Setting new standards

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor, The University of Manchester highlights how the university ensures that its values align with the changing times



Published: Fri 23 Sep 2022, 4:32 PM

How has the experience of teaching changed, as it incorporates other styles such as remote and hybrid, which have been necessitated by the pandemic?

From a teaching perspective, The University of Manchester has transformed — from the necessity of remote teaching online due to the pandemic, to addressing where we can get the best value from online as part of a hybrid teaching/learning approach. We have some great examples of this on campus, such as one professor who is still doing in- person teaching and then collecting student feedback online covering any questions or difficult areas. So, this is all about enhancing the teaching and learning experience using online tools. Of course, face-to-face teaching and learning is still very important and our lecturers and students agree on the value of being together on campus.

How do you see the world adjusting to ‘business as usual’ and will the workplace ever go completely back to what it was before?

I don’t believe we will go back to business as usual but we may move back a little further from where we are now. At the university, we do have hybrid working for our back-office staff which had a positive response and there is a need for colleagues to be on campus together for some of the time, of course. Longer term, I think there will be less international travel because of environmental concerns and people will think twice about the carbon emissions associated with any trip. This means there is likely to be more online activity used in education and business generally than there was before the pandemic.

Is there such a thing as a localised curriculum in this day and age of globalisation?

Yes, there is. For example, the university might teach general history on campus but a component of this may be focused on the industrial history of Manchester. While teaching business at our Global MBA workshops here in the Middle East, our faculty will include relevant local examples wherever possible. Students certainly need the broader or global picture as a part of the taught programme but it can also be combined very effectively with local references and examples. This is what helps make a subject come alive for students, so I believe the combination of local and broader study is really important.

How does the university ensure that its values align with the changing times and sensibilities and what impact does it play in attracting the brightest minds?

Our university core values are well defined and communicated – knowledge, wisdom, humanity, academic freedom, courage, pioneering spirit – and we aim to bring these to life across the university and take a value-led approach to staff recruitment, reward recognition, and well-being. They are clear in recent achievements and recognitions such as being named as one of the world’s leading universities for action on sustainable development, the creation of ID Manchester (Europe’s most ambitious innovation district) and our approach to hybrid working. Our social responsibility agenda helps and some students and staff say they want to come to Manchester because of this. Every organisation has values but it’s how they are enacted or played out that matters. Sometimes, we have made decisions that may actually lead to a more expensive route because we have to apply our values wherever possible.

What are some of the initiatives that the institution has undertaken that are aligned with the UN’s sustainable development goals.

The 17 SDGs are the world’s call to action on the most pressing challenges and opportunities facing humanity and the natural world. As one of the world’s leading research institutions and the UK’s first university to have social responsibility as a core goal, Manchester is playing a leading role in tackling them through our research, learning and students, public engagement activities and responsible campus operations. We produce four per cent of the UK’s research across the 17 SDGs and have a commitment to a zero-carbon campus by 2038. Our students have social responsibility sessions at the start of each year, on sustainability and justice in the workplace, for example. We also have regular staff awards for social responsibility and celebrate every year in recognition of the most important and impactful activities amongst students staff and alumni. We also have a very active social responsibility programme through our Middle East Centre, which I was able to support during my recent first visit to the UAE.


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