9 December 2010
We approach the festive season in good heart and, at the outset, I want to convey my thanks and those of my senior colleagues to every single member of University staff, and to our students, for your contribution to a very good year indeed.
This is a time of stark and challenging contrasts for our University. As I say, Warwick is doing better than it ever has, all our indicators of success are on the upturn. For example, we have more research grant income, more postgraduate students, we have a string of institutional and personal awards under our belt, and more publications in top journals than ever before.
On the other hand, a few short months ago we faced the impact of the comprehensive spending review. We know that Higher Education must take its share of the painful cuts being faced by all organisations in receipt of any public funding, but the proposed cuts are both very deep and very unwelcome – it will probably lead to cuts of some 80% in the teaching budgets of many English universities. Obviously the University and I have opposed these cuts. In terms of the teaching grant, I am particularly concerned that an impression has been created that, somehow, the Arts, Humanities and the Social Sciences matter less. Let me be clear that this not the view of Warwick. We greatly value our comprehensive programme of research and teaching across all of our faculties.
I therefore understand the discontent felt by members of our community and acknowledge the right of students and staff to mount peaceful protests.
On the issue of graduate contributions, I fully understand students' objections to having to contribute more over their lifetime. However we must also all understand the parlous situation in which Universities now find themselves. The offer of replacing that lost funding through the Government's proposal to increase graduate contributions is to be supported. There is no other viable offer that will replace the lost teaching grant revenue. The only alternative would be for the nation to actively run down what is now a world-class system of higher education.
A sustainable world-class higher education system is essential for our country's future social and economic success. It is of paramount importance that we focus on maintaining our academic excellence and world-class quality, despite the country's current financial difficulties.
All Warwick's graduates need to compete with the best in the world, this is not a local game, and as the University Accountable Officer with multiple responsibilities I would be letting the student population down if I did not argue for the funding required to ensure they get the high quality education they need and deserve. Our 20,000 plus students must get that distinctive Warwick and high quality experience and our 4,500 staff must have the resources and high morale to deliver that experience.
I also believe that the Government's proposals do much to protect widening participation. I support the key principles of “no upfront payment” for any student, a 30 year write off of any outstanding graduate loans, a repayment threshold of £21,000 up-rated annually in line with inflation, and a system which only requires graduates to initially pay a small proportion of their income above this amount.
There are of course many other significant issues being debated and considered in the University sector. These include matters of pensions and job security that are of course of great importance to staff. With respect to the consultation proposals from USS, the University continues to follow the procedure set out by the Trustee Body. The University is consulting on the proposed changes which are intended to secure the future sustainability of the scheme and with which you may or may not agree. Even with the proposed changes, I suspect that USS will soon be one of the most generous defined benefit schemes around but we must await the outcome of the consultation and the further deliberations of the Trustee Body.
On job security, no University can make absolute guarantees at this time. I too would like to change the economic facts of life but I can't. Truth to tell, the main way that jobs can be protected over the next period is by making this University as successful as we can. That is where our efforts are quite rightly being concentrated, through the contribution of us all.
Which brings me back to where I began, with a re-iteration of my thanks to you all. This is a testing time but I feel sure that Warwick will pull together, as it always has done, and so emerge stronger and fitter, as one of the world's leading universities.
I wish you all a Happy Christmas.