief Executive