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Report of the Secretary to the Delegates

Report of the Secretary to the Delegates

In last year’s Annual Report, I signalled that the challenging conditions we had been experiencing would continue, and that proved to be the case. Like other international publishers, we saw difficult trading conditions in many regions and sectors last year. Overall our business in the emerging markets returned to growth, but we found the going tougher than expected in many countries―for example in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Poland, Tanzania, and South Africa. And our academic books business was severely affected by the accelerating changes to library purchasing patterns.

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

 

 

At the same time, we saw strong growth in other places, in line with our plans: education reform in Spain delivered 13% growth; our journals business grew by 8%; China, India, and Pakistan all achieved double-digit growth; we were very successful in the UK Secondary market, where our acquisition of Nelson Thornes in 2014 helped to bolster our presence; and our education business in Kenya achieved an excellent performance.


Despite the uncertain environment, we are very clear about what it is we are here to do. As part of the University of Oxford, our aim is to provide students, teachers, and researchers with outstanding educational resources and research that will enable them to excel. We are committed to the same uncompromising standards as the University of which we are a part, demonstrating this through high-quality publishing, through the relationships we foster with authors and teachers, among others, and by upholding strong ethical principles at all times.


The Press’s strategy across its three primary markets―research, education, and the learning of English―is to deliver first-rate materials and services across the world, exploiting the opportunities afforded by digital technology, and with a focus on growth in emerging markets. We believe that we are well placed to succeed because of three distinctive aspects of our organization: possessing a deep understanding of how education, teaching, and research are conducted; our ability to reach markets across the world at a local level; and our being part of the University of Oxford and all that it stands for.

 

Oxford Owl is OUP’s UK Primary platform. Launched in 2011, it was used by just under two million teachers, students, and parents last year. The platform was successfully adapted for the Australian market in 2015 and won a BETT award for its School Improvement Pathways system in the UK in 2016.

 

 

 

OUP conducted 1,550 teacher training workshops across 400 cities in India last year, involving more than 100,000 teachers.

In support of our strategy we completed a number of important corporate transactions during the year, all of which have contributed positively to OUP’s results and more broadly to our culture and future plans. We acquired Epigeum (online courses for professional skills in tertiary education) and bab.la (online dictionaries), both of which support our Academic Division’s growth ambitions. We launched Oxford International AQA Examinations in partnership with AQA, establishing a new international qualifications business. International GCSEs, AS, and A-levels will be taught in classrooms in the Middle East from September 2016, with plans to launch across more markets in the coming year. We have deepened our relationship with Emerge Education, enabling us to engage with some of the world’s best EdTech entrepreneurs and new business models.


Growth through organic investment has always been a core focus for the Press, and we continue to develop many exciting and innovative publications, products, and services―many of which are highlighted in this annual report. I am struck by the incredible volume of new ideas generated by my colleagues across the world, many of which we pursue as exploratory projects and some of which transform into larger scale initiatives. A strong focus on innovation has resulted in some fantastic projects in the last few years―from Oxford Global Languages to Oxford Owl and this is set to continue. Digital development is, of course, a major part of the story and our direct digital sales grew by 8%, to account for 22% of overall turnover. These continue to be weighted towards our academic business (accounting for 88% of the total) but the education markets are now also seeing rapid growth in digital sales, particularly in parts of Asia.

OUP’s 2015/16 results compared favourably to those of many of our competitors, but were muted. Turnover was £781m, a headline growth of 1.7% and 1.1% on a like-for-like basis (at constant exchange rates). Surplus from trading before interest, funded projects, minority interests, and taxation was £102m, representing just over 13% of turnover.

 

As in previous years, the Press makes a financial transfer to the wider University when resources allow. The total transfer for 2015/16 was £46m, which will support the funding of a wide range of research, scholarship, and educational activities including the John Fell Fund and the Clarendon Scholarships.


During the last three years the Press has undertaken several significant programmes designed to reshape aspects of its structure, systems, processes, and supporting functions. In 2015/16 this included the formation of a centralized procurement function, the launch of a global HR system, an increased focus on data protection and information security, the launch of a business transformation project which aims to simplify the Press’s operating model, and an ongoing major technology review. Such work will continue to be critically important to us, as we seek to increase our efficiency, develop products and services more rapidly, and position ourselves to respond swiftly to changing market needs.


Maintaining our course through market volatility and fundamental changes to the publishing landscape is far from easy, but I believe we are well positioned to flourish. My colleagues across the world are as committed as ever to our purpose and mission. We judge performance against four attributes―reach, impact, reputation, and sustainability―and in closing I will highlight three ways in which we have extended our reach and impact during the year. We trained more than 260,000 teachers across the world during the year because we understand that excellent teaching lies at the heart of the best educational outcomes. We published across even more languages―43 languages directly, and 54 additional languages published through third party licensing deals―including the world’s most vulnerable languages. Nearly 1 million people now follow us on Twitter, and we also achieved 7 million YouTube views of our video content during the year―both new and powerful ways of connecting with audiences across the world.