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Building on what makes us unique as we move towards a new reality

Building on what makes us unique as we move towards a new reality

30 July 2020

Last week, we released our Annual Report for the financial year ending April 2020. As well as capturing our financial performance, it reflects on our achievements, and the initiatives we have in place to support our communities. Each year, I am amazed at the breadth and impact of our work, and at how committed everyone at OUP is to achieving our mission.

By the time our year ended, the coronavirus was dominating our lives and that has made for a very different Report. We felt the impact of the pandemic from January onwards, as institutions and schools started to close all over the world, and our turnover of course suffered as a result. Before long we, like everyone else, were adjusting quickly to a new reality. We had to make choices, sometimes overnight, about how to keep our people safe, and start exploring how we could continue to provide access to high-quality education and research to our communities despite the limitations of lockdown.

Although the coronavirus is the focus of all our conversations now, at OUP, we had many achievements pre-pandemic that deserve to be celebrated. We were awarded a contract to work with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to develop the Science Framework for its Programme for International Student Assessment in 2024 (now 2025, due to the pandemic). Oxford Dictionaries relaunched as Oxford Languages, expanding our work into new data services for the technology sector. We trained more than 311,000 teachers globally, with more than 15,000 people attending our English Language Teaching Online Conference in 2020, making it the largest online conference in the industry’s history. It goes without saying that our transition towards digital continued, with millions accessing our online content.

These successes, along with many others, act as a powerful reminder to me of the fundamental qualities that will always make OUP so effective—how our work is rooted in pedagogical and academic excellence, and we seek to change people’s lives for the better through education and research. By necessity, the role of the publisher is evolving. Still, our mission remains the same, and our pursuit of making more of the highest quality thinking available to more people will keep us focussed as we assess how to move forward.

Across our industry, we are of course considering the long-term effects of the coronavirus. How do we effectively embrace digital learning alongside traditional learning methods, in a way that works for all? Will we see a permanent change in the way people access knowledge? How will remote learning change perceptions of teachers and institutions? It’s still too early to answer these questions with any certainty—especially now, as some regions re-enter lockdown, and the plans we felt comfortable to make are again thrown into question. What we do know is that as we head towards the post-pandemic future and continue to unlock the potential of technology in supporting education and research, we must draw from what we’ve learned, and where we’ve come from, to shape that future. If we’ve taken anything from half a millennia in world-leading thinking, it’s that bold ideas must be coupled with uncompromising focus to be successful. 

Whether you’re an established organization like OUP, a new start-up, or an individual considering your options, now is the time to think about the unique role you play. We have all grown and evolved during these difficult times, and although some of us may never return to how we were pre-pandemic, we must not forget those individual, essential qualities that we want to bring with us to our new reality.