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.
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I was in West Bromwich on Friday night for the football match. Quite appropriate really, as we are announcing our honorary graduands for the January degree ceremonies, one of which is the West Bromwich Albion great, Brendon Batson. A man of enormous footballing talent. More importantly, a man who has fought against racism his whole life with dignity and determination. The first black footballer to play for Arsenal, he went on to be one of the three superstar black footballers for the Albion at a time when Britain was an obviously racist place. He tells his own tale of being attacked, verbally and physically, because of his skin colour. As a child as well as a man. He tells of bananas being thrown onto the football pitch at black players to symbolise the rejection of their humanity. How things have changed. Half the Aston Villa team on Friday night was non-white. When my club won the European Cup over thirty five years ago, none of the players were black. Brendon has been at the forefront of that change, leading the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign.
Then again, that things have changed does not mean that they have all changed for the better. Bananas are rarely thrown at footballers now. But racist abuse has been written on bananas at this university in recent times. Our own students tell how other of our own students have made ‘monkey noises’ at them. And since the European referendum, a minority have used Brexit to again bring back racist language and in some cases, even attacks. Racist language has become more audible. We are undoubtedly going to be obliged to host a racist speaker on our campus, invited by members of the university, at some point in the future, because of our absolute legal responsibility to allow freedom of speech. Racist words weigh more heavily on their targets than on others.
This reality is important when we consider issues such as the BBC report on Friday that white academic staff at this university are paid more than non-white. We do have real issues to address, that I will discuss in a moment. But this report stems from a simple, and profoundly incorrect and damaging analysis. From freedom of information requests, the BBC created some calculations. They should simply have asked the question. The issue is around pay gaps. This is different to equal pay, where two people must be paid on the same scale for the same work. Pay gaps focuses on categories of people. This year the government introduced a gender pay gap reporting requirement. Warwick has one of the highest. This reflects some deeper truths. If you divide the 6600 staff at the university into quarter according to pay, two thirds of lowest paid colleagues are women (partly this is also a reflection that we do not outsource important work such as cleaning). If we look across our top level, grade 9, professorial equivalent, only one in five is a woman.
Using the same methodology, we can see that there is a gap of 15.5% for academic staff pay, and a gap 6.9% if looking at all of our staff. Again, it is important to remember that this is not an equal pay measure; rather a measure of who is where in the organisation concerned. For us, there are two deeper truths. First we have too few non-white colleagues at professorial equivalent level; currently around one in ten. Second, on the academic side, we have significant numbers of non-white staff paid at lower levels. But this is in fact good news. If we agree that we want to have a more representative professoriate, we need an active ‘pipeline’ of staff. Currently, 28 per cent of our early career researchers is non-white. Working with those colleagues, supporting and encouraging, what an extraordinary difference those colleagues will make to the look and feel of this university over the next ten years.
Brendon Batson has shown how to combat racism by his own career and actions; and so it is a great moment to be able to honour him. And to take that inspiration both to combat racism and the structural inequalities of our world.
The last fortnight has seen two particularly notable occasions where we have come together with our local partners to talk about how our work together makes, or will make, a significant economic impact on Coventry, Warwickshire and the West Midlands.
The first occasion was on Monday 12th November 2018 when it was announced at the Coventry and Warwickshire Automotive Dinner in Warwickshire’s Coombe Abbey Hotel that we would be working with Jaguar Land Rover to establish a new multi-million-pound ‘Smart City Mobility Centre’. The new Centre will create ground breaking driverless and electric vehicle technology on our Wellesbourne campus. Our agreement with JLR will see 5G technology deployed on campus alongside prototype autonomous vehicles, with a plan to begin in 2019. When successful, this will allow us to move fully to autonomous vehicles on campus, and away from such reliance on petrol driven, single occupancy cars.
Then just over a week later Dr Ralf Speth CEO of Jaguar Land Rover and an Honorary Professor of WMG, joined with Andy Street CBE Mayor of the West Midlands, Abdul Khan Deputy Leader of Coventry City Council, Chancellor Baroness Cathy Ashton and myself for our Chancellor’s Dinner, to hear the very latest regional economic impact figures for the University.
The location of the dinner, the home of National Automotive Innovation Centre, was certainly impressive, displaying a very explicit and solid example of our campus economic impact in our region.
While sitting in that striking building, we were presented with some very impressive numbers from the latest analysis of the University’s economic impact on our city, county and region which have been covered by the Coventry Telegraph:
- Warwick’s overall economic impact in the West Midlands is now almost £1 billion a year
- As well as employing over 6,640 staff our university sustains a further 9,245 additional jobs in the West Midlands. 86% of The University of Warwick’s staff live in the West Midlands with 42% in Coventry and 21% in Warwick District
- Warwick’s 5,000 international students contribute £250 million per annum to the region
- Warwick Science Park supported 354 businesses, and Warwick Business School and WMG supported hundreds more
- 29% of Warwick’s UK undergraduate intake are from the West Midlands
- 84% of Warwick’s Newly Qualified Teachers secured employment teaching in Midlands schools
An impressive building, and some impressive numbers. However what made the biggest impression on me was the testimony of one young engineer. Omeah Hancox told us about her experience as a pupil at the WMG Academy for Young Engineers in Coventry, and how that opportunity has now led to her joining Jaguar Land Rover as a young engineer. To see the impact of our partnerships personified in this way was a memorable moment. You can watch the video that was shown on the evening here.
That moment reminds me and should remind us all that the positive impact we have on our region shouldn’t just be measured in pounds, shillings and pence. People make a difference and often these people are our own students and graduates and not just because of what they studying or researching. For instance, more than 1000 Warwick students volunteer and last year they devoted 12,618 volunteer hours in community focused projects in Coventry, Leamington, Kenilworth and Warwick.
Warwick was first established as a University because a great many community leaders, policy makers and businesses in Coventry and Warwickshire came together to campaign for its establishment and donate the funding and land to establish it. They believed that Warwick would be a major contributor to the economy, culture and life of the City and the County. They were proved right, and it is the impressive work and dedication of a great many individual Warwick students and staff that delivers that proof each and every day.
There was one more important highlight to the evening. On behalf of Coventry City Council, Abdul Khan announced that the Council has asked the University to rename part of University Road, Lord Bhattacharyya Way. I was then able to share that Lord Bhattacharyya Way would lead to the Lord Bhattacharyya Building. The Lord Bhattacharyya building, home of The National Automotive Innovation Centre (NAIC), a £150 million partnership between WMG at the University of Warwick, Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors European Technical Centre (with £15m from what was the UK Government’s Higher Education Funding Council England). The National Automotive Innovation Centre will be a beacon for automotive research bringing together the brightest minds from industry and academia, to develop future automotive technology. This announcement and the Chancellor’s Dinner was not the formal opening of the Lord Bhattacharyya Building or NAIC, that is to come, but the evening was an opportunity to recognise the enormous contribution of Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya to the University, the City, the region, and to the automotive industry, particularly Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Motors.
It's the individuals who make up every institution who truly make an impact. That evening marked the spectacular impact of Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, but it also marked just the very beginning of all that will be achieved by Warwick’s current students, and the pupils of WMG Academy for Young Engineers in Coventry such as Omeah.
Although we’re just finishing welcoming new students, and welcoming back our existing ones, the recruitment cycle for next year is already in progress. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming open day, although my role there is a small one – I give part of the welcome address to prospective students and their parents. These are important events; the numbers attending open days are going up, and we know that the open day experience makes a real difference to student choices.
Although students (and their families) are concerned about the outcomes of university education (and there are lots of ways in which we can measure these), they also know that the experience matters and indeed the quality of the experience will make a difference to the quality of the outcomes. And because experience matters, open days matter because they give insight into what it’s like to be a student at Warwick.
Of course, if we want to demonstrate the Warwick experience to prospective students, we have first, to persuade them to come to our open days. And that’s where marketing and recruitment activities come in. For this current recruitment round there has been a major redevelopment of our prospectus and other associated marketing materials with a focus on how best to talk about both student experiences and outcomes. We know that some of the hard metrics such as league tables, and graduate salaries will be part of student decision making and this information is widely available. So in our communications, we’ve focused much more on the experience side, using a story-telling approach.
Given that my own academic background is in marketing, I’m always interested to see how our marketing and communications activity develops. And for some time in marketing (particularly in the service sector) the focus of marketing has shifted from promoting the attributes of a product or service to concentrating instead on experiences. So it makes perfect sense that we should be working in a similar way.
If you look at the prospectus or at the website, you’ll see marketing communications that tell stories – stories about what it’s like to be a student and what our students will take away from their Warwick experience. These stories may be partly founded on our reputation, but they’re also about our people, our thinking and the place in which we’re based. We try to emphasise the positive outcomes that students are looking for - that their study at Warwick will enhance their wellbeing and their future, that it will offer better career opportunities, and that it will open up a wealth of possibilities.
It is an approach that looks to be making a difference; we’ve seen record attendances at our most recent open days, and despite the declining number of 18 year-olds, our UG applications have remained strong. Of course, this encouraging picture is the result of a number of factors. For example, the Student Recruitment, Outreach and Admissions Service (SROAS) has been hugely effective in advancing its student recruitment approach and in managing the open day experience.
Also notable is the increased collaboration between SROAS and our marketing teams. This has meant promotional materials used by our recruitment leads are both practical and persuasive…and storytelling is vital to making our marketing collateral compelling.
No one can know, in advance, what their experience will be like. But the combination of storytelling and open day activities gives prospective students a real insight in to what their University experience at Warwick might mean. That’s why open days are so important and that’s why we’re grateful to everyone who has helped to make them such a success.
Christine Ennew, Provost
Earlier this year, Warwick signed up to be a member of the Business Disability Forum (BDF). BDF provides members with practical support by sharing expertise and providing training and networking opportunities which help our work with disabled staff, students and visitors. We’ve also established a Disability Standards Steering Group (which I chair) and this brings together key stakeholders from across campus to determine how we might best work towards meeting BDF’s Disability Standards.
One challenge that we face is that it is often difficult for someone who is not disabled to understand how what we see as commonplace can create challenges for others. So, earlier this year one of our Steering Group members, Jenny Wheeler, worked with the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team to run the ‘Wheelchair Challenge’, which required participants to navigate around campus in a wheelchair (and then feed back on their experience). I couldn’t participate at the time so Jenny agreed to run the challenge again in August for myself and Jane Openshaw from Estates, to help us to understand what it’s like to be a wheelchair user on campus.
We started off with one electric scooter and one manual wheelchair, with Jenny as our trusty guide and supervisor.
Our friendly trainee guide dog comes to see us off on the challenge.
It will probably sound clichéd, but this was a real eye-opener for me. I was lucky and started the challenge with the electric scooter, leaving Jane to get herself up the slope from Rootes in the manual wheelchair. I then transferred to the manual chair for a brief comfort break at the Oculus before heading to the Sports Centre, from where we tried to find our way into the Chemistry Building. Then it was back to the library before negotiating our way back to Rootes.
Hmm – going to the loo isn’t going to be as easy as I thought.
Getting into a disabled toilet is far more difficult than it looks and the camber on pathways can make steering and controlling a wheelchair an interesting experience. And even the slightest lip on a drop kerb can make a manual wheelchair user feel quite vulnerable. The biggest positives for me were people who were sensitive to the need to give you space and who were willing to offer a helping hand. The contractors working in campus at the time were great with regular offers of a helping hand (although Jenny did enjoy telling them that we had to do it ourselves!).
Not sure I’m actually going to make it through here.
The routes between buildings weren’t always obvious to a novice, but mostly we managed to work it out (although it often required quite a bit of creative problem solving on our part). Having said that, I’m not sure I actually managed to work out how to deal with my own need for a regular coffee fix. A steaming hot Americano and a manual wheelchair are not a good combination and Jenny’s top tip – never, ever try to hold your coffee cup between your thighs – was probably one of the best bits of advice of the day!
So this is how you get into Chemistry!
As I walked back to University House, I had time to reflect on the impact of both the physical environment and human behaviour on the ability of many disabled people to navigate campus. My immediate learning points related to the challenges associated with some design features in the physical environment and how other campus users might help (or not) someone with mobility issues. The experiences and challenges for those who may, for example, be blind or deaf will be very different but also probably not well understood by many of us. We still have much to learn about how we can improve the campus experience for all our disabled staff, students and visitors.
This month, Warwick’s new strategy was launched with its vision that “By 2030, Warwick will be one of the world's exceptional universities, helping to transform our region, country and world for the collective good.” However, every single day since we published those words I keep seeing Warwick staff and students already doing exceptional things that we should celebrate and acknowledge now rather than waiting until 2030.
Europe – Our politicians of every ideological colour seem locked in endless acrimony over our future relationship with the rest of Europe. Warwick’s staff and students have simply ignored the political wrangles and made renewed commitments to work across Europe in our research and teaching. We have formed an exceptional new partnership with colleagues in Paris and Brussels, and this summer we saw a huge increase (14%) in applications from non UK EU students.
Global student community – This week Warwick students will be not just participating in but will also be central to the organisation of this year’s International Conference of Undergraduate Research (ICUR) 2018. This is an exceptional event, not just because of the quality of the undergraduate research it showcases, but even more because it is a conference that never sleeps. For two full days Warwick students will use video-linked sessions in partnership with students across eight countries and 5 continents to produce a continuous two day conference that never stops.
Admissions – The increase in demand for places at Warwick this year was not just confined to non UK EU students. For years we have been told that 2018 would see a demographic dip with fewer UK 18 year olds than previous years which would make university recruitment challenging for the whole sector. In fact, even more undergraduate students have chosen to come to Warwick and our applications have actually increased by 5% this year. That exceptional cohort of new students was supported by an exceptional response from Warwick’s accommodation team who have worked long hours and used every resource to ensure that each and every one of those undergraduate students will be accommodated on our campus as we promised.
A week to celebrate - This is a week to celebrate, not because once again the Times and Sunday Times has just ranked Warwick as one of the UK’s top 10 universities, and eighth for the quality of the research. I am celebrating the start of a new academic year as our campus comes even more alive with a vast array of students and staff. It is that vibrant community rather than any particular league table success that attracts even more students to study here, and even more international partners to work with us. Warwick is an exceptional university because of its exceptional staff and students, a fact which gives me confidence that this is just the start of a year of great achievements and success for our University.