October 18, 2017

Connecting and collaborating in our region

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?

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October 04, 2017

Looking forward to the year ahead

Dear colleagues,

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.

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September 06, 2017

Brexit and the future of higher education

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.

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August 16, 2017

Beyond A levels

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.

Good luck!

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August 14, 2017

Did our undergraduate numbers change overnight?

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.

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July 14, 2017

Race Equality Charter Mark submission

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.

For more information please see our RECM pages or contact raceequality@warwick.ac.uk

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July 03, 2017

Business as usual

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.

Campus montage

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.

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June 19, 2017

Standing together

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.

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Warwick staff and students can access support and guidance from Wellbeing Support Services


June 12, 2017

Unconscious bias

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.

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May 31, 2017

Campus Developments

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.

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October 2017

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