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Vice-Chancellor's End of Term Message to Staff

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Dear Colleagues,

The Warwick community has much to celebrate this year. In the last few weeks I have been delighted to receive a flood of reports on the outstanding achievements of Warwick staff. Most recently, you will have seen that Warwick Manufacturing Group has received a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education. But there is more, much more. For example, we will shortly be able to announce the names of two members of staff in History and Chemistry who have received prestigious European Research Council Advanced Investigator Awards. We will also be able to give more details this week on the news that the Mathematics and Statistics Departments have won £4 million from the EPSRC for a Doctoral Training Centre. And, of course, we were all pleased to note that we have risen another twenty places in the Shanghai JiaoTong world league table.

I am particularly pleased that the Warwick community has achieved so much despite it being a particularly testing year in which we asked Departments to bring forward plans that would deliver 5% in cost savings for the University. Warwick’s staff have not only delivered on that task, they have also delivered a vast array of outstanding work despite that financial challenge. I would like to take this opportunity to celebrate just a handful of the other significant achievements of our University community. I would also like to take some time to look ahead to what will inevitably be significant new financial challenges for our sector.

There are many such achievements in the Faculty of Arts so forgive me for highlighting just two. Firstly I would like to note the Mellon Foundation’s award of over £250,000 to fund a collaborative programme of research between our Centre for the Study of the Renaissance and the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Secondly, the Arts Faculty played a significant role, in partnership with all our other faculties, in an exciting range of activity that culminated in the announcement of Naomi Klein as the winner of the first ever Warwick Prize for Writing.

That announcement was made at an awards ceremony held in February in the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre. This is therefore also an appropriate point to note that our achievements in the Arts also include the work of Warwick Arts Centre. We are just beginning to reap the benefits of its £8 million redevelopment. I know many of you will have already bought tickets for the Arts Centre’s Christmas production of Cinderella which has received extremely favourable national press reviews. I am also pleased to hear that the Arts Council is to fund the Arts Centre’s £140,000 bid to tour, from Italy, Teatro Kismet’s production of The Mermaid Princess across England in Spring and early summer 2010.

Earlier this year, I was delighted to see that the Social Sciences Faculty were so proud of their achievements as a Faculty that they organised a special week-long Festival of Social Sciences. I was honoured to be asked to give a keynote lecture at that Festival but was even more pleased to see how this innovative festival promoted the work of early career researchers, generated national press coverage for our Social Sciences research and created a range of new podcasts on the faculty’s work.

I am also pleased to see how our Social Sciences research is making a significant impact on global issues. In just the last fortnight the Warwick Commission on International Financial Reform has achieved considerable coverage in significant global business and financial news media including the Financial Times, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal, India’s Economic Times, Handelsblatt and the New York Times.

In the Faculty of Sciences we have been able to create a range of exciting new facilities, Chemistry alone has opened new research facilities, new undergraduate teaching labs, and a new Centre for Analytical Science. Work is now also beginning on a new Chemistry and Physics building costing over £24 million. This week also sees the formal launch of Warwick and Birmingham’s joint £10.5 million Energy Efficiency research programme which is part of the Science City Energy Futures initiative and brings together a range of scientists across Warwick and Birmingham.

Sadly, when we turn to the work of Warwick Medical School our thoughts turn first to the loss of Professor Yvonne Carter. Well-known and well-loved, both as Dean of WMS and as a Pro-Vice Chancellor, her death is keenly felt by us all. But she leaves a significant legacy at Warwick, having led WMS from some of its earliest endeavours to a position where it is now ranked amongst the top ten medical schools in the UK for the quality of its Health Services Research. WMS continues to grow and prosper. For example, staff moved into the brand new Clinical Trials Unit building in October 2009. The building is funded by The Wolfson Foundation and Advantage West Midlands through Birmingham Science City’s Translational Medicine, Clinical Research and Infrastructure Trials Platform.

Staff in non-academic departments have also helped create and launch a range of wonderful new facilities and programmes. In April the Nursery moved to wonderful new premises in the Lakeside area of campus nursery, and the new £2.5 million Indoor Tennis Centre is an excellent addition to our range of sporting facilities. Inspiring new programmes include the Warwick Advantage award which helps students to make the most of their time at Warwick and receive recognition for their non-academic activity which they can then use in the labour market.

Of course, we will also face challenges in the new calendar year, one of the most significant being, and one which I recognise brings concern and uncertainty to many, the implementation of our new School of Life Sciences. The goal of the new School is to enhance the academic quality of the Life Sciences at Warwick, and to ensure that a high quality research and teaching programme is financially sustainable. But the biggest challenge we will face next year is one faced by all universities. The future financial landscape is becoming increasingly clear. No matter which party or parties are in government, we are likely to see several years of funding cuts in the University sector. Of course, we at Warwick are much better positioned than other universities with only 23% of our income coming directly from the government but this will still be a significant and sustained financial challenge which will be with us for several years, and which will build in intensity year on year. As a result of the squeeze, future governments will almost certainly concentrate research in far fewer universities. Warwick may well benefit from such an approach but only if our research continues to be of the highest order. In other words, academic quality is our shield for the times to come.

I want to end, then, by extending my thanks to every one of you that have helped sustain Warwick’s high quality research and teaching and all those in the support structure who enable that research and teaching to happen.

I appreciate that many of you will still be working through the coming holiday period - on ongoing research projects, on keeping our campus safe and secure, or serving conference delegates. But I do hope that you all will find some time to pause, rest and refresh before we come together again to build another twelve months of achievement.

With best wishes for the festive season,

Nigel Thrift
Vice-Chancellor

Vice-Chancellor Professor Nigel Thrift