Report of the Secretary to the Delegates

Nigel Portwood, Chief Executive Officer, Oxford University Press

In 2020/21, Oxford University Press reported £754.5 million of Group turnover. This represented a 10.7 per cent decrease on an FRS 102 basis relative to the prior year; at constant exchange rates, the decline was 8.6 per cent. Print sales declined by 22 per cent mainly because of the effects of the pandemic, but digital-only sales grew by 13 per cent as we continued to offer more digital products both to support people during the pandemic, and as part of our priority to increase our overall digital business. 

Financial performance across the divisions varied widely. Academic achieved an impressive growth as the demand for high-quality research content increased, particularly in digital formats. The Education and ELT divisions both suffered sales declines due to generally lower opportunities for digital substitution and a greater exposure to less resilient emerging markets. Nevertheless, we saw strong performances in several markets, especially the UK and China.

In my introduction to the Annual Report last year, I said that it was hard to predict what the impact of the pandemic would be. I shared my hope for recovery, but I also acknowledged the difficulties that lay ahead. I wrote of my confidence that the demand for Oxford University Press’s high-quality materials and services would remain, even though we would need to adapt to meet the challenges of an uncertain environment.

The actual experience of last year reflected all of these points.

While we are now seeing the vaccine distributed on an international scale—in part, thanks to the work of our gifted colleagues at the University—it is likely that life, as we once knew it, has changed permanently.

Due to the events of the past 18 months, the way people learn, and access information, has transformed. As a result, we have accelerated our digital plans, rethinking our own ways of working so that we can continue to serve our core markets—research, the learning of English, and education—as effectively as possible.

It has been a significant shift, but our digital-first approach to supporting our customers and communities has certainly resulted in some significant achievements this year:

  • Approximately 53,000 people signed up to attend our flagship English Language Online Teaching Conference (ELTOC)—a sign of the importance of professional development among teaching communities during a time of so much change
  • We achieved the milestone of more than 25,000 of our academic research books being made available online
  • We launched numerous open access portals and materials throughout the year to help people during lockdown, including offering access to NHS staff to over 1,000 books in Oxford Medicine Online
  • In Education, we launched the Lockdown Learning Heroes Awards, to celebrate those who had gone above and beyond to support learning during unusual circumstances

As we continue to use our expertise to innovate ways of learning now, and into the future, we also shared our knowledge more broadly by publishing several reports highlighting key findings and making recommendations. These included Bridging the word gap at transition—researching the impact on a child’s vocabulary if they are from a disadvantaged background; looking at the relevance and impact of monographs in today’s world in The use of monographs in a digital environment; and Supporting learner agency—a white paper from the English Language Teaching Division that focuses on the importance of ensuring people feel empowered with their own sense of autonomy and navigation in their learning.

We took many steps to support our employees during the pandemic. As most of us continued to work remotely, and faced challenges in our daily lives, we launched a new wellbeing programme asking that our people be there for each other.

We also launched a new recognition programme for our employees, Pass the Praise, to encourage us all to take the time to say ‘thank you’ to each other as an extra recognition of the exceptional efforts of our employees.

Oxford University Press’s surplus from trading before interest, funded projects, minority interests, and taxation (reported under FRS 102 accounting standard) was £70.5 million, down 34 per cent on the prior year. The decline reflects the impact of the coronavirus on our turnover partially offset by savings on discretionary overheads.

Our annual transfer to the rest of the University was £42.9 million, which will support a range of research, scholarship, and educational activities, including the John Fell Fund and the Clarendon Fund.

There is no denying that this year has been challenging, but I am proud of the progress that we have made, and of the commitment and resilience of everyone at Oxford University Press. I am very much looking forward to seeing what we can achieve in the next 12 months.