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Vice-Chancellor’s Christmas Message to Students and Staff: Two Journeys

Dear all,

Professor Nigel ThriftThis last term has been marked by two very particular events, both of which have been significant journeys. They have each focused on our core missions of research and teaching. Staff and the research student community have, for some considerable time now, been on a long and challenging journey to pull together, and complete, our submission to the Research Excellence Framework. I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to get us to that finishing line so that we were able to make our final submission last week.

However I want this end of term message to focus on another significant journey as well. In October we launched “My Warwick Journey” with its emphasis on recognizing the many routes that we each take through our degrees and into employment. My Warwick Journey celebrates the fact that each student’s experiences are unique. That journey must provide opportunities to become a successful scholar and employable graduate. And also, importantly, to have the time and tools to enjoy that journey and to be able to reflect on and articulate these experiences, both while at Warwick and beyond.

On looking at how we have enhanced that Warwick Journey in the last year I am struck by how often this takes our students into local and international communities, supporting and volunteering on a range of projects. We have over 1000 Warwick students volunteering in the local area. This is testimony to the values and skills of Warwick students who are concerned to make a difference in the world. Just this last weekend Warwick’s Students’ Union organised a team to help to clean up the Leamington canal as part of the SU’s “Love Community” campaign. Student Volunteers have also helped plant over 1000 trees with the support of the Friends of Canley Green Spaces and have created a new wildflower meadow in Tocil Wood. And we have a considerable number of student volunteers working through, to name but a few, the Student Progression Team, Technology Volunteers and the Transformations Programme organised by the English Department, supporting and inspiring young people in schools.

To give you a flavour of some of this work - students and staff from WMG and Computer Science are training disabled students at Hereward College in 3D technologies. The aim is to use the expert knowledge that Hereward students have of their particular needs to design and print adaptations to the aids and everyday objects that they very necessarily use. This includes adaptations to handles that make it easier for students to open the lockers where their medication is kept and bespoke cutlery for those with reduced hand muscle function. Staff and students are also acting as volunteers on another project designed to support attainment and take-up at GCSE level of looked after children in Coventry and Warwickshire in STEM subjects. Chemistry staff and students also regularly engage in a range of local projects, including with pupil referral units, to aspire pupils to continue study into higher education.

Many individual students’ local volunteering initiatives have led to international journeys. To highlight just one, Thomas Preece, from Warwick’s Technology Volunteers has received funding from the University to travel to Boston for the 2014 Scratch Conference to hear more about the Scratch software which is used to help children develop an interest in computer programming. In terms of longer distance travel, the most obvious example is the significant student participation in the Monash-Warwick Alliance. As I write this message, a team of seven Warwick students, helped by WMG and School of Engineering staff, are taking their self-built formula student racing car to compete in the Formula SAE-A competition in Melbourne against Monash students this month. The students have also received funding from the University, Warwick Students’ Union and the Monash-Warwick Alliance. But they are just the latest Warwick students to make a real or virtual journey to Monash this year. For example, Monash and Warwick undergraduates have been collaborating by online videoconferencing conference to produce “Reinvention“ a uniquely collaborative International Journal of Undergraduate Research and we now also have our first three joint Monash and Warwick research postgraduate students.

Of course, many of our students journey to us creating a truly global community at Warwick. This year, the PG Hub in Senate House is organising monthly cultural activities to give both international and home students an opportunity to explore both UK and different cultures and get involved in their community. The variety of events that will be included in this programme ranges from national saints days, to Language Exchange to celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday. The first celebration that took place was Halloween. You can find out more at https://storify.com/PGHub/halloween-in-the-hub

Naturally, a key part of the Warwick journey is the journey from Warwick into a role beyond the University. In the last year we have offered 100 opportunities on campus for students to meet employers including Fairs, Sector events, employer presentations and skills sessions. At major fairs alone we had 259 employers come to meet with the 7,341 students who came. However Warwick students are not content simply to take the opportunities provided to meet the many employers who come to us. Our students also pro-actively journey towards those employers. Next month our Student Careers and Skills team will be placing up to 100 graduate students into paid internships with local and national employers in a range of sectors, in different locations across the UK, 40 of these were part-funded by the Santander bank. Two hundred students in the last year received funding to support their access to work experience. WMG also provides 25 project opportunities each year for students and graduates to work with small businesses helping them to deliver a strategic project. We also cannot neglect to note that a further 2000 students work part-time in the University and local community via Unitemps, all of whom are gaining not just remuneration but also valuable work experience.

This year I have been delighted to see not just individual Warwick students but whole Warwick student societies take a close interest in future employability. Our Student Careers and Skills team have had many opportunities to significantly increase engagement with a range of societies to support careers-related activities, not just those societies focused on a particular profession or enterprise activity, but also in particular our many international student societies.

Of course, many of our students elect to extend the Warwick journey beyond undergraduate study into postgraduate study or research. It was particularly pleasing this year to see over 250 undergraduates participate in the Undergraduate Research Scholarship Scheme which provides research internships, giving undergraduates first-hand experience of research, to experience what it's like to be a member of a research team and to participate in research to solve significant problems and or tackle global issues.

While Warwick provides a range of resources and opportunities to support the Warwick Journey we also need to listen to you, our students, and see what parts of that journey you want us to concentrate on. Last year we listened and implemented a 20 day feedback policy for student work supported by the Fabulous Feedback campaign. We are continuing to monitor and develop improvements in feedback as we know how important this is to you. To this end, all departments are currently revisiting assessment approaches and strategies with a view to considering how innovation can be developed. We are also looking at how we will enhance other areas of teaching and learning. We have, therefore, implemented a range of student-led focus groups this term to consider this further. I, and our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning, Professor Christina Hughes, will feed back to you the results of this exercise in the early Spring term. We are also working on some further initiatives which we will be announcing on your return from vacation.

Meanwhile, I hope you will all take time to relax over the forthcoming festive period and come back refreshed and renewed in 2014.

With all best wishes,

Professor Nigel Thrift
Vice-Chancellor