The campus has come alive again. Students are spilling out of lecture theatres, seminar rooms and informal study spaces. The campus feels busy and engaged; teaching has begun and students I’ve talked to in the cafes, lifts and corridors are already feeling enthused about their studies. A new academic year is underway.
On Friday 27 September, we reached the end of the main enrolment week. By the end of that week, a total of 26,724 students have enrolled for the 2019/20 session. Of these, 15,172 returning students had fully re-enrolled online, and almost twelve thousand new students – undergraduate and post-graduate, home and international – are fully enrolled.
The scale and efficiency of our enrolment operation is one of the largest in UK higher education. I spent some time with the teams at the end of the week. It’s a smooth, well-planned process – a long way from the recollection I have, a very long time ago, of standing in line as a nervous undergraduate, feeling a bit confused. I sat beside a student who was working through the university’s online pre-enrolment process which was logical and straightforward. I talked to the Registry teams dealing with face-to-face enrolment, undertaking final identity and course checks smoothly and efficiently. Alison Wells, in her sixth working week at the university as Director of Academic Services wrote a note on the week saying:
“As a new member of the team here, but having experience of enrolment at other institutions, my sense is that this has been a very successful week, resulting from a positive and collegial approach with excellent planning and collaborative delivery across directorates, departments and faculties”.
It’s very good to get the academic year underway. Enrolment, of course, is a staging post on the journey from application through the admissions process to successful study at the university. This year’s enrolment follows a successful Clearing and Adjustment process for the University: on A-levels results day we ran a superb operation, taking almost 3000 calls, fielded by a team totalling some 390 staff from right across the university. We’d anticipated some challenges – we are almost at the bottom of the long demographic decline which has impacted sharply on UK university admissions, but a highly effective operation, an outstanding approach to shepherding students through the process – which included hand-written cards sent to all our new students – and the university’s striking successes in student satisfaction surveys all contributed to making a successful overall recruitment cycle. Our postgraduate and international applications are also significantly up. We can start the year in good health.
One of my jobs in all this is to keep a careful eye on figures, looking for trends in the data which shape our own strategic thinking about the future – the balance between subjects, the geographical origin of both our home and international students. Our student cohort in 2019 is different from our student cohort in 2015, and it will no doubt be different again in half a decade’s time. But, in my experience, students at the start of an academic year have things in common which do not change much: they are motivated and a bit excited; they are enthusiastic and a little bit nervous; they are not quite sure what comes next. Universities can often be a bit overwhelming, and there is no harm in acknowledging that. Our students also need to settle in, to find their way around and to feel comfortable here. We’ve got their year off to a good start – many of those I’ve spoken to, and far more on whose lift and corridor conversations I have eavesdropped feel a bit special about being at the University of the Year for Teaching Quality. And so they should. Our task now is to sustain their enthusiasm and engagement, to challenge and excite them, to make sure they thrive.