We’re in the midst of rapid change. The acronym coined by the American military, ‘VUCA’ (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous), describes a climate that applies across many sectors, including higher education and health.

The removal of the limit on undergraduate numbers in UK universities, along with the introduction of fees, has created a competitive market, triggering disruptive change and new approaches to higher education.

Metrics derived from the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the National Students’ Survey (NSS) and international profile, drive league tables. We’re familiar with the REF, measuring research environment, outputs and impact. Preparations for the next REF will soon be in full swing and the outcome of the current consultation on the recommendations of the review by Lord Stern1 will determine next steps. The REF is now joined by the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). In contrast to the REF, the best metrics for the objective assessment of ‘teaching quality’ are less clear – and the quality of the student experience as measured by the NSS will be a critical component of TEF evaluation.

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity also apply to the NHS and the wider health sector, with significant challenges in relation to the economy, clinical service delivery and pressures on staff.

But there are great opportunities too. There has never been a more exciting time to be working in the medical, biomedical and life sciences. The Life Sciences Strategy2 is still a national priority, with recent discoveries and the application of new technologies promising to transform patient care.

The success of our education and research is critically dependent upon a close working relationship with the NHS. In addition to the strong partnership with University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, we collaborate with providers of healthcare across the region, in acute and community settings, to teach our students on clinical placements. Much of this teaching is delivered by clinical colleagues in the NHS, and this is a crucial aspect of our education programmes in preparing the next generation of doctors to take their place in a challenging and fast-changing work environment.

Our achievements in translational research, taking basic discoveries into the clinic to develop new treatments, are also built upon a strong track record of collaborative working with the NHS. New therapies are tested in state-of-the-art clinical research facilities at University Hospital Southampton, supported by awards from major funding bodies including the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. This infrastructure is essential for our research programmes and in the past 12 months the partnership between the University and University Hospital has been awarded over £30 million to develop the next phase of our translational research facilities.

Despite significant and perhaps unforeseen external changes, we have achieved much in 2016 and there continue to be tremendous opportunities in medicine and the life sciences.

Thank you, students, staff and colleagues, for your contributions to our success – and all best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/research-excellence-framework-review

2. https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-for-life-sciences

December reflections

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