Once again the year was dominated by responding to the challenges posed by COVID-19. We are fortunate to have a strong and supportive community here at Stirling – and I am proud of everything that we have achieved together during the pandemic.
At times, COVID-19 restrictions eased, allowing greater numbers of students and staff to return to campus. Seeing students, colleagues and members of the public back in our classrooms, laboratories, sports facilities and social areas, was truly heart-warming.
Combining hybrid teaching with the transition back to campus was a significant undertaking and one which would not have been possible without the energy, adaptability and resilience of our students and staff, and I am grateful for their continued support and understanding.
As travel restrictions continued, we were proud to support our international students by providing on-campus, managed isolation accommodation for those beginning or returning to their studies from ‘Red List’ countries. We aided the national rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination, by hosting a National Health Service vaccination centre in our Pathfoot building, and continued to work closely with the NHS and other public health partners to provide a test centre on campus – supporting the health and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community.
Despite another unprecedented year, our community remained focused on retaining our reputation for delivering research and teaching of the highest quality. We retained our five-star rating in the respected QS Stars University Ratings - which recognise the University as a welcoming, international university, with a global reputation for high-quality research and teaching, outstanding facilities and excellent student employability prospects. We also received high commendation from the UK’s independent higher education quality body, the QAA, for our achievements in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, student support and the institutional commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.
Research that makes a difference
Our research – which focuses on delivering solutions to some of the biggest global challenges – continued to expand in 2021.
In October, we welcomed the King and Queen of Sweden to our Dementia Services Development Centre (DSDC) in a visit arranged as part of our partnership with Her Majesty Queen Silvia’s dementia foundation Silviahemmet. At DSDC, our experts work with a range of international partners to develop housing innovations that can better support people living with cognitive conditions, like dementia.
We also secured UK Government funding through the Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal to establish a new, multi-million-pound Intergenerational Living Innovation Hub at the University, to provide pioneering solutions to the challenges posed by an ageing global population. The Hub will bring together researchers, industry experts, healthcare providers and the third sector, to develop innovative ways for an ageing population to live, work and socialise, and is evidence of our commitment to putting research into action to solve global issues.
Vital research exploring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continued at pace, with key projects reporting on vaccine hesitancy and transmission risks, and new studies launched to explore long COVID and the impact of the pandemic on healthcare staff.
Our standing as a globally-connected institution, conducting research that tackles real life problems, was further underlined at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26. The summit, held in Glasgow, saw University of Stirling researchers make a unique contribution to the critical debates at the heart of the international effort to combat the causes and effects of climate change. During the summit, we announced the forestLAB partnership - a new multi-million pound project to create a research hub to explore climate-smart, conservation-led solutions for sustainable development in central Africa. We also launched the Forth Environmental Resilience Array (Forth-ERA), a pioneering environmental recovery project directed by the University, which will turn the Forth Valley into a living laboratory and collect important data on water quality and quantity to drive clean growth and a transition to net zero.
As an employer and place of learning, we are also committed to playing our role in addressing the global climate crisis and our approach is making a difference. We have surpassed our sustainability targets and our carbon emissions have reduced by 51.5% since 2007/08, marking a clear downward trend across 11 consecutive years.
The University was proud to get behind our Olympic athletes who headed off to the Tokyo Games to compete at the pinnacle of their sport. It brought great joy to our whole community to watch Duncan Scott and Kathleen Dawson – both athletes on our high performance swim programme – bringing home five medals, Kathleen securing gold with Team GB in the inaugural Mixed 4x100m Medley Relay, and Duncan scooping one gold medal and three silver in his events. The haul saw the swimmer, who celebrated his own graduation just weeks before jetting off to Japan, cementing his place in sporting history by becoming the most successful British Olympian at a single Olympic Games, by winning a record four medals. It was an outstanding achievement, testament to his talent, hard work and commitment to his sport.
Enhancing the student experience
Our investment in our campus infrastructure and student experience was demonstrated by the completion of Campus Central – a multi-million pound redevelopment – which has created a new heart to our campus and more than doubled social and study spaces.
Incorporating a new three-storey building, the redevelopment is the new home of the Student Services Hub and Macrobert Arts Centre’s box office. It provides a range of new retail and recreation space, including eating and drinking venues. A modern and inspiring building, it offers a flexible and impressive space for our university community to access services, work, learn and relax in.
We increased our student and staff numbers this year and celebrated our 100,000th graduate – welcoming back some of our first graduates from the Class of 1967 to join the celebrations. The University added to its prestigious list of international affiliations, with the launch of a new educational partnership with Chengdu University in China, demonstrating our commitment to building strategic international partnerships in support of research and teaching excellence.
We are proud of the welcoming and relaxed environment on campus, where more than 120 nationalities are now represented. That sense of pride only swells further when we see our students achieve great things. We look forward to welcoming our Classes of 2020 and 2021, back for a proper celebration this summer – who, due to the circumstances, graduated in absentia – and cheer our Class of 2022 across the stage as they collect their awards at in-person ceremonies.
As an international university that values ability – not background, delivers high quality learning and teaching, world-leading research and state-of-the-art facilities, Stirling remains one of the UK’s most desirable destinations for students, and a place that continues to produce highly employable graduates that are making a significant and tangible difference to society.
Professor Sir Gerry McCormac
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
University of Stirling