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Looking ahead to the next chapter, education and research will never be the same again

Looking ahead to the next chapter, education and research will never be the same again

15 December 2020

The end of 2020 is fast approaching, for which many of us will be thankful. At this time in 2019, we couldn’t have possibly predicted that we were about to embark on a year that would significantly impact on our ways of living, learning, and working, potentially forever. We’ve had to adapt, in almost every aspect of our lives. It has been unsettling, sometimes scary—but as we reflect on the past year, it’s an opportunity to think about what we’ve learned, and what we hope to achieve as we look ahead to 2021.
 
The defining trend in education and research this year has, of course, been the acceleration towards digital. At OUP, we’ve been on the journey of digital transformation—along with many other publishers—for some time. The sudden need to provide digital products and services to enable education and research to continue during lockdowns meant we had to accelerate this work. We had to ensure our content was available, in the right formats, and that those using our resources such as teachers had the necessary support. At times it was challenging, and a learning curve, but I continue to be proud of how we responded, and the progress we’ve made in enhancing our digital capabilities without compromising on quality. Our approach to innovation remains considered, rooted in quality, and focused on delivering the right outcomes for our users.
 
We’ve also seen first-hand the important role we play in sharing ideas and perspectives so that people can truly explore and analyze different topics and situations. In an earlier post, I discussed the role that publishers play in helping people understand global issues—such as the climate emergency, racism, and of course, the pandemic—through our content. By providing the tools to enable people to make sense of the world around them, we can drive progress in wider society. The academic resources that we made freely available to support the fight against Covid-19 are just one example; these have now been accessed more than 15 million times.
 
If I could summarize our learnings from the year, it’s that what we do seems to be more valuable than ever. Whether it’s helping people to learn, research, and expand their understanding, or enabling them to develop their language skills, 2020 has shown us that access to knowledge, language, and words—in whatever format—cannot be underestimated. Last week, we launched a campaign to encourage people to ‘give the gift of words’ this festive season to recognize exactly this. We asked authors, illustrators, and public figures to share words or books that have inspired them and were overwhelmed by the power of the submissions we received, from Alice in Wonderland, Snoopy, and The Hobbit, through to the works of Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver. Words truly can provide inspiration, comfort, and encouragement, to ultimately change lives.
 
So, what are our hopes and resolutions as we look ahead to 2021 as a new chapter? Firstly, we are committed to ongoing innovation, so that more and more people can continue to access our resources. We also want to continue to understand the needs of our customers and users, so we can further refine and develop our products and services. If you already work with us and have ideas for how we can better support you, then tell us.
 
Secondly, we will continue to look for opportunities to drive progress through our work. We recognize the role we play in wider society, and to employees. For example, we are acutely aware of the pressing issue of climate change; one of our open access titles in our flagship Oxford Open series is Oxford Open Climate Change. Equally, we continue to take steps to improve representation among our authors, as well as within the content of our books, and among our employee base. Earlier this year, we ran a series of listening sessions across our different markets to further refine and inform our own approach to diversity and inclusion. The insights gathered will shape our future activities so that we can truly create a diverse, inclusive culture that reflects our markets and customers.

Thirdly, we are committed to maintaining our absolute focus on exceptional quality across all our products and services. This year, our titles won a trio of prestigious history awards for the first time—the Pulitzer History Prize, the Cundill History Prize, and the Wolfson History Prize. It’s a huge honour, and testament to the work of the authors and the editorial teams, as well as our commitment to publishing the very best content. 
 
And last, but by no means least, we will continue to adapt to help us to achieve our mission. We cannot possibly predict what the next year holds; if the pandemic really has changed our world forever, it’s unlikely we’ll ever return to how things were. That may seem daunting—and perhaps not the most positive note to end on—but let’s remember how much we have already achieved. We have already come so far, and we know we can handle whatever 2021 has in store.


Nigel Portwood, CEO, Oxford University Press