Professor Sir Steve Smith, Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive.

Strategic Plan

Introduction from the Vice-Chancellor

This strategy describes change and continuity. It builds on the recent achievements of Exeter staff, students and alumni, and gives us forward direction. But it is not a strategy in the old-fashioned sense of lots of worthy objectives, dutifully ground out. The new world is too fast-moving and unpredictable for that. Rather, this document sets a course so we can make our own weather and not be constantly buffeted to change direction. It sets out who we are and what we aspire to be. It is about excellence and engagement.

The emphasis of our work over the past decade has been on making rapid progress, particularly in areas such as research, the student experience and earned income. We have been successful in this task with the result that Exeter is now widely regarded as a leading British university. Our objective now is to be consistently ranked amongst the top 10 in the UK and the top 100 in the world.

Although the University has been transformed, growing in both size and quality, this has not diminished our appetite to develop further. Exeter is a dynamic and engaging place to study and work: there is a real energy on our campuses. We believe Exeter is distinctive for delivery, constantly developing new and better ways of doing things, able to focus on what is important and to take decisions quickly and decisively.

Our focus now is on planning for the future, building our networks across business, education and other sectors and collaborating with other leading universities in the UK and beyond. These partnerships will define our position over the next decade.

This strategy strikes a balance between looking ahead whilst not forgetting that the world often changes requiring adaptability. The seismic changes brought about by the spending cuts to higher education under the UK coalition government are just such a change in circumstances: but one that gives us confidence rather than fear for the future. They do at least set a solid landscape for our activities, if a rather different one to what we are used to. Universities which take around 15% of their income from block grants can no longer be considered public sector organisations. Rather than depending upon meeting the requirements of funding bodies, our first priority must be meeting the expectations of students as graduate contributions become our single biggest source of income.

The world is changing at an incredibly fast pace, and will surely continue to do so. Travel and technologies are bringing peoples and cultures together, and economic growth brings new giants to the international stage. The rise of China and India, in particular, is remarkable, and their governments are investing heavily in higher education. The best universities will naturally seek to collaborate with each other – partnering with a select group of leading international universities is central to Exeter’s future – and we are accelerating towards this goal. Enriching our world-leading research is at the heart of this strategy, pooling the best of our knowledge and resources beyond geographical borders. We are now exploring how we could extend our presence overseas, but the essence of our strategy is bringing the best and brightest staff and students to our Exeter and Cornwall campuses.

We believe there is something special about the ‘Exeter Experience’. We attract highly motivated students, who thrive academically and who get engaged - with societies, with volunteering, with the Guild and increasingly by helping to shape their own learning and future employment prospects. Through close engagement with the Students’ Guild, we will involve students in strategic spending decisions. We will aim to further nurture and develop this work as we move forward so that Exeter stands out even further from the crowd for the strength of the student experience.

This in turn means more emphasis on having excellent facilities, high quality teaching, strong employability and world-class research. As research funds are concentrated in fewer institutions, it will be vital to focus on developing the highest quality internationally rated research. Although it is tempting to see research as a separate activity, it also supports the educational experience since students benefit from – and want to be taught by – academics at the leading edge of their fields. Thus high quality research-informed teaching is our aim.

The world will continue changing in ways we cannot always foresee, but we are confident that we are remarkably well-placed in our core strengths and in our ability to adapt. If these remain the ingredients for success then I am sure Exeter has a great future as a world-class university.

Professor Sir Steve Smith
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive