Great discoveries, leading change, collaborating for the better

It is 2015 and we can be confident that in ten years the world will be quite different from today. International relations, social structures and trade patterns will alter. There will be new approaches to dealing with epidemics, shortages of natural resources and environmental crises. New challenges will arise.

Global research-driven universities like Imperial College London have a central role in helping humanity address these changes and challenges by making discoveries, educating leaders and developing innovations that benefit society. Yet these universities will need to change to contribute to this future. In our Strategy 2015–2020 we set out how Imperial will be a source of new solutions, a contributor to a better future, a trusted partner and a new paradigm of the global university.

Strong foundations for global challenges

We will support an atmosphere and culture that embraces discovery. We will continue to be guided by our mission of achieving enduring excellence in research and education in science, engineering, medicine and business for the benefit of society. We will shrink the time and distance between fundamental discovery and societal benefit. We will provide our students with the knowledge and experiences that equip them for their future roles as leaders. We will have the courage to take risks. We will remain true to our mission.

While we cannot envision all of the challenges ahead, we believe that Imperial can contribute by focusing our research around four themes: discovery and the natural world; engineering novel solutions; health and well-being; and leading the data revolution.

Through these themes, we have allowed ourselves to dream and pose ‘what if?’ questions that drive our sense of curiosity and adventure and motivate our work. These questions are drawn from existing, growing crises such as antimicrobial resistant bacteria, where there is an acute need for both research and public education. They are also drawn from other looming challenges such as the need for secure, sustainable water, energy and minerals; the impact of environmental and climate change; and the corrosion of materials in our vast, ageing civil infrastructure.

This is an extraordinary time to be part of Imperial. There is a need for our expertise. There is a growing ability to harness data from a wide variety of sources such as genomics or financial markets to improve knowledge, understanding and decision-making. We are in the right place at an essential time.

Great people: staff, students, alumni and friends

Great discoveries begin with great people: talented individuals steeped in the knowledge of their core discipline, confident enough to work on risky, unsolved problems, adept at understanding and working with others from different fields and immersed in an atmosphere of excellence. They are underpinned by talented support staff who put their full energy and passion into their work and our mission. We will make supporting and enabling all these people central to what we do.

Our bright and energetic students are integral to our mission. We will enhance their experiences by embedding their education in cutting-edge research and providing increasing opportunities for them to use their talents in new entrepreneurial, creative and practical ways. The Dyson School of Design Engineering is an example of the way we will nurture the multifaceted talents of our students and develop them into the leaders of the future.

We have a tremendous asset in our highly successful alumni and friends. We will revitalise our relationship with them and encourage them to be a part of the Imperial College London of today and of the future. Their knowledge, expertise and experience will contribute to the intellectual power of the College.

Great partners: collaborations across boundaries

Across the world, people are recognising that the changes and challenges we face require us to work together more effectively. Universities must drive collaboration, work across disciplines and seize opportunities in ways and at a pace unusual for academia. It is the only way that we can solve the world’s challenges.

At Imperial we are good at working across disciplines and collaborating. In 2014 three-quarters of our research papers were collaborations with external co-authors from over 140 countries and 6,000 different universities, businesses and other research organisations.

Yet we can be even better and can lead in new areas. We will seek the very best from around the world, sometimes collaborating with our toughest competition in order to create an amazing team. We will ensure that our reward structures provide incentives for sharing, collaborating and building relationships. This means that we will recognise collaboration in our evaluations for promotions and awards and we will advocate to funders and evaluators to support collaborative work.

We will make all of our campuses into dynamic centres of collaboration and innovation. We will bring staff, students, entrepreneurs and industry researchers together in modern purpose-built spaces where ideas can be developed and tested rigorously and where networks can flourish. In White City we are creating a new campus where partnerships working on global challenges transcend departmental boundaries.

Informing, influencing, inspiring

Every day individuals, policy makers and business leaders face questions, the answers to which require an understanding of the natural world, technology, medical advances and business analysis. We can make a tremendous difference by using our expertise and knowledge to provide factual evidence and advice to decision makers in government and business.

In addition, the world is full of people who are naturally curious and enjoy learning. It is important that we excite and inspire the public, from potential new students to eager lifelong learners, by sharing what we do in ways that arouse curiosity, awaken a love of discovery, and broaden the understanding of an increasingly complex world.

Enablers: the way forward

As we embark on this era of change, we hope that each member of the College will seize this opportunity to advocate what we do, be agile and courageous with new ideas and seek out new collaborations. We expect great things of ourselves and of each other. We each have a role to play and contributions to make to Imperial’s future.

We will build the financial strength needed for our world-leading work through careful financial management and public, private and philanthropic support. We will make our own investments to pursue the new and the risky. We will support ideas that are potential breakthrough programmes that put us in a leadership position. We will place our bets even if the idea is ahead of its time and has not received outside funding. We will develop the talent we need to contribute in areas that have not yet been fully explored. And we will invite our friends and alumni to invest with us and be a part of these forefront ideas.

Courage

Researchers are courageous. We probe the boundaries of knowledge, we seek discovery and delve into the unknown. We take calculated risks when we know we are onto something important. We find collaborators readily. Individually we already know how to do this. Institutions are more conservative. We will ensure that Imperial creates an environment where researchers can be courageous and push back the boundaries of their fields. We will make working together easy and support judicious risk-taking and collaboration.

The world is changing and Imperial is changing too. We set out this Strategy 2015–2020 to help guide us in the next few years. We acknowledge that we do not know where the new challenges and opportunities will be. We do know that we have great people and we will build a more agile, adaptive and resilient organisation so that we will be ready for whatever the future holds. 

Professor Alice P. Gast