Oxford Brookes Vice Chancellor Prof Janet Beer looks at her time

When my appointment as the new Vice Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University was announced in September 2006 I received a piece of advice from an old friend, Sir William Taylor, troubleshooting, serial Vice Chancellor and a fellow Special Advisor to the Education Select Committee. His words to me were: “Start smiling on your first day at Brookes and don’t stop until you leave.” And I have, largely, been more than able — and definitely willing — to follow his advice. There is much to smile about at Oxford Brookes, not least the enthusiasm, commitment and achievements of my wonderful colleagues and our students.

My colleagues have always made the improvement of the quality of the student experience at Oxford Brookes their primary focus. From the design of our now award-winning John Henry Brookes Building, conceived as bringing together, in one beautiful beating heart, all the student-facing services on the Headington Campus, to the constant innovation in the classroom, the support for student entrepreneurship, the links with industry — the unfailing dedication of Brookes professional and academic staff to their work is a constant source of inspiration, and many smiles.

Our students seem to be appreciating the investment of time and resource that the University has put in over the last few years. Our 2014 National Student Survey overall satisfaction scores are, at 89 per cent, our highest ever, and the appreciation of our students for their new environment can perhaps be summed up by the levels of approbation expressed by our Architecture students. In 2012 they gave us a score of 84 per cent and this year have rewarded all the staff who work with them — whether in the classroom, in the studio, in the development of industry partnerships or in the exhibition of their work — a score of 97 per cent. This improvement in performance gives me particular personal delight, because I have a national role in the development of the National Student Survey — which will be ten years old in 2015 — to ensure its fitness for purpose as a marker of quality and also as an aid for prospective students to look at the verdict of current students on their academic programmes.

At the moment we are reaching the end of a review of the survey which will see some change in its content — for example, new questions will be included that reflect the level of individual student engagement in learning. When the survey was launched it was greeted with a significant degree of scepticism but I sincerely believe that it has been a force for good, improving, in partic-ular, the attention paid by universities to the kind of feedback, especially on assessment, that students get from academic staff.

Over my seven years in the University we have made a significant investment in the improvement of the relationship with our local community. One good example of Brookes students working to improve the quality of life for all, in this instance, as Student Community Wardens, helps to ensure that all students are reminded of the high standards of civility and good neighbourliness expected of them.

Our University-funded PCSOs work closely with the Student Community Wardens, enabling them to maximise the impact that they can have by taking the initiative rather than simply reacting to incidents when they occur.

We know that all our neighbours will derive great benefit from the exciting programme of events planned for the Brookes’ 150th anniversary year in 2015. There will be many and varied opportunities to celebrate the past achievements of the University community and to look forward to even greater triumphs to come. I will look back on my own seven years at Brookes as some of the most fulfilling of my professional life, working with inspirational people right across the organisation.

I have been fortunate enough to be the temporary custodian of this great University and I have complete confidence that it will continue to grow in reputation and stature for the next 150 years, and beyond, as many other hearts and minds commit to its continued success.

Prof Beer is leaving Oxford Brookes in January to take up the role of Vice Chancellor at the University of Liverpool.