The past year has been a time of stasis for some as a result of the continued reality of Covid-19. We are pleased to have continued to make tremendous progress despite the prevailing global conditions brought about by Covid-19.
Though dire and tragic, these conditions have provided us with the opportunity to re-think, reiterate and renew with a spirit of resilience and purpose. Over the course of the last year, we as the Board of Governors have spent time strengthening governance processes, setting in place the right foundations for a stronger tomorrow. We have worked through our strategic plans, allocating investments in the right places to ensure that we continue to track to our long-term goals.
In 2020/21 the Board developed processes to track compliance more closely in matters such as alignment to the CUC Code. We also established the first iteration of an Ethical Framework for the University. Our Ethics Advisory Committee has overseen the process of its development and application within the University. We have restructured the Board to ensure its composition continues to reflect the lives and aspirations of our student body.
The sheer weight of experience and skills of our members is bringing gravity and relevance to our purpose.
Two of our recent appointees who illustrate this are:
- Professor Sir Les Ebdon is a widely recognised authority in the fields of social mobility and higher education and a former director of Fair Access to Higher Education, helping to drive the number of disadvantaged students in HE to its highest ever level.
- Doris Olulode is a former student at the University and has extensive human resources experience in the corporate world, having spent several years at the most senior levels at Ford Motor Company, as well as holding non-executive directorships with a number of hospital trusts.
The University continues to work closely with public health services.
We are very proud of our reputation as a key partner in supplying healthcare institutions with nurses and healthcare specialists of the highest calibre.
We are especially proud as this has become all the more relevant during the pandemic.
We were quick to offer up volunteers and resources in the early stages of the pandemic and have continued to provide support to the local community through setting up vaccination and testing centres. I am assured that the relationships with Newham and its residents, further strengthened in crisis, will continue to grow even deeper in the years ahead. The work so far has been nothing short of transformative and has catalysed the University’s cherished ambition to make a meaningful impact on our community, reflecting our core values. Our close collaboration with the borough has undoubtedly impacted many lives.
Underpinning all our advances and ambitions has been a necessary focus on our financial resilience. Although the pandemic has been challenging, we had already set in place measures to put our finances on to surer footing. The University remains free of leverage and our cash generation remains strong. In 2020/21, we saw a good operating year with income growing by 12.5 per cent and an operating surplus of nearly £18 million.
Looking at our longer-term sustainability, we aspire to be better connected to our students, staff and community. Our multi-million-pound investment in our Connected Campus improvements program is very much underway and aims to promote a more vibrant and stimulating environment for both the University and our local community while attracting a wider audience nationally and globally. In July we concluded the acquisition of Birkbeck's (University of London) share of the University Square Stratford (USS) campus, located in the heart of Stratford's arts and cultural district. We now seek to enhance its facilities, providing more space and resources for our energetic and growing Royal Docks School of Business and Law and its Legal Advice Centre and Tax and Accountancy Clinic, which provide free and essential aid to those who can't afford it.
While we anticipate further uncertainty in the sector, with government policy on post-18 education still unresolved and Covid-19 omnipresent, we face these challenges in the knowledge that we have durable contingencies.
Three themes arising from our Vision 2028 strategy have become our current focus and all have a topical urgency. They are:
- sustainability, with the University's ambitious target to become a net zero carbon institution;
- health and wellbeing, with its painful topicality; and
- sport, where the university will be celebrating its 10th year legacy from the Olympics in 2012 where we have excelled so often in the past, evidenced by our representation at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Finally, at the heart of Vision 2028 is service to, and support of, one of the most diverse student populations in the UK. Part of this is our new Diversity of Thought programme, which brings together blue-chip employers and students with the aim of equipping our students and graduates to find solutions to the biggest challenges facing our world today. Over 38 per cent of participants in the programme are the first in their families to go to university.
On behalf of the Board of Governors, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all those who over the past year continue to work hard to make the University of East London such a resilient institution: our vice- chancellor & president and her executive team, our staff and our students, past and present and our broader stakeholders. Finally, I would like to thank to my fellow Board members, whose wisdom, guidance and experience have helped steer our ship confidently through these challenging and unusual waters.
In August 2022, I will leave behind a University in good standing, measurably and markedly improved from the time I joined the Board in November 2018 and became its chair a year later. I have the utmost confidence that my successor, our Board, the University's leadership and, of course, our staff and students, will continue to innovate and pioneer within UK higher education, and transform the lives of our communities through knowledge, research, and education.
With best wishes,
Anulika Ajufo, Chair, Board of Governors