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Report of the Secretary to the Delegates

Report of the Secretary to the Delegates

In 2018/19, the Press reported £840.5m of Group turnover. While we achieved a creditable 2 per cent turnover growth at like-for-like constant exchange rates, this was virtually all offset by the devaluation of key emerging market currencies during the year.

Nigel Portwood,
Secretary to the
Delegates and Chief Executive,
Oxford University Press


Our Academic Division enjoyed an excellent year, achieving strong growth compared to our publishing peers and within the context of an industry-wide decline in print revenues. Our journals business continues to perform very well, in large part driven by many new society partnerships and journal acquisitions. We also won 74 of the major awards we track including the Pulitzer Prize and US National Book Award. To support the continuing digital transformation of academic and research markets, we have supplemented our ongoing investments in technology with transformation initiatives in sales, marketing, and publishing processes.


It was, however, a challenging year for our three education divisions, English Language Teaching (ELT), Asia Education, and Oxford Education. While we achieved strong double-digit growth in mainland China and Pakistan, we had to contend with a range of issues in other markets, from government-mandated textbook purchasing in India, to market contractions in the UK and Spain, and a delay to expected tender business in Kenya. Some of this was anticipated and planned, some not—but we were able to continue our focus on developing and launching a range of exciting new products and services.


Our strategic priorities remained the same as they have been for the last few years. We continue to serve three large and global publishing markets—research, the learning of English, and education (Schools and Higher Education), and across them we focus on: improving our digital, data, and technology capabilities; achieving greater growth in emerging markets; demonstrating evidence of positive impact from the use of OUP products and services; a continued focus on efficiency and speed to market; developing services around our high-quality content; and enhancing our culture to be more inclusive by working hard to collaborate across our organization’s divisions and geographies to be greater than the sum of our parts. 


We made our online English proficiency assessment Oxford Test of English available to learners all over the world this year, following its launch in Spain in 2017.

We have made great progress against all of these priorities during the year and I draw out three highlights here. The launch of Oxford Reading Buddy, a digital reading service for primary school children (featured later in this report) which brought together multiple editorial, technology, and marketing teams across seven education markets to create a global service and localized content—the most ambitious cross-divisional and geographic collaboration we have yet attempted. We have been more public this year about our Oxford Impact framework, which is a rigorous process for evaluating impact, developed by OUP in collaboration with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), and supported by the Department of Education of the University of Oxford. We are using this approach to validate the positive effect of our products and services on educational outcomes, something that educators across the world are increasingly relying on to ensure that their investments in new resources are worthwhile. We also launched the Oxford Test of English, an online English proficiency assessment certified by the University of Oxford, and another of our growing number of assessment services for schools, teachers, and students across the world.


Every year I am struck by the sheer breadth of OUP’s publishing programme—arguably the greatest of any single publisher in the world. Each new publication we create and disseminate contributes directly towards our mission, as a department of the University of Oxford, to further scholarship, research, and education worldwide. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning The New Negro to Roald Dahl’s Rotsome & Repulsant Words, these wonderful books share a similar purpose—to inspire and educate curious minds.


We continue to make great strides with our digital reach in a number of different ways. Usage of our academic and research platforms has grown up to 23 per cent and we have launched 12 new subject modules across our Reference, Handbook, and Scholarly Editions platforms. We have greatly increased the number of education digital products we provide across the world, and we have maintained our position as a market leader in digital classroom resources in UK schools. By partnering with smaller technology companies, we are also contributing towards some highly innovative educational products, for example helping English learners in China through powerful virtual reality experiences.  


As part of an educational charity, all of our work has a strong social purpose. I am, however, delighted that we are supporting a greater range than ever of external charitable initiatives across the world, ensuring that we extend our education mission to an even greater number of people. We highlight a few examples later in this report, including our support to provide education for refugees in Middle Eastern camps.

Our new virtual reality product takes language learners on a simulated trip from China to an English-speaking country.

The Press’s surplus from trading before interest, funded projects, minority interests, and taxation was £108.5m (reported under FRS 102 accounting standard), down 5.6 per cent on prior year and like-for-like constant exchange rates. The decline reflected both the impact of foreign currency devaluation and a planned increase in investment in our ambitious technology and other transformation programmes.


Each year, the Press makes a financial transfer to the rest of the University, when resources allow, and this year that amount was £45.6m. As always, this supports a range of research, scholarship, and educational activities including the John Fell Fund and the Clarendon Fund. I am also very proud of the fact that we support the University’s widening access scheme UNIQ, by providing each student that attends with relevant and prescribed OUP books.


Looking ahead, while we can be optimistic about the growing demand for education and research across the world, publishers cannot afford to be complacent. There are pressures on pricing, copyright, and access models, which are causing us to reconsider exactly how we continue to meet customers’ needs. The good news for the Press is that we are well placed to meet these challenges, and I have thousands of colleagues across the world who continue to demonstrate absolute commitment to our mission and to finding new ways in which to fulfil it. As part of a world-leading University, we work from within the system—rather than from outside—to understand how we can drive better educational and research outcomes. We will continue to work together in the coming year to provide outstanding products and services for our millions of learners, teachers, and researchers across the world.