With new challenges come new opportunities

28 July 2023
5 min read
CEO – Oxford University Press

Nigel Portwood

“We are proud of the progress we’ve made so far, but new technologies are evolving rapidly. That’s why we must continue to monitor the developments and consider what impact they may have on the way we live, work, and learn.”

Last week, we released our Annual Report or the last financial year, sharing an update on our financial performance, highlights of some of our achievements, and insights from our research.

There’s no denying that global challenges have caused unexpected pressures and uncertainty for many organizations during the past year. Although much of the world returned to near pre-pandemic normality, we felt the impact of high inflation and supply chain disruption as a result of the war in Ukraine and ongoing recovery of the economic activity after the Covid-19 pandemic. But thanks to the hard work and resilience of our people, we saw a strong performance across all areas of our publishing, achieving underlying growth against our targets.

Our ongoing commitment to embrace new technologies played a significant part in our success. While the pandemic helped us to accelerate our digital transformation, we continue to invest in technologies to meet both our own needs as a business and, more importantly, the needs of our customers. We take great care in adapting our existing products and in innovating the creation of new ones in order to make our content accessible, while maintaining the high level of quality OUP is known for. Our work in this area has proven successful, with our digital-only sales increasing by more than 10 per cent compared to the previous year.

Our digital resources also expanded across each of our publishing divisions. Some examples to I’d like to highlight are:

  • Our Academic Division migrated more than 42,000 books onto our Oxford Academic platform, increasing accessibility of the latest research findings. We also passed a milestone of one billion visits to the platform since its launch.
  • In our ELT Division, the Oxford English Hub has supported 230,000 users in advancing their English skills, and is now being used in more than 100 countries.
  • Our Education Division harnessed the power of artificial intelligence (AI) in our adaptive learning products, Bond Online Premium and Bond Online Premium Plus, in collaboration with CENTURY, an EdTech AI platform.

We are proud of the progress we’ve made so far, but new technologies are evolving rapidly. That’s why we must continue to monitor the developments and consider what impact they may have on the way we live, work, and learn.

Generative AI in particular, has been the focus of much debate in recent months, and it certainly has the potential to change the future of education and research as we know it. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we, as a publisher, continue to produce trusted, quality resources that support our customers to navigate these uncertainties, finding the best ways to move forward—together.

Alongside this, we also acknowledge our responsibility to inspire and facilitate meaningful debate, presenting a balanced story of world events and providing access to relevant knowledge and expertise. In the past year, we’ve done this in two very different ways:

  • Through our research report, The Matter of Fact, we examined how people across the world find and evaluate the accuracy of news and information. What we found was a global picture of confusion. As a result, we made recommendations for combatting misinformation, including consulting multiple sources rather than taking information at face value. And with the growing prevalence of AI, these recommendations feel more critical than ever before.
  • For the first time in its history, we opened the Oxford Word of the Year up to the public to choose between three contenders which best fit the mood and ethos of 2022. ‘Goblin mode’ was the winner with 93 per cent of 340,000 votes cast, generating worldwide interest and debate.

Sparking debates, facilitating open dialogue and inspiring ideas is at the heart of what we do, and will continue to be fundamental to our mission. As ever, I’m proud of the quality titles, products, and services that we create and publish. But what is perhaps more important is the way in which people use, think about, and respond to these resources, which will impact the way we learn and behave.

In this way, I’m optimistic about what the next year will bring. While there may well be economic headwinds to face, I remain confident that we’ll be able to seize opportunities that may come our way—whether that’s expanding our digital offerings and embracing advancements in technology, or continuing to provide people with the tools and resources they need to think critically about the world around them.

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