On his blog, Stuart will share his thoughts and the perspectives of University colleagues and partners on key issues at Warwick and in the Higher Education sector. He is keen to hear your comments on these topics too.
Please note: offensive or inappropriate comments may be removed by the administration team.
As you may know, a deadline of 18th December has been set for the negotiations and discussions around Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). This deadline has been set to ensure the Trustees can finalise their valuation by the due date of 30 June 2018. I am concerned that there is insufficient information available to us for us to form a view on possible options. We need to find a way for the two sides to come more closely together. In that light, I have today written to UUK to ask for some urgent modelling on different salary thresholds for future defined benefit accruals and the contribution rates they would require as well as the sensitivity of these models to key assumptions.
Pension valuations are very complex and there are significant interdependencies so it is difficult to reduce them down to simple models and preserve accuracy. However this modelling should provide indicative results of what might be possible.
I think it is important that we move away from the proposals for a zero threshold for the defined benefit scheme and consider more realistic thresholds and their associated contribution rates quickly before time runs out.
Although I am proposing the urgent modelling of different salary thresholds with the aim of securing a breakthrough before the 18th December deadline, this work should not preclude the continuing exploration of the possibility of obtaining government backing for the pension scheme in the future and the possible benefits that might bring. As I have said before a government backed scheme becomes an asset for the government, but would provide vital underpinning for the scheme’s members.
I will continue to keep you informed on progress.
A couple of weeks ago I was surprised to learn that Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) trustees have adopted a more conservative approach to the valuation than had been the case in the last consultation, and that the collective response from the Universities UK (UUK) consultation is now apparently supportive of the removal of the defined benefit element of the current scheme, at least for the immediate future.
It is a very significant change, that if implemented, will greatly impact on a large number of colleagues in Warwick, as well as in other universities around the country.
I am sure that I am not alone in being mystified at this change. After much work and consideration, we were relatively comfortable with the level of risk proposed previously by the trustees and broadly content with assumptions which appeared valid in the round. We reported as much in the consultation formally. USS is now the largest remaining defined benefit scheme in the country not backed by government (on which, more later). There has been a market logic to a number of private sector defined benefit schemes being closed. There are concerns about the levels of funding required to keep it functioning, and these concerns seem very widespread at the moment.
The assumptions in the consultation with the sector have now been altered, and so I support calls from others for more transparency, particularly on issues such as self-sufficiency, mortality assumptions and projections for gilt yields, since these are the building blocks upon which a new greater conservatism has been placed.
I can assure Warwick staff that we will reiterate our previous concern that the proposed de facto end to the defined benefit scheme will require USS’s investment strategy to become increasingly cautious, which would materially inhibit the future growth of assets out of which pensions will ultimately be funded.
The latest iteration of the valuation has very serious consequences for staff and for employers in the sector, and we want to explore how we can get to a position where there is a threshold for the defined benefit scheme which is workable and supports early career academics in particular.
We are very conscious that there are alternative more attractive schemes in place elsewhere in the sector (e.g. Teachers’ Pension Scheme which is available to the post-92 sector) and are increasingly concerned that a very large multi-employer scheme, such as USS, is being placed in the same regulatory regime as that applied to more traditional private sector schemes, with far reaching consequences for staff in pre-1992 higher education institutions.
So what is to be done? First, we will press, as above, for greater understanding and explanation as to what has changed in the process. But second, I think we should also explore the possibility of obtaining government backing for the pension scheme and the possible benefits that might bring. A government backed scheme becomes an asset for the government, but provides vital underpinning for members.
Whatever happens we will not let the current increasingly conservative approach to USS go unchallenged. As a University, we need to be able to offer a competitive and high quality pension scheme and we will seek to work with any other interested parties to identify whether any alternative, more innovative, solutions may be feasible.
We often talk about ‘teaching’ and ‘research’ as two entirely separate activities within universities – the extent of recent regulatory intervention around teaching such as TEF and the Office for Students demonstrates how little apparent connectivity there is seen to be between our already well-regulated research and impact, and the teaching experience we deliver.
In reality, research and teaching work best when we look at them hand in hand, each enriching the other, and both at the heart of a university’s mission. At Warwick, we are absolutely committed to research excellence, and to ensuring this is brought to life in the educational experience we offer our students.
This is one of the characteristics which I think sets a Warwick teaching and learning experience apart – our students are able to benefit from access to world-class research and researchers, to work with individuals who are genuinely advancing knowledge in their areas and take up opportunities that inspire them intellectually, and make them stand out in the future in their chosen career path with prospective employers.
In that context, I have been pleased this week to see the development of our Student Research hub. It directly links our research and teaching by shining a light on what research is, and showcases the range of research-related opportunities available to students at Warwick. The hub shares video testimonials from students, employers and academics to give perspectives on the benefits of getting involved in research in an extra-curricular setting. Even better, the hub was built by two recent Warwick graduates.
Whether you’re a student looking for expertise to help get your research ideas off the ground, looking at research as a future career, or – simply – a student wanting to make the very most of your studies – I’d urge you to take a look. It’s going to be fantastic resource and I’m proud that we have it here at Warwick.
Warwick is a founding member of the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities. The Guild was established in 2016 to bring together 19 of Europe’s most distinguished universities across 14 countries to enable us to develop a new, distinctive voice in Europe. Through the Guild, we can engage proactively and collectively on the major opportunities and challenges impacting our institutions, our researchers and our students - including Brexit and the EU’s research and mobility programmes. Warwick’s membership of the Guild underlines and supports our commitment to be a leading global research and teaching institution, working with our partners to set new standards for collaboration in research, teaching, innovation and public engagement.
I wanted to share with Warwick colleagues and friends a blog from the Guild’s Secretary General, Jan Palmowski, giving his perspective on the critical contribution our academic communities must make through research collaboration and the movement of ideas and people.
Having just read this week’s issue of Insite Inbox – Warwick’s staff newsletter, I’ve been reminded that Monday 13 November is World Kindness Day. Of course, it’s easy to be sceptical about the value of the growing number of “awareness” days, and yet their existence does prompt constructive action and reflection in some quarters of our society and in my view that has to be a good thing! For me, the announcement reminded me that it was about a year ago when I wrote my blog on kindness so it seemed like a good time to revisit this theme. Looking at the web coverage of World Kindness Day, I was struck by the focus on doing good things – kindness as positive acts (giving out chocolate, flowers, helping others). And while we should never restrict such positive acts only to one day a year, it’s great to see something that encourages a proactive approach to “doing kind things”. (And for Warwick colleagues wanting to do your bit within the University - look out for Warwick Kindness cards!)
But we shouldn’t forget something that I think is equally important and that is the importance of “doing things kindly” – a way of behaving that I think can help us create a better working environment. When I blogged on this previously, I was at pains to stress that whatever we have to do in our working lives – even if it is the tough, difficult and painful decisions we may have to take – we should do so in a way that respects individuals, is supportive, constructive and compassionate.
It’s certainly a mantra that I try to live up to. Do I always succeed? Sadly, I probably don’t and I suspect that’s because sometimes it just isn’t easy and sometimes I’m perhaps careless or rushed. But I like to think my intentions are always to act kindly. And of course therein lies a challenge for all of us – what determines whether something is “done kindly” – is it my intention when I do something or is it your experience of what I do? Now, maybe this is a question that our colleagues in Philosophy are best placed to answer, but it reminds me that if we really do want to try to create a kinder working environment we do have to try to understand both the intentions and experiences of others. And I think this is about trying to see the best in people and trusting that they mostly have good intentions; it’s also about being sensitive and aware that even the most well-intentioned acts can sometimes have unintended consequences for the person who experiences then.
So if there is a message that’s going to be uppermost in my mind for World Kindness Day, it’s probably going to be one that focuses on the way I do things and, my experiences of things that others do. And a big part of that message will be a reminder to myself always to try to act kindly, always to be willing to learn from the experiences and responses of others if I am unintentionally unkind and finally try to be tolerant of others if I think they are not being as kind as they intended to be.
We’re currently waiting to hear if the University has been awarded Race Equality Charter Mark (RECM) status. The accreditation gives a framework to identify how we’re doing, and it provides confidence to people to show our commitment to continuing to improve diversity and inclusion.
For me, it runs far deeper than whether we secure this benchmark or not, however credible it undoubtedly is. Warwick has always sought to attract and support a diverse community. The University was built in 1965 to serve the local community; our multi-faith Chaplaincy has always been at our core; we received our first institutional Athena Swan award in 2010; we’ve held the HR Excellence in Research accreditation for the last four years; we have committed to paying the living wage; and last year we moved up 117 places in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index. Each and every one of these indicators give a clear statement about the importance of inclusivity within our community. We are a global institution. It should go without saying that we respect and celebrate our differences, and that we are fundamentally committed to diversity. Recognition like RECM, and the value system that underpins this sort of indicator, is not easily won or maintained however, on a personal or organisational level.
It matters to me that we are open about what we still need to learn. Societal changes and attacks on our way of life, like the atrocities we’ve seen closer to home and further afield in Europe this year, drive fear and doubt. It can feel easier, sometimes, to turn the other cheek to unacceptable behaviours, to retain processes and systems that are unintentionally biased, to avoid debate or challenge on differences, or to default to language or habits that disguise what is, actually, racism or other very real prejudices – whether conscious or not.
I’m very hopeful we will receive RECM accreditation. Like many members of the University, I will feel proud, and reassured. We all want to think of Warwick as a welcoming, challenging, global, successful, institution. Regardless of whether we are successful in securing the RECM benchmark now, the challenge for all members of our community to continue to do more is as real as ever. We are in this learning space together.
Last night our University Chancellor, Baroness Catherine Ashton, hosted an event to celebrate our collaborations and partnerships within our region. It was also an opportunity to recognise the significant contribution of Sir Richard Lambert who stepped down as Warwick’s Chancellor at the end of last year.
On driving home, I reflected on how inspirational our student performances were - the University chamber choir and brilliant soloist Tom Slade. Even more than that, what made the event so enjoyable for me was the company of the people we had at the event.
The West Midlands region was truly represented, with local MPs, Vice-Chancellors from our neighbouring universities, senior figures in our local councils, local business leaders and colleagues leading major current projects like Coventry’s bid to be UK City of Culture. It highlighted to me the extent and depth of possibilities in our region.
As observed in the recent UUK report on the economic impact of higher education, it showed that the University has a vital role to play to contribute to regional social and economic growth and brought to mind that we do this best through relationships, partnership and respect for the contributions we can all make.
In the words of our new Chancellor as she discussed the current political challenges we all face ‘there is no single issue that can be solved alone, we need to be collaborators’ and from my perspective what better place to start than our region itself?
The last of our new undergraduate and postgraduate students for 2017/18 have enrolled – joining other newcomers who arrived at Warwick over the last few weeks for pre-sessional courses, the PGCE and the MBChB. Chris Ennew and I were pleased to be able to speak to many of them, and their parents and families, over Arrivals Weekend and the first few days of term. The inevitable increase in traffic aside, welcome week developments have been well received, and it is great to see campus so busy and vibrant. Thank you to all of you who work so hard to make sure these first weeks for our new and returning students are welcoming and supportive.
Our returning students will, I hope, see a number of improvements to the campus following engagement with them last year: including refurbishments in Ramphal and Milburn House to integrate teaching and learning technology, plus the development of social study space, improved café facilities and performance space at Westwood. Work continues – as always! - on other major developments across campus: the Goose Nest temporary theatre opens later this week and the Sports and Wellness Hub, NAIC and Mathematical Sciences buildings are progressing well.
For staff, we have a packed term ahead. We can look forward to our new Education Strategy being finalised and consultation beginning on our new Research Strategy. Both of these are key pillars in our institutional aspirations. I hope to be able to reflect further on our future goals following discussion at the University Council in October – the first meeting to be led by our new Pro-Chancellor, Sir David Normington.
We will learn the results of our submission for the Race Equality Charter Mark, and the results of Coventry’s bid to be UK City of Culture, and we will continue to engage in discussions in Brussels and Paris on research collaboration and mobility opportunities.
We will welcome a number of new senior colleagues including Professor Patrick Tissington as Academic Director (Employability and Skills), a new Chair of the Faculty of Arts, Academic Registrar and a new Director of Strategy and Policy and our new HR system, SuccessFactors will be ready to go online in the coming months.
All-staff meeting dates for the year are now confirmed, and Rachel Sandby-Thomas will also be holding coffee mornings around campus this year. We hope to see as many of you as possible at these events.
Best of luck for the term ahead.
I've just returned from my most recent set of meetings in Brussels. Over the past year, I've been involved in a lot of meetings in London and Brussels – all to discuss Brexit and the consequences for higher education. They have been, predominantly, gloomy. The expectation is that higher education in Britain (and in the rest of Europe) could be profoundly damaged.
Of course I respect the outcome of the referendum. But to me – as a Remainer: if we are to achieve genuine prosperity out of the EU, it is even more important to work to secure the best Brexit outcome that we can.
For us at the University of Warwick, there are four aspects to securing the best chances for us to contribute to future prosperity. Non-UK EU citizens need to be given the same rights as they have had under EU membership. Mobility between Britain and the continent needs to continue. The Erasmus student exchange programme must be sustained. We must secure as full access as possible to future research funding – so-called ‘Framework 9’.
The Government's paper setting out its stance on Horizon 2020 and any successor scheme has warm words on the future of science and innovation collaboration with the EU, but we need to see tangible commitments to address all four of those very real issues. Clearly, if true, the reports in the media today on Government's current thinking on the future of free movement and the future status of non-UK EU citizens do not bring much reassurance to those of us working and studying in universities.
With that in mind, it doesn’t seem to me that we are seeing very genuine engagement now. Debate swirls around the level of the exit bill the UK needs to pay. The argument of the British Government - that it is an annual agreement, not a longer term one – doesn’t hold water to me, and seems simply to prolong and deepen the stalemate in negotiations. If I said to my bank that I will pay the mortgage this year, but won't commit to pay next year, they wouldn’t take my custom very seriously. The UK has committed to programmes, and will have to pay. This, along with the future situation for Ireland, and the status of non-UK EU residents - are eminently solvable issues.
With these pragmatic matters settled, we may be able move to phase two. It is only once we get there, I fear, that genuine engagement begins and higher education can really come to the fore.
There is a real win-win for the UK and the EU, when we eventually reach this point. All of Europe – the UK and the continent, gains from student mobility. All of Europe gains from excellent research programmes. All of Europe gains from the networks from which so much exceptional work and impact follows. Not one of Warwick’s partners in the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities sees a hard Brexit as being in their interests. Every one of them wants to engage on positive steps for the future.
Today, the Government has published a paper with some hopeful words on research collaboration after Brexit. We now need real consultation with universities to try and secure all four of the critical aspects I have highlighted as being vital to universities for our future contributions post-Brexit.
Nevertheless, it does open the possibility of a positive future relationship between British universities and continental ones. We will no doubt hear more depressing news and soundbites about Brexit negotiations over the months to come. From my perspective, it might all still go wrong. But there is still a scenario in which continued and productive engagement between the institutions and their students and academics can continue, and can deepen further. It really will be in all of our interests, and it is something well worth fighting for. Let’s hope that discussion can start properly soon.
My thoughts over the next few days are with our prospective students who are – nervously - waiting for the A level results they hope for to be able to join the University community. It is very hard to be able to see beyond academic results at this point in time!
One of the many (many) things I hope you’ll learn when you do join us at Warwick, is that it isn’t all about your academic activities. Naturally, there are a host of excellent education opportunities, with close academic and personal support. Beyond that though, there are some fantastic opportunities for you to look beyond your studies and to really make the most of your time once you are here.
I’m fortunate in my role to see so many examples of what our students achieve outside their studies.
Just this year, we celebrated two students who founded an enterprise to trade agricultural commodities between developing regions across the world – making almost $2m in revenue, and helping ensure fair pricing. They created internship opportunities with Unicef in Morocco, as well as organising volunteering opportunities in Madagascar and in the local Coventry community.
Another group of students had a dream of starting up a youth football team for local children. They raised the money the team needed through charitable donations, and the club went on to become a Charter Standard FA Youth Development team. They were was promoted through two divisions, reached the cup final, and invited to an awards ceremony to celebrate the best teams around.
And another student dedicated over 300 hours of her time to volunteering, including for a club which be-friends residents in a local care home, and another where able and disabled children are encouraged to take part in activities which develop their confidence. She led our volunteering society to create a guide on using extra-curricular experience for your employability, collecting stories from alumni about how volunteering made a difference to their career development.
What binds these diverse activities is that the students did all of this outside their studies. So, if you’re waiting for your A level results, you’ll be nervous – of course. Remember that these are just a step into the next stage of your life. When you join us at Warwick, we will be there to do all we can to help you make the most of it.
Last Saturday I went to bed as Vice-Chancellor of one of the world’s top 100 universities, with UK full-time undergraduate numbers up 11% (to 9,720) and international undergraduates up 41% (to 2,570) since 2008. Our achievements in research and teaching attracted the very best students from the UK and beyond, but that appeared to change overnight. The Sunday Times now claimed “at Warwick the number of undergraduates doing a first degree fell by 28% while non-EU undergraduates rose by 15%” and “British A-level students” were being discriminated against as universities took “more lucrative overseas students instead often with poorer qualifications”.
Had the world changed radically while I slept? No, there was still no cap on undergraduate numbers therefore no need to choose between countries’ students, rather undermining the story’s whole premise. We still insist on the same high academic standards from every part of the globe. Had our UK full-time undergraduate numbers tumbled overnight from being up 11% to down 28%? No, they are still up 11%. The journalist had used the wrong statistics and had not checked with us.
Warwick continues to offer great degrees to the very best students, from wherever they hail. Our data science BSc might be of particular interest to that journalist.
I am pleased today, 14 July 2017, to submit the University of Warwick’s application for a Race Equality Charter Mark award.
At Warwick, we are dedicated to ensuring we are an inclusive institution, with fair and equal representation, progression, and opportunity for all through the continuing advancement of equality throughout our practices, policies, culture and plans. We do this both to attract and retain the most talented staff and students in a globally-competitive market, and to ensure our community and visitors’ experience of Warwick is fair, positive and equal. We seek to do this in a number of ways; in moves towardsbetter conditions for staff, we have adopted the Living Wage foundation rate of pay and have a 'no zero-hours contracts' policy; we are partners in Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture and celebrate, nurture and enhance the cultural diversity of our region’s arts and cultural organisations, neighbourhood communities, schools and businesses; we retain silver status in the Athena Swan Charter, with commitment to the further work we must do in this area across our disciplines, we are developing a Social Inclusion strategy as a core element of our newly formed Strategy and Policy group, and the coming months will see us launch new education and research strategies placing diversity and inclusion at the heart of our core mission in teaching and the creation of knowledge.
Over the last eighteen months, the issue of race has been openly debated within our community. I have listened closely to the views of our staff and students about their experiences. We have learned of the very real concerns and experiences members of our community have about racism. It is very clear to me that there is much more work for us to do. Making our first RECM submission is an important indicator of how far we have got, and how far we still have to go in our commitment to promote inclusion and make the unequivocal statement that we have zero tolerance for racism here at Warwick.
The action plan we have produced for the RECM gives proper focus to issues of race within this context. We have had input from all parts of our community – through the academy, professional services and Students’ Union to identify and commit to improvements across our processes, structures and culture and I thank them for their continuing commitment and support on the work to date and future developments.
There are three specific aspects to this plan that I would like to highlight:
- We will undertake continued research to evidence and inform our approach;
- Equality, diversity and respect will be incorporated in the training and performance objectives of our executive team and heads of department to ensure we understand and apply inclusive leadership practices at the highest levels of the University’s management;
- We will develop proposals for race equality practices and anti-racism training for all our teaching staff, drawing on the existing good practice in some departments, to ensure inclusive curriculum and teaching methods become standard across our taught programmes.
I am committed to monitoring the progress of our action plan with the support of a Race Equality Working Group, and to sharing this progress with our governing body and the broader community to ensure the agenda remains at the forefront of our institutional values.
Warwick’s RECM submission is just one part of a very large endeavour. But it is a critically important commitment that I am personally, and on behalf of the University, very pleased to make. I am sharing this letter publicly with the Warwick community, as a reiteration of that commitment.
Last week saw the majority of Warwick’s undergraduate students leave campus for the summer vacation. And, although there may be a feeling that things are somewhat quieter, as we know, the reality is that it’s business as usual for the many staff and postgraduate students who remain on campus throughout the summer.
Provision continues for our postgraduate student community, many of whom are entering the final phases of dissertation-writing. We have students embarking on exciting and important pieces of work – for example, those on the Warwick in Africa programme. It’s a period of intense research activity too, with many working to complete the writing-up of projects, or first drafts of new initiatives. Colleagues are planning research funding applications, and impact activities as well.
There is also much to do through exam boards, event organisation, liaison with award nominees and more to ensure our summer degree congregations go to plan as we welcome back over 5,000 graduands, and their families and friends, to celebrate their achievements.
We have a packed programme of campus improvements to fit in – building new residences, refurbishing teaching and service buildings, and improving our social study spaces ready for the autumn. Our conference park and centres are at full capacity, hosting a range of international events that bring new potential partners to campus as well as much-needed income to enable us to re-invest in the University. Academic and administrative service teams are incredibly busy preparing for all the things our new (and returning) students need to be able to make the best possible start to their lives at Warwick in the new academic year.
For our final-year students who are about to graduate, and our future students who have just finished their pre-University exams, and prepare to start the next phase of their lives, time to rest, reflect and take stock is essential, and extremely well-deserved. But my thoughts are also with all my colleagues at Warwick, for whom the summer is very much business as usual.
Recognising the contributions of our staff is one of the many reasons why our University Awards are so important. Just reflecting on the coming weeks in particular though: it makes me proud to be part of an institution where our staff make such fantastic contributions to continue to ensure Warwick is world class – and, for you, it’s just business as usual to deliver it all. Thank you.
The UK is going through terrible times at the moment. This morning, we held a minute's silence for the horror of those lost in the Grenfell Tower fire.
Over the past few weeks, we have seen terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, London Bridge, and now on worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque. All these actions are repellent; they seek to divide us.
Many of these recent attacks sought to kill randomly. The attack at Finsbury Park sought to kill specifically - a deliberate attack on the Islamic community, in the Holy Month.
I want to register my solidarity with those affected in London and Manchester, and members of Muslim communities everywhere. For our own community here at Warwick: let's stand together.
Warwick staff and students can access support and guidance from Wellbeing Support Services
We’re holding a day to Showcase Diversity at the University of Warwick on 14 June. I hope staff and students join us to play their part in celebrating and advancing our commitment to equality and diversity at Warwick.
Christine Ennew, Provost at Warwick, comments here on how our unconscious bias can impact inclusion, and how our understanding of ourselves and others can drive a willingness to discuss our diversity in a respectful way.
Last weekend, I found myself watching “The Imitation Game” – for a second time. If you haven’t seen the movie it’s a biopic of pioneering computer scientist, Alan Turing. It documents the work he did during the Second World War, breaking the Enigma code - an achievement which may have shortened the war by as much as two years. That in itself makes for a good story but it’s all framed by his sexuality and the way he was treated as a consequence – treatment that ultimately resulted in his suicide a decade later. Aside from the moral dimension of this tragedy, his early death was a massive loss for the UK in terms of the development of digital technologies.Similarly, when Dorothy Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1964, the Daily Mail allegedly recognised her achievement with the headline "Oxford housewife wins Nobel prize".
The bias that Alan Turing and Dorothy Hodgkin experienced was very open and explicit bias; indeed it was embodied in the legal frameworks of the time. But we’ve moved a long way since those times. We are getting so much better at recognising and celebrating diversity. We know the moral arguments for equality and we know the economic case for diversity.
We continue to confront challenges in relation to bias; not the overt and explicit bias experienced by Dorothy Hodgkin or Alan Turing, but the unconscious bias that emerges in causal, daily actions and behaviour. It’s the bias associated with stereotyping, with rules of thumb and with all of the shortcuts that our brains make to help us cope with the intensity and complexity of our daily lives.
Along with some of my colleagues from the Warwick’s executive team, I recently joined a training session on “unconscious bias”. The session was designed not to eliminate biases, but to make us more aware of how our judgements of individuals and our behaviours may be influenced by our backgrounds, experiences and cultural environments. As well as raising awareness of our own individual and diverse biases, the training session also sought to help us to understand how our biases impact on others. Often those affected by unconscious bias are those who are in a minority and perhaps more likely to feel vulnerable because they are different. But all too often, we simply don’t know how others will react, how they will feel when they experience unconscious bias.
We are all likely to be affected by unconscious bias – because we may display it through our actions or because we experience it in our interactions with others. Because unconscious bias is an almost instinctive or automatic reaction, it can be difficult to eliminate. But we can mitigate its impact – through our awareness and understanding of ourselves, through our attempts to understand the experiences and feelings of others and through a willingness to discuss in a respectful way.
I hope colleagues and students at Warwick join us at our day to Showcase Diversity on 14 June.
I have just read our Students’ Union President-elect’s blog about how Hope and student representatives are working with University service departments to make improvements to study spaces on campus.
Everyone who has been to Warwick over our fifty-year history will be able to remember the construction, the roadworks, the refurbishments that signify improvements on campus. This year alone, we’ve completed the Oculus, our fabulous learning and teaching building, and the Slate, our conferences venue; we’re working on new student residences, a new sports hub, the extraordinary National Automotive Innovation Centre; the Wolfson-funded mathematical sciences building; a new biomedical research building; and we’re soon to start an enormous redevelopment of the Arts Centre, periphery car-parks and our new Arts Faculty building. I’m not sure there has ever been a time when we haven’t had a crane on campus somewhere.
It can be easy to forget about the impact of smaller, localised or ‘business as usual’ improvements when we see such major new buildings, spaces and infrastructure. But, actually, as Hope says in her message, we need to continue to listen to our students to ensure we’re continually enhancing the campus in all the ways that genuinely meet their needs. This is just as important.
As a world-leading University we seek to attract the best staff and students from around the world. And we need a superb, dynamic campus to do this: buildings that support excellent teaching and research; facilities and public spaces to make it a unique and welcoming destination, refurbishment to refresh older facilities, supporting changing expectations and requirements.
Constant change, improvement and renewal means occasional disruption for the community, no matter how much we seek to mitigate it. But, it makes for a world-class campus too.
With Becky Gittins, Warwick SU Democracy & Development Officer, I’m sharing a call to action to students, at my University, Warwick, and across the UK: register to vote by Monday 22 May to make your voice heard in the General Election.
Students occupy what can often be a precarious position in politics. Despite falling under the same generic label of 'student', this is an extremely diverse group made up of many demographics, nationalities, motivations and desires. Students do not always choose the same route to making their voices heard, nor do they always co-ordinate efforts. Being at University for a fixed period of time means they are also a transient population in the region or city where they’re studying. There are also many misconceptions around who is eligible to vote, and frequent misunderstandings around voter registration processes. There is a wealth of guidance online, but engaging in elections, and voting itself, is not an obvious, straightforward experience for many members of this community. When you consider that 75% of 18-24 year-olds voted to remain in the EU, there could well be feeling within this generation that voting also doesn’t actually get you what you want, or at least that voting doesn’t impact what happens in the end.
But. This generation can have impact. And that is turnout. Not only do students represent a significant proportion of local constituencies, but an increase of just 30% in the 18-24 vote could be enough to influence the entire General Election. If our 18-24 year olds use their vote, they become a priority for politicians and, indeed, a key interest group in national decision-making. This generation can play an active role in the decisions that they care about and that affect them.
At Warwick, the University and Students’ Union share a belief in the power of students to be active participants in our democracy, and key players in the decision-making processes of our communities, our region and our country. From the new academic year, we will enable our eligible students to register to vote as part of their University enrolment process. This will overcome the impact of changes to Individual Voter Registration made in 2014 which wiped thousands of students off the electoral register overnight. It will also make it easier, quicker, simpler to register to vote. We genuinely hope this step will help encourage our students to use their vote.
Until then, students need to register to vote the old-fashioned way. Please do. The decisions taken this June will have far-reaching implications. Our student community has the power and knowledge to influence decisions and should play its part in our future. The biggest threat to the strength of that generation is not realising the power it has in the first place.
For the upcoming General Election on 8 June, the deadline to register to vote is Monday 22 May. Please do.
Becky and Stuart
More information on how to register and eligibility can be found on MyWarwick
At universities and schools across the country, students are preparing for exams. We all remember that time and the hours of study, the nerves, the anticipation, the slight hysteria that creeps into most of your conversations with fellow students, the relief once it's over.
At Warwick, I've written to all our students taking exams over the next few weeks to wish them good luck. I want to reiterate that message publicly, and share a message from our Students’ Union team.
Through the University and Students' Union, we have much in place to support students. We have online guidance on managing revision, we have one to one advice, we have 24-hour study spaces so you can choose the place and time to study that suits you best. We have advice and workshops on keeping active, looking after your mental wellbeing, taking breaks. Through Creative Warwick, we are showcasing all the things our student societies do to actively improve students’ wellbeing through keeping their minds in gear, helping students to relax and connect with the outside world in a time where it is very easy to become more insular, providing events and performances to perform and celebrate.
Dear Warwick students,
As you enter into this immense part of the year, we wish you the very best of luck with all of your assessments, and hope that you are living healthily and happily!
Remember, ‘self-care’ involves more than streaming a TV series and having a bath, so figure out what routine works best for you, and reward yourself with meaningful work breaks regularly. Self-preservation isn’t self-indulgence, so take care.
Look out for your friends this term, and if you want to start a conversation on their wellbeing, we have plenty of tips on how to approach it at warwicksu.com/areyouok
If you want some support with whatever it is you’re going through, the SU Advice Centre is here for you. We’ve got plenty of expert pages on our website at warwicksu.com/advice. Or if you need to speak with us, then booking an appointment is easy.
It’s been a pleasure being your Welfare Officer this year, and I truly hope that you each succeed in whatever it is that motivates you. You‘ve made it to this point, go that little bit further.
Chloe Wynne (Welfare Officer), the Advice Centre Team, and all at Warwick Students’ Union x”
We're proud of our student community at Warwick, and we are here with you every step of the way.
Last week I welcomed the first public meeting of West Midlands Together, which was held on the Warwick campus. West Midlands Together was founded as a cross-party campaign by Neena Gill and Anthea McIntyre, (both Members of the European Parliament for the West Midlands) to combat hatred and intolerance and promote social harmony in the wake of the EU referendum vote, in one of Britain's most vibrant and diverse regions.
The event was attended by a great range of people, including community leaders, local councillors, representatives from business, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands, and the District Crown Prosecutor.
I hope that our University, Warwick, is a place where we can debate, listen, find solutions together. Warwick is ranked the 17th most international university in the world by the Times Higher Education. This is a fantastic symbol of our success – that we are inclusive, open, supporting the best to be the best. It is a culture I’m proud of being part of, and inspired to engage in and to nurture this safe environment for study and research. But since the EU referendum last summer, we have seen an increase across our region in reported incidents of hate crime to a level we have not seen before. However people voted in the EU referendum, I am sure that not one of us voted for this worrying outbreak of hate being faced by members of communities on the basis of their race, culture, gender, sexual orientation or religious or social beliefs.
In one of the many, many articles written after the Westminster attack last week, a piece in the Daily Telegraph said we should deny the terrorists the disproportionate reaction they seek from us. Many interpreted this as a call to action from Government. But it is more than that. It is a call to action for each and every one of us. What can we do, as employers, public bodies, universities, community leaders, parents, individuals, to actively seek to stop hatred and to promote unity? West Midlands Together is one such positive example of taking action. Each of us must add our own individual effort to always challenge each prejudiced comment and every action that seeks to offend and to strive to find ways that unite rather than divide.
The West Midlands Together event came at the end of what was a shocking week for all of us following the Westminster attack. Those who perversely took the EU referendum result as a signal to spew more words and actions of hate and intolerance may sadly take the imminent triggering of Article 50 as further encouragement. This is a key moment for us to work to renew our determination to demonstrate our unity and our sense of community.
I was pleased that Michael Faust from the project donors, University Development Foundation(UDF), could join us at the staff briefing on Warwick in California project in December last year and since then both the Warwick team and UDF continue to work closely together on the project.
I would like to share Kyriakos Tsakopoulos, President of UDF’s views on the project and working with our university.
UDF is thrilled to partner with Warwick to establish the first private, world-leading research university to be founded in California since Stanford in 1885.
With Warwick, we have found the right match. Warwick became a world leading university from literally nothing but green fields and a bold vision, in 50 years. Born and raised on the British countryside, today Warwick has international impact through its students, faculty and academic partnerships around the world. Warwick is a top 6 university in the U.K. and home to a Fields Medalist in Mathematics. Its faculties deliver teaching and research of the highest quality in an environment where technology transfer and industry collaboration ensure that ideas born at Warwick do not live solely in the classroom but thrive in the world and have practical and positive impact on the quality of human life and the natural environment.
In turn, California is the largest state economy in the US. It is a laboratory and a leader in path-breaking policies in clean energy, communication and culture. As California is the wealthiest consumer market in America, Sacramento, the state capital, is itself currently experiencing a $3.9 Billion urban core development renaissance.
Californians are largely characterized by creative energy and a pioneering spirit of innovation, and welcome people from all over the world who seek to contribute to our marketplace of ideas. We are keenly aware that in the US, 26% of Nobel Prize winners are immigrants and 70% of the most successful startups valued at $1 billion or more relied on immigrants as key players. Many of the best and brightest students in the world seek their higher education in California, and this makes it fertile ground for the University of Warwick.
And we are hard at the plow. Just last week, Sir George Cox and US Project Director Bob Hogg joined us in California to provide updates to local business and government leaders, potential philanthropic and volunteer supporters, as well as to individuals and families who were among the original land donors to this venture. This week I am excited to be back on campus hosting some of those very same people who have traveled here to experience first-hand the quality and spirit of the University of Warwick.
On a personal level, all involved on our end have found the people of Warwick – students, alums, faculty, administrators, members of Council – to be nothing short of wonderful. Brilliance without arrogance. Honest and straight forward. Passionate yet prudent. Among all involved there is a palpable excitement, perhaps from the knowledge that we have both the rare privilege of imprinting something of ourselves on a new institution and the solemn responsibility to set the values, organization and structure that will determine whether or not it flourishes. No doubt our efforts have been facilitated by friendship, which will surely augment and enhance our mutual enjoyment of the challenging work ahead.”
President, University Development Foundation
More information about Warwick in California can be found on the project webpages.
Since becoming Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor a year ago, it has been my ambition to re-establish this University’s commitment to our region. On 10 February I’m delighted to be speaking as part of a Coventry and Warwickshire Champions event in Birmingham to highlight just some of the strengths Coventry and Warwickshire bring to the broader West Midlands region.
Simon Swain, our Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Engagement, reflects here on some of the ways in which we seek to contribute and add value, and sets out our aspiration to play our part in making the region even stronger in 2017.
2017 promises to be a big year for Coventry, Warwickshire and the broader West Midlands region. We’re fewer than 100 days from the vote for the first directly-elected mayor for the West Midlands; legislation that will turn HS2 from drawings to train tracks is set to pass in the coming weeks; Coventry will make its bid to be 2021 City of Culture later this year, and we’ve just seen the City Council formally adopt a 10-year cultural strategy for the city, which was led by Jonothan Neelands from WBS.
At Warwick, we strongly believe universities have a huge role to play in the regions in which they are located. We are drivers of innovation, productivity and cultural development through knowledge exchange, skills development and academic research, as well as the huge input our students and staff make on so many levels. We are crucial to making our region a better place to work and live. So how can we most effectively contribute to Coventry, Warwickshire and the West Midlands in 2017?
From Warwick’s inception, we have sought ways to positively impact the region’s skills base, cultural engagement, manufacturing and business development. Here are just some examples.
Looking at skills and apprenticeships, following the successful development of the first WMG Academy for Young Engineers in Coventry, we have opened a second Academy in Solihull. This equips even more of the region’s young people with the technical skills needed for either employment or higher education. We have also introduced the WMG Applied Engineering Programme aimed at higher apprentices looking to study for a degree whilst working, and a longstanding partnership with National Grid provides training for young people in the region who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs) to help them into work.
2017 will see the opening of the National Automotive Innovation Centre on our campus, a £150m investment as part of the long-term collaboration between WMG, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors European Technical Centre. It’s the largest private sector investment in any UK university to date, building Warwick’s reputation as a powerhouse of automotive innovation, and cementing the region’s reputation as a hub for manufacturing.
Our Science Park is a hive of activity for the region’s small and medium-sized employers (SMEs). We host 135 businesses, providing advice on finance and incubation, research and development and knowledge transfer. In partnership with Warwickshire County Council and the European Regional Development Fund, we recently started Business Ready - a new support programme designed to help companies achieve and exceed their growth potential, boosting the region’s economy through the creation of highly-skilled jobs. We want to expand this work in the coming year.
We are also developing an exciting vision for a new Innovation Campus at Wellesbourne. We’re inviting inspirational businesses to join us for truly collaborative working and the development, demonstration and testing of genuine innovation that accords with our mission to educate and foster new knowledge, working with regional agencies to create jobs in a sustainable manner.
Warwick Arts Centre, the largest outside London, provides events, performances, schools engagement and community-led productions. Over three quarters of the Arts Centre’s audience come from within a 45-minute catchment area. With nearly one million visitors a year, the venue plays a crucial role in attracting people to Coventry. At present we are preparing for a major investment to make it bigger and better!
With the help of Nigel Driffield, our newly appointed Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Regional Engagement, we’ll be doing as much as we can in 2017 to work with our regional agencies and organisations helping to bring new jobs and expertise into our neighbourhoods. We’ll be thinking hard too about how we can give our students more opportunities for placements in regional companies and organisations, and how we can extend our input into excellent local initiatives like FabLab Coventry.
We’re also hoping to do more with our partners in schools across the region, building on our terrific teacher training and our student volunteers, and we look forward to working more closely too with the University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust, developing our key shared research to the benefit of everyone who lives in this area. And soon we’ll be taking the West Midlands out of itself: to London to officially launch the City of Culture bid and to the global gathering of planners and developers in Cannes where we’ll stand alongside Coventry City Council in trying to bring investment to our campus and our locality and play our part in the region’s vision for success and wellbeing.
Looking to the ambitious plans for growth and development across Coventry, Warwickshire and the broader West Midlands region, we are absolutely committed to playing our part and I look forward to seeing more to come in 2017.
Simon Swain, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for External Engagement
It has been a year since my first day as Vice-Chancellor at Warwick. Incredible really – just a year. I want to take the opportunity to write to the whole Warwick community to reflect on that year, and to thank you all for all the successes we’ve achieved together, the challenges we’ve faced, and the amount that you have contributed and shown me.
Warwick is a large and hugely successful organisation. We continue to produce excellent research, secure important research income, and work well on impacting that research on society. We have recruited excellent students, and continue to develop and improve our educational offering. Our underpinning strategies are strong – we are financially sound, and continue to develop good national and international partnerships.
Yet to me, it seems much longer than a year. Nationally we have had Brexit. A new Government, with a new industrial strategy, a new schools strategy, and a stronger regional agenda. We have TEF. And throughout the period, the Higher Education and Research Bill has rolled on, with Government seemingly unwilling to listen to anyone about anything to do with higher education at all. Worrying times, in many ways.
But we have also had some really big positives at Warwick over the year. Many of you in the staff and student body put some big issues onto the agenda when I took over. I want to share my top ten of what we’ve addressed together:
- For the first time, Warwick has committed to pay at the levels set by the Living Wage Foundation. This is a rate higher than the national minimum wage. It does make things more expensive to run – for example, our cafes and restaurants. But it is an important commitment as a good employer and I’m proud we’re doing this.
- Each of the last few years has seen us struggle to provide accommodation for all our new students – usually those who have applied very late, for one reason or another. This is not the start of the Warwick experience we want these students to have, so I am pleased that we are increasing our accommodation offer close to 1,000 rooms on campus and in Coventry from 2017/18.
- The Students’ Union raised the ambition of opening the Library 24 hours a day in term-time. This is now agreed and the Library is now 24/7, enhancing the learning experience we offer to our students.
- As a tenet of the Government’s Higher Education reforms, the cap on home/EU tuition fees will now increase in line with inflation. We’ve seen many universities elect to impose that increase on their existing students as well as new. Warwick has not; our current students will not see any increase in the regulated fee.
- We were the first University to publicly condemn the outdated Zellick guidelines on processes for dealing with sexual violence. SU colleagues and I are now working with the Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre to seek to bring their services to campus to strengthen the support we can provide for victims of sexual violence in our community.
- Following changes to the electoral register, there is grave concern that a large number of students might be disenfranchised across England and Wales. With the SU and our regional Councils and the Electoral Commission, we are now working to ensure our student systems capture the data to ensure our eligible students are correctly registered and able to vote.
- The Disabled Students’ Allowance plays an important part in enabling access to higher education. But we have seen reduced state funding, leaving some students at a disadvantage. At Warwick, we have committed to helping those most affected and often not able to use our standard accommodation, by providing subsidised en suite and on-campus accommodation. In this way, we can limit the impact of barriers to disabled students in being part of our campus community.
- Following consultations with our community, all new buildings will now include gender neutral toilets, with all current single occupancy toilets to be adapted to become gender neutral across 2017, as we aim to provide gender neutral toilets throughout the campus. We are also currently running a consultation on converting two of the facilities in the main library into gender neutral toilets. I am delighted to say that, in addition, this has received very positive media coverage.
- Our Wellbeing Support Services team has expanded, with a number of new staff. We are also increasing our spend on mental health support by over £500,000 over the next three years, recognising the imperative of supporting this critical aspect of the student experience. In particular we have recognised the role of mental health support with the creation of a number of dedicated mental health specialists.
- Finally, I am delighted with the opening of the Oculus, our dedicated learning and teaching building. There are also a number of really important developments coming to life on campus: a new sports hub, the extraordinary National Automotive Innovation Centre; the Wolfson-funded mathematical sciences building;a new biomedical research building; and an enormous redevelopment of the Arts Centre – all enhancing our campus for students, staff and visitors.
Looking beyond the campus, we have recommitted to our region, and are playing a hugely important role in the work to secure the title of City of Culture for Coventry.
Our California campus plans move forward: we secured our first building, and progressed a significant amount of the complex legal and financial regulatory work to be able to create a new university in California. We became a founding member of the Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, and we renewed our partnership with Monash University in Australia for a further five years.
And our league table positions continued to prove the quality of Warwick externally. Let me highlight one that you might not expect: we rose to 34th place in this year’s People and Planet Green League. This reflected the enormous amount of work from colleagues in the Estates Office, and elsewhere across campus.
Last but most important of all, there’s more to say about our people: we now have the first woman Provost in this University, the first woman Registrar here, and the first woman Chancellor. We also, for the first time, have a woman in the role of Pro-Vice-Chancellor for research. These changes are an important rebalancing of our executive team hopefully helping in just one way to signal our commitment to equality at all levels of the University. All universities need to do more in terms of equality and diversity; and that includes Warwick. One of the most important aspects of this I would like to talk about with more people is how we become still more welcoming to students and staff from UK BME communities.
Looking at Warwick’s broader community, my executive team and I have tried to put in place channels that enable us to engage with you, to be open, to hear your views and share our thoughts. I’ve established this blog, and regular all-staff meetings and student debates. I’ve tried my very hardest to get out across campus, to meet staff and students and spend time speaking and listening to you.
If you have read this far, let me reiterate my thanks for your contributions, support and engagement this year. I’m proud of what we have achieved this year; I hope you can be too. There is a huge amount more to do; I’m not complacent. Strategically, we’re committed to action in the core pillars of our University strategy: for example, a new research strategy, a new education strategy, a regional engagement strategy, a new masterplan for the campus. In year two, you will see more outcomes in across a whole range of challenges. Amongst all the challenges, there are opportunities too, and I look forward to focusing on them with you. I hope that you feel that this has been a year in which the University as a whole has moved forward.
I wanted to share a copy of the letter I’ve sent to the Times Higher about Warwick’s submission to the Teaching Excellence Framework to clarify our institutional position and concerns:
On 26th January, Warwick, like other English universities, put in its Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) submission. It was with mixed feeling. Mixed because, although we agree with the fundamental proposition that universities should provide high quality teaching, we don’t believe that TEF will measure that. We feel we have been backed into a corner.
This is very frustrating as we have good reason to be proud of our teaching. We attract very bright students: our teaching helps them to transform their thinking through in-depth engagement and challenge within their discipline, as well as offering opportunities to learn beyond boundaries. We put our money where our mouth is: we have just opened the Oculus, a new learning and teaching building at £18.5million, complementing our innovative Teaching and Learning Grids (£2.87m); invested £3.19m in our Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning to develop and embed innovative pedagogies and invested over £5m to run Warwick International Higher Education Academy to support our teachers. It is hardly surprising that we attract many international as well as domestic students, nor that our students are the most sought after by employers, and that our alumni exceed the average sustained employment outcomes five years after graduating.
But very little of this will be captured. This is because the metrics are flawed. This is not renegade opinion but the overwhelming view of those actually involved in Higher Education. It is why many of our staff and students at Warwick campaigned for us to stay out of TEF, setting out justified fears about the continued marketization of our sector. Yet the Government has us over a barrel. It has linked TEF to fees and potentially our ability to recruit international students. The risks are too high. We submitted in both senses of the word.
And it is not only the TEF which is of concern: some of the measures in the Higher Education and Research Bill threaten the very nature of the autonomy in Universities which has made UK education the global success it is. The proposed measures treat education as if it is a commodity, just like any other.
This is frustrating and it is puzzling. My message to the Government is this:
our sector, while not perfect, is the envy of the world...let's make sure it stays that way."
Article originally published in the Times Higher Education.
Last week we held the winter graduation ceremonies, an event I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy, the chance to see so many of our students reaching the end of this particular journey, congratulating one another, supported by friends and family and ready to start the next part of their lives is always a pleasure, I know how hard each and every one has studied to get this far.
We also, of course acknowledge the number of staff who have supported our students through their time at Warwick of course and those who make the ceremonies run so smoothly takes a great deal of hard work and commitment. Thanks to you all. And for the graduates who have now left Warwick, you are still part of the Warwick community and we hope you will keep in touch with us.
Another important aspect of the ceremonies, is the opportunity to celebrate and recognise individuals through awarding honorary degrees. Chief of Staff, Sharon Tuersley hosted those honorary graduates and has written about her experience:
Graduation ceremonies really are the highlight of the academic calendar. It’s great to see the graduates and their families celebrating their hard work and their many achievements over the time they have spent at University but what does it mean for our Honorary Graduates?
This year I had the very real privilege of hosting the University of Warwick’s Honorary Graduates and their guests during the ceremonies and I can honestly say they were just as excited and proud to be receiving their awards as the students that were graduating that day.
As the week progressed I realised how important these people are to a wide range of activities at Warwick. Jill Lepore, the bad-ass historian, whose work was being taught to our current students the very same week she received her Honorary Degree, Stella Rimington who gave a ‘standing-room only’ lecture to students from PAIS the evening before her ceremony, Anne Wood who works very closely with academic colleagues in the Film and TV department (pictured Anne Wood with Dr Helen Wheatley), including the acclaimed Children’s TV exhibition, an eminent mathematician, Professor Dusa McDuff who broke the glass ceiling for women in this discipline and Mechai Viravaidya , or ‘Mr Condom’ as he’s known, who has transformed the lives of children in Thailand with his foundation. These people lead their fields and have achieved many things for many different communities and now they are forever connected to our community at Warwick.
Honorary Graduates are more than just a celebratory part of our degree ceremonies, they are cherished relationships, some well-established, some very new, but they should be nurtured. So next time you see a call for nominating Honorary Graduates, think of how they can be connected to the University community so we can encourage these relationships to flourish."
As we enter 2017, still seeking to understand what the UK’s relationship with the EU will look like post-Brexit, I can’t help but reflect – like many of my higher education sector colleagues – on relationships more generally.
Relationships matter, and I can’t help but worry how the government’s continuing failure to reassure people like EU migrants, for example, that we remain committed to them as they already support the UK so effectively, will have a long-term negative impact on our relationships with these individuals, as well as with the countries they’ve come from, whatever legislative framework for the UK’s future engagement with the EU eventually emerges.
Arguably, in the higher education sector at least, we start the new year with a raft of national policy challenges of a scale, complexity and level of uncertainty I don’t believe we have seen for decades: the Higher Education and Research Bill, the Teaching Excellence Framework, regional devolution, the development of a national Industrial Strategy and the government’s schools, immigration and widening participation agendas...
So it may be understandable for some to simply forget the importance of relationships – be they with other universities, with other sectors, with Government and policy makers, with other countries, with our communities, whilst we focus our attentions this year on survival, or at least navigating this challenging period.
This would be a huge mistake. Relationships matter now more than ever. They matter because, if we do not nurture these relationships, we will not retain the expertise and global connectivity we have. We will not be able to attract a global and inclusive community of the best students and staff from all walks of life to drive genuine innovation in education and research. We will not be able to collectively provide solutions to global challenges.
I remember a particularly compelling argument on why universities, government and industry must work together – across sectors and across nations – if we are to make a true difference to society.
Gordon Waddington, the Chief Executive Officer of the Energy Research Accelerator (ERA), made the case for a collaborative effort to solve the global energy crisis in a speech at the European Energy Research Alliance conference. ERA is a key programme within the Midlands Innovation university partnership, of which our University is a part. It’s a cross-disciplinary hub which brings together our capital assets, data and intellectual leadership to foster collaboration between academia and business to develop new products and services, and highly skilled people and jobs, to ultimately transform the UK’s energy sector. I’m sharing Gordon’s comments here.
The reason the seven founding partners in the Energy Research Accelerator came together is exactly the same as the reason over 170 institutions are represented within the European Energy Research Alliance. We know that there is a massive problem in delivering the scale of transformation to the global energy system that is essential to reduce, stop and then reverse the global rise of CO2 from the current dangerously high levels. 2016 is well on course to be the hottest year ever. We are all aware of the extraordinary difficulty in delivering the climate change obligations of Paris.
We need to deliver solutions quickly, and the way we do this has to be acceptable to people, communities and nations all over our interconnected planet. The challenges of reducing our carbon footprint will not be met with one technology alone, or by one company or by one nation. Energy efficiency; energy storage; carbon capture and storage; renewable energy; nuclear energy; smart and integrated systems and many others all have their part to play in reducing our carbon footprint. So do economics and human factors. We know we must not focus solely on the clever and complex engineering challenges that inspire us; we must also focus on affordability and ease of use.
Technologies that are just too expensive or too difficult to use will always struggle to gain mass appeal. They will only ever play a specialist role in the market. Mass adoption needs mass appeal, and without mass adoption many of the best technological ideas will not make any significant difference to the global carbon agenda. This means we have to put as much effort into demonstration, cost reduction, incentivizing the market to take our ideas up as we do into making further improvements to the technologies themselves.
Researchers, industrialists, policy-makers: none of these groups can achieve this in isolation. Our chances of success in meeting the climate change obligations of Paris are far greater when we work together; we are so much more than the sum of our parts when we have a common cause.
Making us behave in the right way has many factors. Just one of them is the need for us all to see that relationships directly impact our capacity to meet a challenge effectively. The scale of the energy challenges we face as a planet go well beyond the Midlands or the confines of one sector, one country or one region of the world. I am a committed European because, simply, there is no choice but to work with each other for the common good.”
Gordon received a spontaneous outburst of applause when he told his audience that he was a committed European.
As challenging as the continuing uncertainty of Brexit and other policy changes undoubtedly feel to many of us in higher education as we kick off 2017, collaborative initiatives like ERA, designed for the purpose of addressing the global energy challenge - are an excellent and active demonstration of how our determination to work together will actually help us respond in the most creative and effective way, and will enable us – collectively - to find solutions which will genuinely improve our global future.
With best wishes for 2017
We have reached agreement to bring a peaceful conclusion to the student occupation that has been taking place at the University of Warwick since 2 December 2016. Here is my letter to the protesters following engagement between the University, the Students’ Union and the protestors to reach this conclusion.
I am writing to confirm Warwick’s position on the issues on which you sought to mount a protest through your occupation of the Slate since 2 December 2016. I hope to continue to engage with you through the Students’ Union in order to further progress resolution to the issues we have discussed with you. As we reach a point in our engagement at which you agree to bring a peaceful conclusion to your occupation, I am happy to publish this letter online as a statement of our agreed intentions.
Teaching Excellence Framework and Higher Education and Research Bill
You have emphasised your opposition to the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). This is in line with the campaign in 2015/16 led by Warwick Students’ Union sabbatical officers and the University Assembly motion opposing HE reform.
I recognise that your opposition to the TEF does not arise from disagreement with the fundamental proposition that universities should provide high quality teaching. Indeed, we all agree with that principle. It is because the proposed metrics will not measure that. TEF will not do what it says on the tin; it will not measure teaching excellence. However, the University of Warwick, along with most other UK higher education institutions, will submit to TEF. This is because of the government’s proposal that the TEF might be used to decide which universities would be able to recruit international students. Failure to make a submission to the TEF represents an existential threat to the diverse and global contribution that our international students make to the very essence of our university. At Warwick, we do not believe that the two should be linked.
But TEF is not the only problem facing higher education. The Higher Education and Research Bill signals a far more significant threat. Key challenges within the Bill include who will be granted degree awarding powers and on what basis, and very real questions about the autonomy of universities.
This Bill has just started its progress through the House of Lords. In the initial debate, over 60 Lords argued against elements of the Bill. There is, I hope, the very real prospect of significant changes. I am currently meeting with key influencers and decision-makers to seek to secure some of those changes, as are many others. I am willing to publish a press release setting out my concerns on HE reform and increasing marketization, which will also reflect the concerns articulated by a wide range of staff and students to make public these views. Between now and January, as the Bill goes through its parliamentary stages, is a critical time for us all to focus on the Bill itself.
I recognise the genuine concern expressed regarding status of our hourly-paid teaching staff. We have been working to standardise the terms and conditions of hourly-paid teachers to ensure that they are treated consistently and fairly across departments. Our sessional teaching project has involved input from hourly-paid staff and from the Students’ Union Postgraduate Sabbatical Officer. We are also exploring models that have been adopted elsewhere for possible adoption at Warwick. We recognise there is more to do.
In order to ensure that the concerns of our hourly-paid teaching staff are most effectively heard I am happy to commit to organising a meeting with the Trades Unions during January to discuss formal TU recognition agreements for these staff. I hope that this will provide a formal mechanism to consider the specific issues that have been highlighted in relation to casualisation. I have also agreed to meet with members of Warwick Anti-Casualisation (WAC) in January to begin a process of dialogue on their concerns, which will involve the Students’ Union as well as the University and College Union (UCU) once the recognition agreement is in place.
In December 2014, we saw incidents on campus, most notably those at Senate House on 3 December, where there were accusations, and evidence, of intimidation and violence inflicted on members of our community. There were subsequent court cases, and an examination by the Independent Police Complaints Commission which is still not fully resolved. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on those processes, but what I do want to comment on is the reaction of the University at that time.
I know that the formal statement issued by the University on 4 December caused enormous upset across our community, because it placed blame on one side of the dispute. There was ample evidence on social media of significant distress and concern amongst our students and staff, which continues to contribute to further demonstrations on our campus.
These events, and the University's initial reaction to them, caused significant shock. I do know that. I was on University business in Singapore at the time and was profoundly dismayed by the messages and reports I saw. The distress suffered by our community had a very real impact on me.
Given all this, as Vice-Chancellor, reflecting on those dark days, I want to express two points. First, I very deeply regret the violence that we witnessed and the great upset amongst the students and staff involved, and the community beyond. I never want to be in a situation again in which CS spray or a tazer is deployed on our campus. Second, I regret that in the University's communications that immediately followed what took place, the principle of neutrality fundamental to our University community was evidently broken.
We are now committed to removing the injunction put in place after the events of December 2014. In closing this letter I do hear the call for increased urgency for the resolution of these matters. I am committed to continuing to pursue deeper engagement and ongoing dialogue between the University, Students' Union and the breadth of our student body. There are lessons to learn, and I hope that we are collectively starting to do that.
For much of my academic life, I have been based in a Business School, so I’m familiar with the many fads and fashions of popular management writing. Much of this is transient, some has a basis in systematic academic research but often the greatest impact seems to come from the careful presentation of anecdotal evidence. So it would be easy to dismiss some of the popular writing around more compassionate approaches to management, concepts of servant leadership and notions of kindness within organisations. But my own experience suggests that such a sweeping judgement would also be an unwise one.
Without under-estimating the importance of a work-life balance, we should recognise that most of us spend a large part of our life at work. Who we work for and what we do usually makes a significant contribution to our identity and our sense of self. And our experience in the workplace will have a real impact on our broader well-being. Leaders and managers play a key role in defining that workplace experience but we all contribute through our behaviours and our interactions. So, as we look forward to marking our “Respect at Warwick” day on 16th November, I wanted to reflect on the importance of kindness in organisations.
A typical definition of kindness (courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary) is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. Treating others with kindness and being treated with kindness during out working lives feels like a very reasonable expectation. And yet, all too often it doesn’t happen. Sometimes we just don’t think or reflect on how our behaviour impacts on others, sometimes we’re just too focused on ourselves and sometimes we worry that kindness in the workplace may not be a desirable quality – especially for a manager or a leader! That may reflect a significant mis-understanding. Kindness is not weakness; concern for the well-being of others is not weakness. Kind people can still be analytical and focused; kind people are perfectly capable of exercising tight control; kind people can still take difficult decisions. They simply do so in a way that respects individuals, is supportive, constructive and compassionate.
I’ve always been keen to avoid creating stereotypes around management and leadership - there is no single right type of leader of manager – we’re all different and we all have our unique qualities. But one thing I am convinced of is that for all of us there is a real benefit from exercising kindness in the workplace. Individually we’ll feel better, happier, engaged and more highly motivated. And when that happens, we’re likely to perform better – individually and collectively.
Listening to the radio is one of my great pleasures and early one morning a few years ago I woke to a programme which referenced a quote from Kurt Vonnegut. It’s a quote that has stuck with me. And it’s perfect as my closing thought for this blog:
"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."
(From God Bless You, Mr Rosewater)
Christine Ennew, Provost
Rachel Sandby-Thomas, our new Registrar, has written the following blog on the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA) 'Meet the Members' site about her role, the institution and how's she's found working at Warwick so far.
I am Rachel Sandby-Thomas and I am the Registrar at the University of Warwick. The ladies at reception insist on greeting me as “The Registrar” despite my insistence on being called Rachel. Old habits die hard.
I joined the University of Warwick in August 2016, and am still feeling pretty green. Apart from being a student many moons ago, I have little history of involvement with HE, having spent the previous 23 years in Central Government. Like Matthew Hilton, I too have come from BIS. However, unlike Matthew, HE was not part of my portfolio. I spent 8 years there as a Director General so, although I have been part of many discussions around HE, my focus was fending off further cuts to the FE budget.
As Registrar, I am responsible for the People Group (which also includes Health and Safety and Wellbeing), IT, External Engagement and Press, Knowledge Group, Education Group (including the Academic Registrar), Delivery Assurance and Resolution, Legal, Secretariat to the Senate, never mind setting up a university in California! I am director and trustee of numerous entities and license holder for all sorts. However, above all, I keep having to remind myself what the Vice Chancellor said to me in a preliminary chat which was that, if he was on a plane and there was a problem on the non-academic side of the University, I am the person he would call. Ulp.
No one day is the same in this role. I spend my time in lots of informal 1:1 meetings and longer, more formal ones. I’m also trying to get out to meet people and am getting to know the campus, little by little. As well as the daytime commitments, there are many evening activities and appointments, such as the University’s own version of Question Time, a long service celebration, a 6 course taster menu. I have put on 4lbs since I started, a trajectory which cannot continue!
I am still on a steep learning curve and had forgotten how tiring that can be. I am finding that a lot of the skills and issues are the same but the context is totally new. Issues go from small but specific, such as vehicles taking up valuable car parking space, through to visionary away-days. Warwick has had a fabulous first 50 years…how do we make sure the next 50 remain as stellar? And I have a whole new set of acronyms to master – I much prefer the university meaning of PDR: Private Dining Room instead of Performance and Development Review.
I have been struck by how the decision making is more democratic which might sound strange coming from a world filled with politicians. The governance system is the obvious incarnation of this but I see it also in the wider sets of people and issues which need to be consulted before a decision can be properly made. That can be frustrating for someone impatient like me but yet I feel reassured by the fact that it has been scrutinised from multiple angles by many wise heads.
It is also eye-opening being at the opposite end of changes in policy. I hadn’t properly appreciated how thoroughly the external world scrutinises the words and actions of the Government, nor the extent of planning blight caused by lack of clarity around details of the change. Obviously this is a clear and present danger what with BREXIT, the TEF, local devolution and immigration, to name just a few. However, this just makes it even more challenging and fun.
My father is my lode star when it comes to job satisfaction. When I was contemplating, 23 years ago, my previous big change from private to public sector, I asked him how much he enjoyed his job. He said 95%. That’s what I have aimed for since. And all the signs are good so far for 95% and beyond…”
Rachel Sandby-Thomas, Registrar
As a VC, I’m often asked about my priorities and about what I’m doing to steer Warwick towards achieving great things in our teaching, our research, our regional and global partnerships. These are challenging and stimulating discussions to have. Recent conversations with Chloe Wynne – the Welfare and Campaigns Officer at our Students’ Union – and colleagues in our Wellbeing Support Services – have made me see how important it is to also talk about one of the most fundamental priorities of my job, which we often don’t discuss as openly as we should: to create a safe environment for study.
The University of Warwick campus is a very safe one. In the last few weeks the Complete University Guide’s 2016 crime tables were published and showed Warwick to have the eighth lowest level of reported crime of any University in England and Wales.
This is a good indicator but also a metric that we will always seek to sustain and improve upon. We have services in which we are continuing to invest, dedicated to creating a secure, nurturing and respectful environment. However, it takes commitment and partnership to foster, maintain and enhance this safe environment.
I recognise and value all of this – and I’m hugely grateful for the work of colleagues across the University, SU and externally to help ensure the safety of our campus environment. But, conversations with Chloe and colleagues show what more we need to do – not just at Warwick, but across the Higher Education sector.
Estimates say that, nationally, around one in four female students will encounter sexual harassment, assault or rape during her time at university. We also know that sexual and domestic violence against men is significantly under-reported. Just last week, the Guardian reported on some appalling examples of sexual harassment that students have experienced.
So there must be more, much more, that we can all do through our support services, culture, guidance and processes to help address this.
A Universities UK task force was established in 2015 specifically to address sexual violence in universities in England, and is expected to report its recommendations in November. I am pleased that key colleagues from Warwick, including Christine Ennew (Provost) and Shirley Crookes (Head of Wellbeing Support Services), will be participating in the UUK Conference alongside Chloe. At Warwick, we are actively looking at how we most effectively give guidance and support to anyone affected by sexual violence; I thus look forward to the positive actions and recommendations that are to come.
When incidents are reported, we strive to deal with everyone in those individual cases with absolute diligence and care. But, to truly support the safe environment we expect to see in universities, we need more fit-for-purpose and nationally-applied guidance to drive best practice across the sector.
The Zellick Report, which is the guidance by which universities nationally have developed their disciplinary procedures around sexual violence, was published over 20 years ago. It is outdated, inconsistently applied and even inappropriate in a number of ways: it does not reflect legal changes since the 1990s; it offers universities very limited guidance on how to handle reported incidents within our communities; it does not reflect how we should work in partnership with external support services or the police in a way that best suits the needs of all those affected.
We need a culture of inclusivity and zero tolerance where all members of our community feel valued, where they can expect to feel safe, where they know exactly how to report incidents and get support. We need disciplinary procedures that are fully aligned with any external criminal investigations to support these expectations. We need empowering prevention initiatives on the issues of sexual harassment and violence; and an inclusive, positive approach to the promotion of the understanding of consent. We need clear, accessible and robust pathways for support and monitoring. We need to work with students and experts to ensure effective guidance, training and investigation. We need dynamic cross-service, and cross-institutional models, to respond sensitively and swiftly to reported incidents, and to record and review data to drive continuous improvement to what universities can do.
We also need the commitment of individuals in roles like mine: to help both set that standard and to drive cultural change. I will play my part in championing the sector-wide positive change we need to provide a truly safe environment for study for all.
I’m really proud to be working for Warwick and that makes me a bit competitive – and the idea that we are “second worst” for something is always going to catch my eye and cause anxiety. And the whole area of diversity and inclusion is something that I have worked on for a long time, so the recent headline about the gender pay gap in our independent student newspaper, “The Boar” immediately got me worried.
The issue of gender-based differences in pay in the UK has moved on a lot since the strike by women machinists at the Ford Motor Company triggered the introduction of the Equal Pay Act in 1970 (immortalised in the movie – Made in Dagenham). Although subsequently repealed, the main provisions of the Act were retained in the 2010 Equality Act.Despite legislation and a whole raft of initiatives, there continue to be significant disparities in pay by gender (and a range of other “Protected Characteristics”).
The factors behind gender pay gaps are hugely complex which makes it hard to look at this issue from a generalist perspective - factors such as differences in education, qualifications and experience to name a few. But there is evidence of the persistence of both implicit and explicit discrimination. Labour market segmentation (more women in lower paid occupations) is one such example of indirect discrimination and a recent study by Warwick academics (using Australian data) provided evidence of direct discrimination in the form of systematically lower probabilities of women successfully requesting pay rises.
One of my roles at Warwick is the Chair of the University’s Equality and Diversity Committee, and this gave me another driver to look more closely at the UCU findings and assess them in relation to institutional practice. The Boar story claims a significant average pay gap of 18.7%. The SU says it’s very disappointed, the University says that these figures overstate the case. So let’s have a look at some figures from the University’s salary database.
I'm not saying that there is not a problem and we don’t need to address this issue but with any statistics, it is worth digging further to give context. The differences in pay between males and females are statistically insignificant in all grades except 2 and 9 (the latter being Professors, very senior Administrative and commercial staff) and small differences in either direction are primarily driven by differences in length of service. At Grade 2, the difference is entirely explained by contractual overtime paid to two groups of staff where male staff outnumber females.
At the most senior level, Grade 9, the pay gap has fallen in recent years, in part because of a rigorous programme of equality adjustment each year following the Senior Pay review (something which other institutions are also doing – including King’s and Essex). The academic pay gap at level 9 has now been corrected in two faculties and is very marginal in a third.
So why the difference between the UCU perspective and that of the University? Well, the UCU report appears to work from average figures across all grades while the figures above are disaggregated by grade. And the data above come from the University directly and is the most recent data available, while the UCU report appears to use older figures reported to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Putting these different data sets to one side and looking ahead, we must continue to monitor pay differentials and address any differences related to any of the protected characteristics – and not just gender. We have a high level snapshot of the current position but further, more detailed analysis would be of real value and this is something we will include on the workplan for the Equality and Diversity Committee for the coming year, alongside the commitments expressed in the “Gender Statement of Intent”.
At the University of Warwick, we are about to see over 4000 students graduate at ceremonies over the course of this week. During our degree ceremonies, we will give out four awards for teaching excellence, nine outstanding student contribution awards, 10 honorary degrees and one Chancellor’s Medal. 460 staff will support the events: participating in the academic procession for each ceremony, giving orations, handing out certificates, directing traffic, answering queries and so much more behind the scenes. We are delighted to share our celebrations with local councillors, alumni, and of course the parents, families and friends of our graduates, those who have supported and championed our students throughout their studies, and will continue to do so as our graduates take their next steps in life.
Degree ceremonies are a time of immense pride and celebration for all of us. The nervous smiles and grins of sheer joy on people’s faces as they walk onto the stage to receive their awards are wonderful to see. Those grins are well-deserved, I know how hard students work to get to this point, and how exciting their futures will be. I am proud to be able to play a part in their celebrations, and proud to be part of a University that attracts the best students and produces such fantastic graduates.
Three other things have happened recently that have also given me particular reason to be proud.
The first was the public launch at the Godiva Festival of Coventry’s bid to become UK City of Culture in 2021. Alongside Coventry City Council and Coventry University, Warwick is a partner to the bid and is great to see the bid taking shape, and the support from arts and cultural organisations, neighbourhood communities, businesses and schools to showcase all Coventry has to offer when it comes to culture and the arts. Warwick will do all we can to support the bid, as we are proud to be part of this great and creative city, at such an exciting time.
The second is the agreement made recently between the University of Warwick, Coventry University and Coventry and Warwickshire local government leaders to unite in our resolve that the concerns, interests and opportunities for growth in the region must have their voice heard in forthcoming negotiations following the recent EU referendum. Our region is home to a great many global companies and talented people from around the world. We also welcome the many international students who not only contribute to the economy, social fabric, and cultural life of our region, but become global ambassadors for the city and county. We know the challenges ahead as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU, but I’m proud that we can work together in the region to show that we are committed to continuing to attract the international investment and global partnerships that bring economic growth.
The third, and related, event was an all-staff meeting we held at Warwick last week on the EU referendum. As organisations are doing across the UK, we are starting to come to terms with what the future may look like following the UK’s vote to leave the EU. Many of our staff feel very deeply and personally affected by the decision to leave the EU, many more are concerned about what it might mean for the diversity of our international community, and for the teaching and research collaborations we have with partners across Europe. At the meeting, we discussed concerns, questions, developments. But we also found a truly positive sense of solidarity: that we will all use every opportunity we can, at whatever level, to influence the current debate. Along with our partners and friends across the region, Warwick will continue to be an international institution, with Europe as important to our activities, community and values as ever. And we will play our part to champion and argue for the post-referendum outcomes that we believe will be the best for the UK’s future. I’m deeply proud of the collective commitment of Warwick staff to do this.
Whether you’re just graduating from University, or looking at how the UK’s new future in Europe might affect you personally, or affect your work or studies - of course, there are challenges ahead. But, personally, as I face challenges in the future, I’m going to remember these things that make me proud to be part of the University of Warwick: our students and graduates, the bright possibilities for our region, the value of our regional relationships, and the strength of our staff community. I hope our staff, friends and graduates can do the same.
The second is the impact on our staff. We have nearly 500 colleagues who work here from other EU countries. And I know many are concerned with the implications for their right to stay in this country. I can understand why, given some of the unpleasant things said during the Referendum campaign. It is not in the interest of any government to lose highly skilled workers, and so the main challenge is likely to be visa costs. This is something that will need careful monitoring. However, our European staff are an important, valued, part of our community, and I intend to make the case wherever I can that such staff are incredibly valuable to UK HE, and should not be disadvantaged in the new world.
I have made no secret that, in my view, the University's future would have been more certain with a Remain vote. But it is still secure with a Leave vote. We still are a very attractive place for students to study, whether they be British or from around the rest of the world, and part of that attraction is precisely because of the cosmopolitan nature of our student and staff body. We must maintain this. And seeing our growing research income over the past few years, we should remain confident in the quality of our research in the global competition for the funding our research needs and deserves.
I am not an agent of the state. By this I mean that I do not work for the government. There is nothing wrong of course with working for the government. But I do not. I work for a University. British Universities are set up in a different way to others in the rest of Europe, which often are state bodies. So, for example, when Warwick signed up to the new Guild of European Research Intensive Universities, we were able to do so ourselves. Our partners at Uppsala in Sweden were not; in order to join, they need an act of parliament to be passed.
I start in this way because it is important in the context of the debate on Prevent which is quite rightly occupying the minds of many of my colleagues and students at Warwick and across the UK HE sector. As a Vice-Chancellor, indeed as the head of a major organisation, I'm not doing this through choice or desire and it is not because we are part of the government machinery. I need to ensure that Prevent is implemented because it is a statutory duty; it is the law.
Many are worried about Prevent in operation. At Warwick, we heard this at our staff Assembly, which overwhelmingly passed a resolution critical of Prevent. I have seen those concerns in meetings with students, at our Senate, and at our Council. The governing body of this University, in terms of its trustees, is the Council. At its last meeting, the Council confirmed that the University should “continue to take an approach of ‘appropriate’ compliance with the Prevent duty”, whilst ensuring this was implemented in a way that protected the values we hold strong at Warwick: non-discriminatory academic freedom -“noting that Council recognised the importance of these principles” [Unconfirmed minutes].
This is also something that I take an academic interest in. My last book, Securitising Islam, mapped the processes in society that have for some led to practices in which Islamic identity is seen purely through a security lens; and the discrimination and violence that has sometimes followed. So it may be that you don’t like government policy; but arguably more problematic is the way that identities are seen to be problematic in everyday life – in newspapers, film, in blogs and in social media. You can track the same ‘jokes’ which many might see as Islamophobic on a whole range of social media sites, which ostensibly are in completely different domains. Governments may lead in particular directions; but equally importantly is how we, as a society, act.
Our duty as a University is certainly to follow the law, but we must do so in an enlightened way.
No one, I think, doubts the seriousness of the threat of terrorism. Think about what has happened in Paris, in Brussels and just recently in Orlando. Still greater acts of violence happen on a daily basis in Syria, in Iraq and elsewhere in our world. Closer to home, we have just seen the horrific murder of Jo Cox whilst she was doing her duty as an MP – working with the people in her constituency she was elected to serve. Often the perpetrators claim that they are driven to these sorts of acts to demonstrate their faith, or their political beliefs. But an important act of resistance as a University is to deny them that claim unchallenged, and to refuse to pigeonhole people.
At Warwick, I alongside some key academic colleagues and the President-elect of the SU, need support from our community to help us work out how we respond to Prevent in practice as a University. We will shortly be appealing via our Insite and MyWarwick portals for staff and student volunteers to work with us. It is important, and sadly unavoidable work, for us all. I hope others in our sector join us.
The Higher Education Green Paper has turned into a White Paper. There is some evolution between the two following the government’s consultation exercise, but not that much. For research-intensive universities, indeed, for the sector as a whole, it is very challenging. That is not an accident, because it is supposed to be. Do recall that the minister for higher education views some of the education we provide as, quote, “lamentable”. As a sector we are labeled the “incumbents”, delaying or even preventing the introduction of innovation.
It is important for all institutions to work out how to react – as react we must. For Warwick, there are two particular issues I would like to focus on: TEF and new entrants. But before I do, let me just bridle at those accusations. “Lamentable” education is not an accusation supported by any evidence at Warwick. Over a dozen of our courses are regularly ranked in the world’s top 100. Look at the work in Engineers without Borders, WBS Create, our new degrees in Global Sustainability Development, and indeed so much of the work of IATL. And the charge of being “incumbents”? Given our proactive engagement with a whole series of regional partners in other parts of the education sector, in business, culture and industry, and indeed our California initiative – again, the evidence does not support the myth.
Let me turn first to the Teaching Evaluation Framework (TEF). TEF rankings will define how much we can raise fees in relation to inflation. The full implications of TEF are as yet undefined, but scheduled to be introduced as soon as 2017 and progressively increase in complexity thereafter. We do not know how TEF will be measured, but my main fear is the level of bureaucracy. For the last Research Excellence Framework – the only comparator exercise we have, Warwick’s submission was 2,741 pages; we estimate it took 50 person years. That is not 50 person years producing knowledge or disseminating knowledge; it is just the exercise of producing evidence for as-yet ill-defined assessment.
Think of the logic. If a fee of £9,000 is the appropriate rate, then surely it is obvious that inflation should, over time, be built in? If that is not the case, the fee actually decreases over time in real terms. Is this fair to students inter-generationally? You may disagree with the balance of contribution between student and State; but once that fee level is set, it simply needs to keep pace with inflation. In other words, the link imposed between TEF and fee inflation questions the very heart of the balance of contribution between student and State. Is that truly the intention? Further, once education is ranked across four levels – ranging from ‘does not meet expectations’ through to ‘outstanding’ – this will undoubtedly influence student choice. So, a university that doesn’t do well can’t inflate its fees, and becomes less attractive in the market place in the bargain. The HE equivalent of the “sink estate”. Where is the mechanism of intervention to turn around that decline?
Then consider the proposals on new entrants. I have no objection in principle. If new organisations offer education that students want and can’t access in the existing market, of course that should be facilitated. However, within three years of opening, such an organization will be able to offer degrees? That is high risk for both students and the sector. If the institution then fails, the continuation of those students’ degrees becomes whose responsibility? Existing universities. The failure would have negative implications for the capacity and reputation of UK HE as a whole. And what are new providers, especially for-profit providers, going to teach? Most probably only those subjects where the financial margin is greatest. That will almost certainly not be in science, technology or engineering. How does this help our national Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – STEM - agenda?
Of course, these issues have been widely debated in this University. An Assembly was called and passed a motion condemning the developments in the White Paper. This was taken to our Council, and after a thorough and wide-ranging debate, the Council resolved that it had “…independently reached similar views on the proposals for reform in the sector and was in sympathy with the views expressed at the meeting of the Assembly on the HE Green Paper”. [Unconfirmed minutes]. Similar views have been aired at our Senate, where there was a full debate last week; and in heads of department meetings. I have expressed these views in correspondence with the minister, and in meetings with various other ministers and senior officials. My hope is that these arguments – which of course are being made across the sector – might have some traction in the parliamentary debate, particularly in the House of Lords. We will see. We can hope, we can lobby, we can support. But we also have to start preparing for the world created by the new HE legislation.
On 14 January 2016, 18 Members of Parliament voted to scrap all maintenance grants for new undergraduates from 2016/17, and replace them with loans.
This will have a wide-reaching impact on our community and our concern lies with current and future students who will take on even more debt during the course of their studies or not be able to take up places at universities due to the increased financial pressure.
This is life changing for some, not only for those affected students who won’t be able to fulfil their potential, but to the wider community who won’t be able to benefit from the brilliant minds these students possess. In many cases, this will affect students from low-income families and disproportionately affect students from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and disabled students.
Stuart has written before about how the grant system supported him through his UG degree some thirty years ago and enabled him to complete his final year. We feel deeply that today’s and tomorrow’s students should also have this opportunity and are very concerned about the implications of this change of government policy. We are fully receptive to the concerns raised by students and staff alike, and we do not want this issue to slip under the radar.
At Senate on 8th March, Isaac Leigh, President of the Students' Union, presented a paper and gave a verbal report on the issue. The outcome of this was discussed at Council on 18th May. We appreciate that this can seem frustratingly slow, but in order for us to have the most impact with all issues we face, we have to follow the University’s set procedures to ensure all aspects are considered.
Whilst not able to replace maintenance grants for the majority of our students, the SU are in discussions with the Registrar & Chief Operating Officer about the current provision of hardship funds. We would urge anyone considering applying for UG or PG courses at Warwick to read the information about bursaries, scholarship and support available and we urge current students to talk to the Student Support office, your Personal Tutor or Resident Life tutor if faced with any difficulties; not just financial, as we come to arguably the most challenging term of the academic year.
Stuart Croft (Vice-Chancellor and President)
Isaac Leigh (President, Warwick Students' Union)
There is a story in today's Daily Telegraph (Wednesday 25th May) which asserts that this University, and others, have been telling students how to vote in the forthcoming referendum. It was inevitable in the highly charged debate on this topic that such claims would be made. There has indeed been very active debate on this campus, and that is a very good thing. We have also been active in encouraging students to register to vote. But as is usual for these sorts of stories the true facts have a tendency to become buried underneath rhetoric and sensational headlines.
As a university, we have taken a position on academic grounds only - thus meeting the Charity Commission guidance - that we would support Remain. This was done in March, at our Senate. This was done because many organisations have asked us to declare a position, and grounds for it. And we have done so. This position does not constrict freedom of speech on our campus. I have personally chaired a referendum debate organised by a student society, and there is an active student Brexit society. All views on this issue have, to my knowledge, been aired and continue to be aired on our campus, and elsewhere by individual students and staff, and we have a legal duty to protect freedom of speech for our students, staff and visitors to campus. That duty comes before pleasing the viewpoint of any one newspaper.
You can find out more about registering to vote and EU events on campus on the Warwick SU website.
Last week, whilst campus was looking glorious in the sun (which makes a change from this week’s rain!) I was part of a group who took a look behind the hoardings at how our new Teaching and Learning building is coming along.
The building will be a cornerstone of our teaching space, and is emblematic of our commitment to student experience. The building, the first of its kind on our campus, will be dedicated to teaching and have a range of flexible spaces, as well as a new 500 and 250 seat lecture theatres. It will give us space to showcase the innovative ways in which we teach, and experiment with new approaches; building on the great work that already happens here, supported by fantastic state-of-the-art AV and a video wall.
My favourite physical part of the building is the huge amount of light the roof lets in, but more exciting is that it’s a living building with spaces for students to be educated in, as well as new social learning spaces to allow our students to take control of their own learning, together, outside of their formal contact hours.
It’s a physical space, but what’s most inspiring is that it’s really about the people using it. How they’ll learn, how they’ll teach, how they’ll share knowledge in a new way. Having new facilities and spaces is wonderful, and the benefits shouldn’t be overlooked, but great spaces are nothing without great people – we have plenty of those.
We have some fantastic examples of amazing teachers, real beacons of teaching excellence. We recognise some of this through our WATE awards, but also know that a wealth of other great teaching happens across campus on a daily basis. Having, for the first time, a space solely dedicated to teaching and learning will help us to explore and experiment with new approaches, working with our students to enhance their experience at Warwick.
We’ve engaged with our students throughout the process of the build, and it’s been a true collaboration across academic, administrative and student communities. At the ceremony last week, it was heartening to see representatives from the Students’ Union, Estates and other departments all celebrating the space and the benefits it will bring to our student community. I hope this enthusiasm and anticipation can continue on through the last phases of the build. We will continue to use this channel and others to update you on progress, as we look forward to the completion of the building in the autumn.
Professor Lawrence Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academic Planning and Resources
See more of our new building in the below video.
I would like to welcome back everyone who may be returning to the University after their Easter vacation. As always there is a lot to look forward to, and if we get more sun than the hail we have had recently, we will all be able to enjoy it still more! Amongst many other things, we have the Aviva Women’s tour due to come through campus in June, and another Summer of graduation ceremonies ahead.
In the last few weeks I have had the chance to meet some of our alumni abroad, as well as some of our partners in Asia. It has been a great privilege to meet so many of our alumni who are doing so well, and who attribute at least a part of that success to their experiences at the University.
For many of you back here on campus, we are heading into exam season and for that I wish you the very best of luck. For those of you looking for somewhere to study during this term, the Library have a range of additional study spaces available, some of them open 24 hours. Having taken a lot of exams myself, I know that it can be a stressful time, so I would encourage you to try to find some time to have a break and enjoy yourselves and keep up with your music, sport or other leisure activities. If you would like any support during this time, there is some guidance available online.
Last week I was involved in the Staff Network Day, an event open to all staff which was themed around our work in the region. It was a wonderful event, and a great opportunity to share some of our thinking about how we can work with our local region and also to hear from members of our community about how you can get involved. Watch this space. This is timely, as only this week I was at the launch of the Midlands Innovation which is a partnership of six research intensive universities across our region. The centrepiece project at the moment is a £180 million fund to accelerate energy research. It was a marvellous event organised by our events team, put together, as always, in an incredibly professional manner - their work is a huge credit to us. We have a long history of collaboration and success in the Midlands, with the Science City Research Alliance, Midlands Energy Consortium and National Physics Alliance amongst some of those initiatives. This event itself was a great opportunity for Midlands Higher Education institutions to come together to harness research strengths and innovation and provide the ideas, test-beds and solutions to enhance productivity and to respond to global challenges. I have also sat on the first meeting of the leadership group for the Midlands Engine – a group that brings together the public and private sector with universities, focussing on sustainable growth in our region.
Finally, we know that our students do incredible things every day, and achieve a lot during their time with us. I’m pleased to be moderating a society organised event on the forthcoming EU referendum on Wednesday 4th May. I know this will be the first of a number of events and would encourage everyone to find out more ahead of the referendum on 23rd June, whatever your current views. The Outstanding Student Contribution Awards are a way for us to acknowledge other key contributions students make. Any member of our community (staff or students) can nominate a student to be considered, so I would urge any of you who know an exceptional student to submit a nomination before the deadline on 9th May. If you need some inspiration, you can read about last year’s winners on the OSCAs webpages.
I haven't slept well. Again. And it isn’t the jet lag.
I am in Seoul, and have just spoken at the KAIST President's Forum. KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology) is one of Asia's top institutions, and at this meeting, we have had a lot of discussion about global university futures. I have also had a chance to meet with members of our excellent and active alumni community.
Understandably, my thoughts are also with students and staff back at Warwick. Twice, in less than a week, the University has been associated with issues of racism. In one, an act of racism against one of our students on campus; in another, racist statements attributed to one of our students. I will not describe either - although social media is full of both - not least as there are investigations underway.
The principles, though, are something I can comment on. Racism is not, cannot be, and will not be tolerated. The point of racism is to dehumanise. It takes many forms. Racism can be based on ethnicity, background or faith - Islamophobia and anti semitism is also racism. We all have the right within the law to be who we want to be. The attitudes of some, that they can use those choices to decide who is more or less human, must always be resisted.
Such acts of racism are, sadly, found throughout society. An important response for all of us is, in my view, that we speak out. This is my attempt to do precisely that.
The statement released on the racist incident on campus published last week, can be read here
Like many of you reading this blog I was first attracted to life at university by the thought of being able to debate and challenge new ideas and to acquire new knowledge that would challenge and sift my own thinking in a safe environment where I could grow and mature as a young adult. Now that I have become a Vice-Chancellor it is good to see that culture is as strong as ever. Warwick affirms in its Strategy the core value that “Ours is a lively university community that encourages and challenges ideas, promotes dignity, respect, health and well-being, and makes Warwick welcoming”.
On taking up my new role I have had many opportunities to take time to listen to our student and staff community debate several key issues currently facing higher education institutions today.
One of those issues is the set of legal obligations we now have as part of our Prevent duty. The Prevent duty requires the University to conduct itself in ways to seek to prevent anyone in our community or on our campus preparing, supporting or encouraging others into acts of terrorism. That aim, surely, is one around which we can have consensus. However where that consensus breaks down is over the means by which this is to be operationalised. Some fear that it may make universities into agents of surveillance; some suggest that the approach could be, in practice, Islamophobic. These are incredibly important and intense issues.
I have had the opportunity to read letters and other submissions and to listen to debate on the topic at our Assembly, our Students’ Union, and elsewhere. By its very nature that environment of debate and challenge will never provide complete unanimity of view on any issue. And on this issue, there are some very strongly held views. However it has helped form and articulate a strong view that on our campus, rather than simply shaping how we approach the word ‘prevent’ we should instead focus much more on the words preserve and protect.
Of course, we have a duty to fulfil our legal obligations in regard to Prevent. However if we focus on preserving all that is good about our current university system and protecting and safeguarding the wellbeing of our staff and students so that they can safely thrive in that system, then these “new” legal duties might perhaps be met without conflict with our current culture. How then should universities react to our new Prevent duty?
- Firstly we should simply continue to do what we do best. For instance the Prevent Duty Guidance calls us to ensure that “speakers with extremist views….are challenged with opposing views”. That sounds to me like a description of almost every debate, seminar or talk that happens at a university. Our own Regulation 29 already details at length how we at Warwick “ensure that freedom of speech is secured within the law”.
- Secondly we need to remind policy makers, the public, and our own communities that, for the most part, this isn’t actually “new”. In fact the Government’s own Prevent Duty Guidance document refers several times to the fact that many of the things it requires us to do we have actually been doing for a long, long time in order to preserve freedom of debate, and to protect our students.
- Thirdly we need to take pains to explain more to policy makers and the public what universities already do that meets these “new” legal duties. For instance The Prevent Duty Guidance requires us to review a vast range of our procedures and that we will be assessed on our compliance with these requirements. Review of procedures and compliance with them are at the heart of all regulatory regimes within which universities in the UK exist; and as we know, there are a very large number of these regimes.
- Fourthly building on that point of reminding people who we are, and what we are actually very good at already, on the topic of training, who better than an education organisation to decide who needs training, on what, and when? At Warwick we have always had a strong ethos on safeguarding with proactive teams and individuals providing frontline support to students such as personal tutors, student support, and our residential life team. Our training focus will continue to be on those frontline staff (and limited to them), to help them support our students.
- As we are required to do by law, we have created and submitted an Action Plan for review by HEFCE. Warwick’s Senate Steering Committee has reflected, reviewed and revised our Prevent Action Plan listening to the debate within our University community, and specifically, the Assembly motion and debate. As that action plan will be a living, evolving document, as the Accountable Officer under the Prevent legislation, my aim is to establish a small reference group to advise me on the level of appropriate compliance for our university. I will be writing to people who spoke in the Assembly, to experts, to student representatives. In this way, in part, we will be able to continue to challenge and develop policy in this contentious area.
- And lastly, I come back to what attracted me to be part of a University, that it’s a safe place to acquire knowledge and to debate and challenge that knowledge. We will have views as an institution, and we will certainly have a great many views as individuals. However all have a duty to use knowledge to continually challenge current thinking, within the law, in order to have a positive impact on our society. There can be relatively few current issues where it is more crucial for us to have such an impact. The passion of the debate on this topic and the seemingly endless parade of horror stories in our news headlines both dramatically underscore the fact that we must not fail to get the balance right on how we work together to approach this issue.
Only a week ago, Warwick’s Czech and Slovak Society hosted the Slovak Ambassador, H.E. L’ubomír Rehák, to hold a discussion about Slovak and EU foreign policy. This visit, one in a recent line of Ambassadors visiting our campus, including visits from the Mexican, Maltese and Hungarian Ambassadors, was an important event as in the Summer, Slovakia is due to take up the EU Presidency.
Last week, I attended the Warwick Indonesia Forum 2016. Organised and run entirely by our Indonesian students, the Forum hosted 430 Scholars, across 37 nationalities, who spent the whole day strengthening their academic networks across the UK, discussing how they could create new collaborations. It was a day that was planned meticulously, in which we were able to launch the Indonesia-UK Scholars' Network – a new platform for academic collaboration, again entirely developed by our students. And once again, we were delighted to host the Indonesian Ambassador, H.E. Rizal Sukma, who has made his second appearance in Warwick in the three weeks of his appointment.
The Ambassadors’ support of our students shows just how they value what our students do. In the days of social media and limitless communication, the sky is the limit to what they can achieve: and our students’ ability to galvanise hundreds of scholars is a case in point. Our students represent amazing cultural capital, each one an ambassador of their country in their individual way. The fact that this will be part of an internationally trained new generation, which will contribute to their countries in ways we cannot even begin to imagine, is as evident as it is important.
As the UK debate about membership of the EU becomes ever more dominant in the public domain, only last week our Senate resolved to support staying in the EU on academic grounds, it is worth remembering how important our international communities are to who we have become. How much they add to our culture, within our universities and beyond. We see this through the diverse number of societies we have on campus and how our international students enrich the campus experience for all.
It raises an important challenge for us within universities. We have an incredibly diverse international community, but how can we best celebrate this enormous energy? We’re open to doing things differently and trying on new things, but to continue to progress we need to keep asking questions like this, and to challenge ourselves further.
Professor Jan Palmowski, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Postgraduate and Transnational Education
As an institution, we’ve achieved incredible success in our 50 years, and this is thanks to the contribution of both our staff and students. I had hoped that 2015 would be a very special year for Warwick. You made sure that it was, and for the second year running, we’re able to celebrate the outstanding work of our staff through our University-wide staff awards.
With over 5,000 members of staff on our campus, both academic and administrative, there is plenty to celebrate and the staff awards are a wonderful opportunity to take some time to acknowledge the successes of our staff through ten awards categories. As well as those honoured on the night, it’s worth remembering that we received over a hundred more nominations than we did in 2014. That means there were many of our colleagues who unfortunately didn’t make the final shortlist. Congratulations to them too!
The awards were special for a number of reasons, but the fact that nominations came from both staff and students made it a really wonderful evening. With the recent film release in mind, Star Wars was the theme and it was a privilege to be able to present and attend the awards. I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the awards with Bob Hogg, and I hope that our Star Wars puns were appreciated by all (!).
The Unsung Hero award was hotly contested, with over 100 nominations from across the University. With so many nominations of such a high calibre, it was impossible for the judging panel to pick just one winner! There were three highly commended recipients, and three winners, from different corners of the University with winners coming from the Academic Office, Human Resources, School of Engineering, Warwick Retail and RIS/Mathematics.
In all, we recognised contributions from over 30 different departments, with many more represented in the longlist and shortlist. We celebrated the diversity of our campus, those who made our 50th anniversary a success, those who keep our campus safe, and those who keep our IT systems running.
As well as those who were nominated and won awards, I’d like to take this as an opportunity to thank those who were involved in making the night a success. Thanks to the organising committee, the moderating panel, the photographer, the band, the magician (yes, we had a magician!) and, of course, the final judging panel. You can see the full list of winners, along with reactions from some of the recipients, and find out more about the awards process on the Staff Awards website and on insite.
If you’d like to recognise a member of staff who has made a difference to your teaching and learning, there’s still time to nominate them for a Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence. You can nominate both staff and postgraduate students until 16th March, and detailed information eligibility and the nomination process can be found on the WATE website.
Professor Lawrence Young, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Academic Planning and Resources
Following the Student Question Time meeting in my first week as VC, and the subsequent meetings that have taken place, a number of issues were raised by our student body. I’m keen for this blog to become a platform for members of our community to air their views, and to enable discussion with the wider community on those topics.
An issue I’m very keen to explore further is that of health and wellbeing on campus, particularly as we head into exam period in term three. You may see red ribbons cropping up around campus over the next couple of weeks, and this is all part of a campaign to raise awareness about HIV. Whilst HIV awareness has increased over recent years, it’s important that we’re all educated on how to access the relevant services.
What follows is a post written by Warwick Pride, to raise awareness of HIV, pass on some key facts and figures and promote an upcoming event with a representative from the Terrence Higgins Trust on Monday 14th March.
I hope going forwards that this blog can continue to be a place for discussion, and a platform for different groups to communicate their message. As this is a blog, comments are always welcome to facilitate discussion around this and other key areas.
Over the coming weeks red ribbons will be appearing all over campus. This is part of a campaign to raise awareness about HIV.
Did you know?
- 17% of people with HIV in the UK don’t know they have it.
- There are over 103,000 people living with HIV in the UK.
- 1/3 of people living with HIV in the UK are women.
- 6,000-7,000 people are diagnosed with HIV every year in the UK.
- An estimated 54,000 heterosexual people were living with HIV in the UK in 2014.
- In 2014, 52% of heterosexual women and 61% of heterosexual men were diagnosed late (after the point at which treatment should have begun).
At a time when vital HIV prevention and support services are facing closure, it is important that you keep yourself informed of where you can get tested.
If you think there is a chance (no matter how small) that you may have been exposed to HIV, then you should get tested as soon as you can. If you are tested within 72 hours of possible exposure, you may be offered PEP, which can stop a HIV infection after the virus has entered the body.
The earlier you are diagnosed as HIV positive, the earlier you can begin treatment. With early treatment you can expect to live a normal lifespan. By starting treatment earlier, you can reduce the risk of serious illness and death by 53%.
A few things everyone should know:
- Tests on the NHS are completely free of charge.
- Your test results are kept confidential; they will only be discussed if it is relevant to your treatment.
- If you have a blood test, your blood is NOT automatically tested for HIV
- Depending on the type of test you have, it can take from 2 hours to 2 weeks to receive the results of your test.
- It is very important that you are tested on a regular basis, especially if you have unprotected sex with new or casual partners.
- There are many benefits to getting tested early; you can start treatment as soon as you need it. You can also take preventative measures to avoid passing it on to others if you know you are HIV positive.
So… where can you get tested?
- Integrated Sexual Health Services, located on the 3rd floor of City of Coventry Health Centre. All services are completely free and confidential.
- George Eliot Hospital, Nuneaton, offers same day HIV tests.
- The campus health centre is also able to offer a HIV finger-prick test.
Or alternatively, visit test.hiv to see if you are eligible to receive a free postal test!
We are also very excited to announce that on Monday 14th March, 1-2pm, B2.01 (Science concourse) a HIV positive speaker from the Terrence Higgins Trust will be on campus to discuss what it's like living with HIV, and to answer any questions you may have. Everyone is welcome to come along and we hope to see lots of you there!
For those of you who haven’t been involved in watching any of the Varsity challenge matches with Coventry University, you missed a series of treats! Hugely competitive matches, wonderful atmospheres. This year the event was topped off by the rugby match, held at the Ricoh. We won… with a score in last minute… It was great to witness some of the #TeamWarwick spirit that’s led us to take our 26th consecutive win in Varsity.
I’m always delighted to see how many of our students are involved in different activities on campus, making the most of their time here outside of their studies. Last week I met with the student media for a question and answer session, and I know that the TEDx Warwick event held in the Butterworth Hall this weekend was a great success.
One evening last week I visited our student calling team, a group of dedicated students who build relationships with our alumni – on that night alone the students raised over £2,500 and it was wonderful to see them in action, having meaningful conversations with those who studied here before them.
Warwick has a history of giving and philanthropy, with our founding partners raising £4m in 1965, the equivalent of £30m today. In recent years, we’ve benefitted from the generosity of over 12,000 donors, and have raised more than £73million in our latest campaign, 50Forward. I’m always touched by the generosity of our benefactors and donors, and heartened to see the direct positive impact their donations have on our community. I want to thank everyone, staff, students and donors, who have made this fantastic result happen.
Professor Annie Young
But our fundraising and philanthropy is not just UK-based, it also has global reach. Later this week I fly to Singapore and Jakarta, to meet with a number of alumni and donors. Whilst in Singapore, I’ll be meeting with the Trustees of the Friends of Warwick in Singapore scholarship scheme. These new scholarships are funded through the generosity of Warwick alumni in Singapore in the Friends of the University of Warwick in Singapore Trust to enable low income Singaporeans to come to Warwick. These will be our first international widening participation scholarships - something I am very proud of.
Colleagues are working hard to fight cancer: we're coming up with better ways to diagnose and treat various types of cancers, and we're also finding ways to improve patient care. March 9 is #CoolCapSelfie day, and as a community we’ll be celebrating the work of Professor Annie Young, whose research into ‘cool caps’ is aiming to help patients keep their hair during chemotherapy. Find out how you can share a photo of your favourite cap, hat or headwear in honour of all those facing this battle every day.
Looking ahead, there will be some other people writing for this blog, not just me - I hope for this to become a place for the whole Executive Office team, and other community members too, to share their views.
Variety is certainly at the core of this job! On Thursday, I was at Buckingham Palace, as the Departments of Mathematics and Statistics together won the Queen's Anniversary Prize - a really wonderful achievement. I've been meeting our local partners; and working to meet as many colleagues as possible around campus.
I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity of meeting some of our regional partners in recent weeks, to discuss our role in the region and our ties with local education providers, councils, business and industry.
It’s an exciting time for our region, with Coventry bidding to be City of Culture 2021, and the Midlands Engine helping to boost productivity and inward investment in the area. Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with Professor John Latham, VC of Coventry University, and Council leader Ann Lucas to discuss ways that we can collaborate further to benefit the city of Coventry. Our relationship, and commitment to, Coventry is an incredibly important part of this University now and in the future. But it's not just Coventry of course. We have, and will develop further, strong relations with Warwickshire.
Some of you may have noticed some extra bikes on campus as the AVIVA women’s tour launch took place– I’m proud that we can support this initiative, with the Warwickshire strand of the tour due to come through our campus in June.It will be a wonderful event, but also shows our connections to our county.
As well as building our relationships, some friendly rivalry’s live on through the start of the Varsity competition this week against our neighbours Coventry University. The tournament started on Wednesday, and last night our ice hockey team put up a good fight against Coventry, with Coventry eventually winning 14 – 9. And on Sunday, I will be cheering on Team Warwick at the Ricoh Arena. I’m reliably informed that tickets are still available and can be bought online.
In addition to meeting partners within our region, our campus has also been very busy the past couple of weeks.
This week marks the start of SU elections season, and I was happy to welcome a visitor to my office in the form of the SU election mascot. We covered many topics; from student democracy to Aston Villa (the mascot’s not a fan, and at the moment, who can blame them?)
I mentioned in my last post that I was meeting with a student called Alexander regarding our music practice facilities, as this was raised at the Student Question Time event held in my first week. He showed me around the music practice facilities at Westwood, and I agree with him that we have more work to do here. Alexander has sent me over a report he’s worked on and together we can look at longer term solutions for practice areas but also short term space availability.
I also had a follow-up meeting with Sam and colleagues from Warwick Pride regarding gender neutral facilities on campus – whilst Sam was pleased to hear that we’ll be committing to this for new buildings, concerns were raised about facilities in current buildings. Refurbishment of our buildings does happen from time to time, so we’ll make sure this is considered at that point.
Having heard from Sam and colleagues, I do think that we as a community need to further our understanding on different elements of the diversity agenda. I’ve offered Sam an opportunity to use this blog as a space to communicate some of that with us, much in the way the Warwick for Free Education group did earlier this week.
As well as a number of student meetings, I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting a range of colleagues from a number of different departments, including the Library, Warwick Sport and those at Westwood.
On Monday evening I met some of our campus security team - we’re a 24 hour campus, and it’s often easy to forget about those who work unsociable hours to keep our community safe and secure. It was fascinating to find out more about the breadth of work that our security team supports - from keeping our campus safe, to additional duties they take on for pastoral care for our students.
As you can see, it’s been a busy couple of weeks with lots going on. Have a great weekend and I hope to see as many of you as possible at the Varsity final on Sunday!
On February 1st, I sat on a Question Time session chaired by Isaac Leigh, President of Warwick SU. It was a useful session; I heard concerns raised around a wide range of issues from accommodation, timetabling clashes, provision of gender neutral facilities, free speech, sexual violence and consent workshops to investment in supporting sports societies and providing better facilities for music and arts practice spaces to list a few.
A number of questions came from students who are in the Warwick For Free Education group. They found my answers largely unsatisfactory and protested a few days later. Isaac invited me to meet with them to discuss matters. I did, and we had a good dialogue.
One issue raised was the change from maintenance grants to maintenance loans. I am very concerned about the implications of this change of government policy. When I was in my final year of undergraduate study, over thirty years ago, my maximum grant was a key pillar that enabled me to finish my degree. I felt a connection with this debate, and I agreed that in order to facilitate more discussion, I would be happy to provide a forum for the views expressed by the students in that meeting.
What follows is the viewpoint of the Warwick For Free Education group. This is not an endorsement of those views but I want to air them here – in full, without any editing – so that we might consider these issues further as a community. I do not imply that this group represents all students and do not want to privilege this group. It is the Students’ Union and its sabbatical officers that have this role.
To enable more formal discussions across university channels, a proposal is being sent for consideration at Senate.
I see this as being about facilitating debate. Warwick For Free Education do not. They see this contribution as being about ‘forcing concessions’. It is a view they have expressed on their blog. I do not see providing these opportunities as a concession; there we will simply disagree. I also do not support or condone the way the group conducts protests; invading working space of colleagues with a ‘noise protest’ is, to some, disruptive and intimidating. Perspectives should not be supressed; they should be aired, discussed and challenged, and it is in this context that the space below is offered.
There will be other views and I am happy to facilitate the airing of those as well. I hope that we are able to continue discussion through the wider Warwick community.
Why does more debt matter?
On Thursday Jan 13, a backroom committee of just 18 MPs voted to officially abolish maintenance grants. With no parliamentary debate, vote in the Commons, or any semblance of democracy, the Conservatives have cut a major source of financial support for approximately a million students in the UK. Undoubtedly, maintenance grants represent a lifeline for the poorest students, and their abolition is nothing less than catastrophic.
Yet, when confronted with heart-wrenching testimonies about the impact of maintenance grant cuts, the Tories’ major justification has been the minor net increase of overall available funding in the form of maintenance loans. This is, in the strictest sense, factually sound. More money than ever will be provided at the point of access, with maintenance grants converted into loans and more loan than ever made available. Our critique of maintenance grants cuts therefore does not concern itself solely with the removal of financial means, although we also must not ignore the broader austerity programme within and outside education that has seen cuts to Disabled Students’ Allowance. Rather, we condemn these cuts on the grounds of how debt manages us, conditions us and demands of us.
Debt locks us into a relationship of obligation which structures our future aspirations around a schedule of repayment. It is a form of ‘support’ transacted with terms and conditions – an idea that some Tories have outrageously suggested should also extend to Job Seeker’s Allowance. Debt is an act of control rather than compassion, and the cuts amount to little more than leveraging the hardship of the most vulnerable and poorest attending university, inflicting greater pressure and economic constraint to prepare us for, and bind us to, the demands of a labour market under austerity. Faced with the prospect of poverty and debt, we end up with no choice but to navigate a stagnant labour market and to assimilate into an inequitable status quo. Everything we are – everything we could be – is ensnared by a ruthless model of exchange in which our collective futures are risked, and our education, welfare and public infrastructure are forfeited to a rich minority. Our public debt, the outcome of a collective bailing out of a reckless minority of financiers, is transformed into the private debt of those with the least responsibility for it.
Indeed, the Conservative’s programme for Higher Education reform openly describes the purpose of university as a delivering of the ‘pipeline of graduates needed for a 21st century economy’. Debt is a mechanism that ensures our compliance with this function. After all, in order for the student finance system to be financially sustainable in the long term, this debt has to be repaid, else the whole structure will collapse. Even now, for every £1 lent, 45p is unpaid, a crisis of repayment that will only be exacerbated by piling more debt onto poorer students. Working class students are effectively forced to pay more for our education than our richer counterparts, and we will be indebted for longer throughout our lives – due to the freezing (and hence lowering in real terms) of the loan repayment threshold. With more and more draconian measures emerging such as the threat of prosecution for graduates who cannot repay their loan on time, students must enter a debt relation unnavigable for the poorest in society. In effect, the greatest financial burden for the cost of our education is imposed on and underwritten by those who can least afford it.
And for what gain? The Institute for Fiscal Studies has suggested that the abolition of maintenance grants will ‘do little to improve government finances in the long run’, saving a mere £270 million per cohort in public funds. This is negligible, especially when it is set against a context of year-on-year cuts to corporation tax until 2020.
It would appear as if the cuts to maintenance grants are more ideological than economic – after all, we inhabit a class-stratified society, which exhibits strong patterns of reproduced advantage and privilege. In other words, those who are born poor are likely to remain so, regardless of university qualifications. It is the education and lives of the most marginalized that bear the brunt of the merciless Conservative agenda of deficit reduction and balancing-of-the-books. This reflects a broader context: for all the Government’s lip-service to ‘widening participation’ since the introduction of 9K fees, none of this class mobility has materialized in the broader economy. Incomes have stagnated in real terms, job insecurity is rampant, living conditions have declined, and homelessness has increased. Housing benefit cuts for younger tenants have been proposed in the midst of a mass housing crisis, the Tories have decreed that under 25’s do not deserve the living wage because they are not ‘productive enough’, and the prospects of the young and the marginalized seem bleaker than ever. All the while, the 1,000 richest people in the UK have doubled their wealth since the financial crash of 2008. Few have prospered, and many have suffered. This is a situation that cannot go unanswered.
And we can win: grants have been scrapped before, in 1997, but were fought for and won back.. By forging a powerful and broad-ranging movement which is ready to confront a Government uncompromising in its austerity programme – and, atrociously, which abolished maintenance grants in the most opaque and undemocratic of ways - we can win. We have done so before, and can do so again. This is not simply a question of access to university - this is a question about our lives, our futures, and the type of society we wish to inhabit. This is about resistance to a social order where nothing – not even unconditional support for the poorest and most marginalized students – is safe from the imposition of the market. This is about resistance to a Government intent on dismantling education as a public good, intent on capitalizing on our disadvantage, intent on turning any form of assistance into a debt sentence.
On Friday of Week 7, join us to fight the cuts and demand #GrantsNotDebt.
They say that a week is a long time in politics. Well, it can seem a long week in other areas of life too. Last week was one of the busiest of my life…and one of the most intense.
Following my message to all last Monday morning, I received over 400 messages during the week. I have worked hard to reply to them all…. if I haven’t yet replied, please bear with me! There were messages from staff and students, and also a number from alumni, which was heartening. I only had one negative comment…that the text was too long to read on a mobile device. True! Sorry for that.
On my first evening in my new role, I took part in a SU Question Time event, hosted by the SU President, Isaac Leigh. I won’t pretend that it was an easy discussion to have on my first day in post, but it felt like an appropriate way to open up communications with our students and get their direct feedback. I had some very positive conversations with students straight after and in the following days.
Whilst many of the issues raised cannot be resolved overnight, I reported back to the rest of the executive team and progress has already been made in some areas, for example, I can confirm that our new Teaching and Learning building will house gender neutral facilities, and the new National Automotive Innovation Centre will have unisex private cubicles. We will also take this into consideration in future building projects across campus. Other issues raised, concerned access to buildings for disabled people, access to facilities for musicians, and how we support elite sport. I am looking into all of these at the moment.
On Thursday afternoon I met with a group of students in the Students’ Union who had been holding a protest in University House. The meeting was a starting point for future conversations, and more details will become available in the coming days and weeks. Earlier that day, I had spent some time in the Students’ Union building, I met colleagues throughout the building and have some discussions to take forward with the Advice Centre and Warwick Volunteers about the wonderful work that they do.
Understanding the views of students is of course really important in a university. One additional way in which voices can be heard is through the National Student Survey, and I would also urge any final year undergraduate students to complete it.
While at the SU, George Creasy and Alex Roberts presented about the beating heart of our campus; sports and society involvement and I was amazed to hear that over 15,000 of our students are involved in sports and societies; and also the scale of activities (including financial scale) that students organise themselves. I hope that many of you will be supporting your teams during the upcoming Varsity competition. I even committed to having my picture taken with our mascot, so watch this space…
I’ve always been proud of Warwick for accepting and celebrating all members of our community and if you’ve passed University House this week, you may have seen the LGBT flag flying alongside our own Warwick flags. The flag was raised on Wednesday by Ken Sloan in celebration of LGBT history month. I have no doubt that this event will continue to grow over the next few years.
On Friday morning, I met colleagues based in Argent Court in my first staff visit. Many of these roles are part of the critical engine room that make our campus run smoothly, and aren’t always highly visible to many of us. I spoke with colleagues from all departments based at Argent Court, and the pride and dedication staff take in their roles was really evident.
So how did my first week go? It was a week of learning, a week of sharing and a week of meeting some of the people who bring this campus to life. And it was intense… Whilst I’ve only met a fraction of you, important questions have been raised and conversations started about how we can work together to face any future challenges and opportunities.
Overall, a good week… surprisingly topped off by Aston Villa beating Norwich 2-0! I’m now looking forward to what the next week will bring.
Thank you for your support, it has been most appreciated and I look forward to talking with more people in the coming weeks and months.
Even though I’ve worked at Warwick for nine years, today feels a bit like my first day at school. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t particularly enjoy any of my first days at school. I hope this one will be different.
It is an interesting time to be taking over as Vice-Chancellor. On the one hand, Warwick is riding higher than at any time in its history, according to every league table at which you might look. The past few years have been marked by a whole series of achievements in teaching, research, in our organisational efficiency, as well as in our ability to raise the funds that we need to invest in our future. We have great students and wonderful staff; which we are adding to through top quality recruitment. On the other hand, not all of that success has been easy, and there have been a number of difficult moments for us all. The success of the university has depended on the hard work of so many, and I do not underestimate the effort and personal cost that this has entailed. Let me start as I mean to go on – by thanking you for that effort, energy and commitment.
In fact, there is still a lot for us to do. But this is tempered by what I know of the University of Warwick.
We can achieve a huge amount, because of the incredibly high quality of staff and students that we have, because we pull together when we need to, because we have wonderful friends amongst the alumni base and beyond both locally and around the world. The future will be challenging, there is no doubt about that. But there are real opportunities for us to make Warwick a still better university. And we must work together to take those opportunities.
Please click hereto read my full ‘first day at school’ letter. It’s where you’ll read more about the challenges we face, and how our ethos and people will ensure we face those challenges with confidence. You’ll also learn about some exciting new developments for Warwick both on campus and further afield.
I hope this is a useful way of beginning a conversation. I plan to write more for our blog, and my colleagues will do so too. I also plan to get around the university as much as I can, starting this week, and look forward to a very large number of conversations around all these issues – and more!