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Vice-Chancellor's Message to Staff

3 October 2011

Dear colleagues,

It hardly seems any time since I wrote to you at the end of the summer term and, here we are already at the start of a new academic year. We all know that the campus and our staff remained busy throughout the summer but I hope you found some time to relax in the period. However as so much has happened in the last three months I’d like to take the opportunity to update now on just some of the developments.

We were delighted to be able to celebrate the service of John Leighfield, our former Pro-Chancellor and Chair of Council, who retired from University life at our summer graduation ceremonies. However, he will certainly not be forgotten as the dinner to celebrate his time with us also saw the unveiling of the newly named Leighfield Road on campus. We will also be sad to see Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Professor Mark Smith leave Warwick in January as he takes up the post of Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University.

As always, our summer graduation ceremonies were a joyous occasion which saw around 4,000 of our students graduating. Adding to the campus buzz, we again played host to the Teach First conference, with over 1,300 trainee teachers on campus during the second week, many of whom were Warwick graduates. And simultaneously, over a seven-week period, we saw thousands of volunteers for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games come to Warwick for their Games Maker interviews, reiterating Warwick’s prestigious sporting reputation. Of course, a busy campus means busy staff and I’d like to restate my thanks to everyone who ensured the success of these events, and many others, over the summer.

Individual achievements continued across campus and across faculties over the summer. Of course, there are far too many to mention them all, but, for example, Professor Carolyn Steedman, History, Professor Alan Norrie, Law and Emeritus Professor Robin Alexander, Education, received the distinction of being made fellows of the British Academy, the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences. Professor Peter Abrahams, Warwick Medical School, also received external recognition with his award of a National Teaching Fellowship, the most prestigious award for excellence in higher education teaching and support for learning – and bringing our total of teaching staff receiving National Teaching Fellowships to six in the past three years.

Outside of academic achievements, Warwick’s grounds staff were justly rewarded for their hard work recently, receiving the Royal Horticultural Society’s Heart of England in Bloom Grounds Maintenance Award for work including the four key campus roundabouts, hedges on Gibbet Hill Road, the new landscaping around the Digital Laboratory and the new landscape design to the front of Coventry House. Equally pleasing were the awards given to a number of cleaning services staff at this year’s Higher and Further Education Cleaning Operative awards. Mary Ann Lee, Warwick Accommodation, was named as Cleaning Operative of the Year and amongst the three runners up for the award were two other Warwick Accommodation staff members Michael Loughran and Linda Duffy.

The Students’ Union also recently received a prestigious honour, becoming one of only 20 Students’ Unions across the country to host the Coca Cola Olympic Torch Tour to find inspirational students to carry the Olympic Flame during the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. I’m sure the piazza will be busy on 19 October when there is the opportunity to hold the Olympic Torch.

Recognition of the contributions that all Warwick staff make to the University has been evidenced in two recent league tables. Of course, we should always remain mindful that different rankings can vary considerably, but we welcome any rise in our ranking position given by any of these tables. The latest QS World University Rankings placed Warwick as 50th in the world, up three places from its ranking of 53rd in the world according to the QS table in 2010 and making us one of only nine UK universities listed in the top 50 in this table. Warwick again held its place in The Sunday Times University Guide, as the top Midlands University for each of the 14 years that the guide has been published. The paper also ranked Warwick as 7th overall in the UK for research, 7th in the UK for highest entry points, 6th for graduate salaries, and 10th for lowest "dropout" rate.

Developing and improving our physical campus remains a key priority and this summer has seen a highly intensive period of campus development, with a number of major capital projects in progress simultaneously. We now have the new Bluebell Halls of Residence open for the start of term and our Materials and Analytical Sciences Building has just completed, housing brand new state of the art laboratories. And it doesn’t stop there – the Centre for Mechanochemical Cell Biology, based at Warwick Medical School, is due to complete later this year, whilst work on the International Institute for Product and Service Innovation began in August this year, along with development of further student residences at Lakeside, due for completion next year.

Our work to deliver the best possible experience for our students is, of course, not limited to excellent student accommodation and we continue to work to ensure we offer the very best academic and social facilities. A number of new initiatives are currently in progress, including our recently approved plan to build a new lecture theatre and new support for students in Leamington. As many of you will know, refurbishment work at Coventry House to establish another dedicated postgraduate space, for both social and work activities, is progressing well - more on this and other developments will be announced soon.

Of course, this has been, and continues to be, a period of great change for our sector with many developments in the higher education funding landscape, including this summer’s White Paper on Higher Education and the approval of our Access Agreement by OFFA in July. Discussions on the White Paper are likely to continue into the foreseeable future, including the promise of a further White Paper on research in higher education later this year. My senior colleagues and I will share more information with you on this, and other sector issues, as soon as information is available or you may wish to take a look at our new HE Today webpages.

In the meantime, welcome back and I wish you all a productive autumn term.

Professor Nigel Thrift
Vice-Chancellor