As the new academic year begins I would like to welcome back colleagues and students, welcome the great many new students joining us and, in particular, note that this year sees a great many new academic colleagues coming on board. Indeed, over this last year, we have recruited over 600 academic staff - a truly significant number that is bound to provide a significant enhancement to Warwick’s already strong teaching and research profile.
Our thoughts are with one particular new member of staff, WMG Assistant Professor John Low, who is recovering after a serious road accident in August. Of course, many of you will also be thinking of the family and friends of Warwick Mathematics student Thomas Jagger (who this summer was declared missing from a mountain climbing expedition in Peru) and of former Warwick Registrar Adrian Rowe–Evans who died in August.
As always the summer has not been an idle one for universities, and particularly not at Warwick. As part of our commitment to improving staff welfare, this year saw the launch of a new Warwick Summer Scheme for children, aged 5-11, which provided opportunities for children and dependants of University staff and students to take part in a range of fun activities such as: learning about liquid nitrogen, star-gazing, searching for mini beasts, and ‘practising for Wimbledon’. I want to thank all the staff who contributed to these and the many other activities over the summer such as our open days, degree ceremonies, the taster event for the WMG academy, the Two Braggs exhibition in the Arts Centre, and the announcement of the short list for the Warwick Prize for Writing. And, of course, our recent Athena SWAN silver status deserves mention and a thank you to all those involved in ensuring we received such prestigious recognition of our gender equality work in the sciences. We were the only university to receive the Institutional Silver award in this round and only the fourth institution overall. Congratulations should also go to both the Mathematics Institute and the Department of Statistics who were awarded Bronze status in this round.
Our admissions colleagues had a particularly busy summer. Like a great many Russell Group universities this year, Warwick took an active decision to enter clearing. Warwick’s continued popularity meant we were overwhelmed with new student applications and had to exit clearing after just 12 hours of taking calls on our dedicated hotline. It was particularly pleasing to note that a significant number of the students we took at this time came through the adjustment process, taking the opportunity to use their higher than expected grades to set aside their original university choice in favour of a place at Warwick.
Our popularity in clearing and adjustment was such that we very quickly exceeded the total number of students we had as our target figure, which I know has led to much hard work on the part of our accommodation team to meet the increased demand.
We should of course note that whilst overall recruitment was very successful, some disciplines face more challenges than others in terms of student recruitment. In particular, Language departments across the UK have seen declining applications. However, despite the national decline, Warwick has chosen to continue to invest in these disciplines with our creation of a new Hispanic studies department, which has just recruited its first undergraduate students.
One of the reasons Warwick remains an attractive destination for student applicants is the high quality student experience offered by our campus. I know that many academic and administrative staff and student volunteers worked incredibly hard this summer to showcase that campus and each academic department to a great many visiting prospective students and their parents in three successful open days. I would like to thank all of you for your work on each day and for the significant preparation each day required.
The opportunity for a more visible 'thank you' for everyone's hard work over the year came in the form of our staff summer fayre in August, where staff from across the University enjoyed a fun afternoon on the piazza with their friends and colleagues. These kind of events provide an invaluable opportunity to spend time with your colleagues in a relaxed setting and I hope many of you were able to attend and enjoy the afternoon.
The sustained high quality of our campus comes from our ability to significantly reinvest in our infrastructure. Warwick must invest over £50m each year on new capital developments but increasingly the University has to find the money required for this level of investment from our own financial resources as the availability of government capital funding has fallen very significantly. The University must therefore continue to achieve good levels of financial surplus each year to keep on the rails and a long term surplus target of £35 million per annum has been set.
In the last year we have used our ability to fund capital developments to create the two new student spaces - Learning Grid Leamington and Learning Grid Rootes - as well as to create the successful Connect 2 Kenilworth cycle and pedestrian route that joins up Kenilworth with the Warwick campus and that has been extended right through the campus this summer. In the coming year Warwick will invest in a major extension of Warwick Business School and in the construction of a new Energy Centre (a combined heat and power plant). Other external funding will allow us to create a new £100 million National Automotive Innovation Campus and the new WMG Academy for Young Engineers will open its doors to its first pupils in autumn 2014.
We therefore start the new academic year with both a significant investment in new academic staff, and significant investment in our campus infrastructure – with more announcements to come. With so many new staff and so many improvements to our campus at the start of this particular academic year, it may not just be our new students who will have difficulty finding their way around campus!
I trust that the new academic year will provide you all with many new opportunities in your work and study at Warwick.
With very best wishes,
Professor Nigel Thrift