Following the challenges and disruption posed by the pandemic, and the return of students and staff more fully in autumn 2021, the past year has seen university life return to near ‘normal’. With our community back together in person, both students and staff enjoyed once again a typical university experience - with in-person teaching, social events, and sporting activities all fully re-established, and major gatherings, including graduation ceremonies, back on the University calendar.
The successful transition was the result of the incredible efforts of our staff. We have learned lessons from the challenges of the last couple of years, and we are proud that our learning and teaching provision, while principally face-to-face, retained some of those beneficial hybrid elements introduced during the pandemic.
The return of in-person graduations across the year was a major milestone in our recovery from the pandemic. More than 4,000 students graduated from the University across nine ceremonies in 2022, with a further 2,000 graduates - who had been unable to attend a ceremony in 2020 and 2021 - returning to campus to celebrate at six summer ceremonies. In addition, we celebrated the achievements of our first graduates from our Ras Al Khaimah campus in the United Arab Emirates, and those graduating from our programmes at the Singapore Institute of Management.
With increased numbers on campus, it was also pleasing to see our newest facilities Campus Central and the Sports Centre – key components of our capital development masterplan – in full use by students, staff, and members of the community.
Over the year, the University continued to make significant progress towards the objectives articulated in the Strategic Plan Addendum 2021-23: to be one of the top 25 universities in the UK, to increase income by £50 million, to enhance the research profile by 100 percent, and to ensure internationalisation is at the heart of everything we do.
The University - which ranked top 30 in the UK for overall student satisfaction in both the National Student Survey and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey - has experienced exceptional growth in unregulated student recruitment across both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes over the past 12 months. The success - driven by a significant increase in applications from Africa and Asia - has seen our student population rise globally to 17,000.
We continue to be incredibly proud of all that our students achieved during their time with us, particularly those whose studies took place during the most challenging of contexts during the pandemic.
As Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, we are proud that last year was hugely successful for the University’s athletes and their coaches. Swimmers Duncan Scott and Kathleen Dawson - who both won gold at the Olympic Games in 2021 - were made Members of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours List. In the summer, Scott went on to become Scotland’s most decorated Commonwealth Games athlete of all time, as he won six medals in Birmingham – with the University’s athletes winning a record 16 medals in total.
The success came just months after recent graduates Mili Smith and Hailey Duff won gold for Team GB in curling at the Winter Olympics, alongside our honorary graduate Eve Muirhead. At the same competition, student Ross Whyte and another recent graduate, Bobby Lammie, won silver.
Louise Duncan and Lorna McClymont continued to enjoy success on the golf course, with the former competing at the prestigious Augusta National Women’s Amateur in Georgia. Meanwhile, the Men’s Football Team continued to make excellent progress under coach Chris Geddes, who won Coach of the Year at the Scottish Student Sport Awards in recognition of his side’s strong performances in the Lowland League, Scottish Cup, and British Universities and Colleges Sport Premier North. Notably, the team made history when they qualified for the Scottish Cup Fourth Round, in which they went on to play Premiership side Dundee United in early 2023.
Our research strengths were recognised by our robust standing in the Research Excellence Framework (REF), which demonstrated that the University delivered improvements across all three pillars of REF assessment – research outputs, impact, and environment.
REF found that 87% of Stirling research has an outstanding or very considerable impact on society, while more than 80% of our research is world-leading or internationally excellent. Furthermore, there was significant growth in research income over the past year, reflected in the University exceeding its target for 2021/22.
These successes – enabled by a strong and collaborative research community and strategic, targeted research support – reflect the positive impact the University’s research has in tackling real-world challenges, such as climate change, food security and an ageing population. More so than ever, Stirling research is making a difference, challenging ideas, and changing lives for the better.
The University’s participation in the Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal continues to drive development of new research centres. Scotland’s International Environment Centre was established; The National Aquaculture Technology and Innovation Hub received planning approval from Stirling Council; and proposals got off the ground for the establishment of an Intergenerational Living Innovation Hub, a multi-million-pound research and development centre that will respond to the demands of an ageing population.
We continued to strengthen partnerships both at a local, national, and international level over the period. We were proud to launch the Forth Valley University College NHS Partnership in October - an ambitious landmark agreement that will see the University join forces with NHS Forth Valley and Forth Valley College with the mission to improve patient care and treatments, and boost health research and staff learning across the region.
Joining the Young European Research University Network - a cluster of highly-ranked young universities across the continent - will enable us to strengthen cooperation and collaboration in the areas of scientific research, academic education and services which benefit society. Meanwhile, our new partnership with the prestigious Budapest Business School will enable students to study in both Scotland and Hungary and graduate with two degrees.
The University is committed to playing its role in addressing the global climate crisis. Our researchers are at the forefront of efforts to develop innovative responses to climate change, enabling adaption and resilience, and driving forward carbon neutral prosperity. As set out in our 2022-2028 Sustainability Plan, as an employer, we are taking steps to lower our institutional carbon footprint, and support cleaner, greener ways of working – and are committed to achieving and supporting the Forth Valley region to achieve net-zero status by 2040.
Foundations for the future
In a year in which the world emerged cautiously from the pandemic, the University not only weathered the storm but - thanks to the efforts of our community - achieved remarkable milestones while laying the foundations for future success.
The significant successes achieved over the last 12 months have placed the University in a strong position to develop and deliver an ambitious new strategy in 2022/23. We look forward to building on the University’s strengths as an innovative and agile institution, and with a strong commitment to delivering impactful research, seamless learner journeys and an excellent student experience.
Professor Sir Gerry McCormac
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
University of Stirling