December 07, 2017

An update on USS

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.

sc_sig.jpg


November 28, 2017

Which way forward for USS?

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.


sc_sig.jpg


November 23, 2017

Our new student research hub

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.

sc_sig.jpg


November 15, 2017

Creating knowledge post–Brexit

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.

The Guild of European Research-Intensive Universities blog

sc_sig.jpg


November 10, 2017

World Kindness Day

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!)

kindness_cards.jpgBut 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.

Christine Ennew Provost sig


October 25, 2017

Learning to respect and celebrate our differences

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.


sc_sig.jpg


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?

sc_sig.jpg


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.

sc_sig.jpg


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.

sc_sig.jpg


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!

sc_sig.jpg


December 2017

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
Nov |  Today  |
            1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Search this blog

Tags

Most recent comments

  • Thank you for speaking up for us! I wish our leadership at Lancaster University would do the same! by Jacob Phelps on this entry
  • Stuart, Again, what you say on USS makes so much sense. It's important to note though that the 30th … by Jimmy Donaghey on this entry
  • Thanks Claire – I think thats a lovely way of illustrating the issue! I'll remember that example and… by Christine Ennew on this entry
  • This is such a helpful and thoughtful reminder of something that we should all do by default but whi… by Claire Wightman on this entry
  • Previous comments from other senior University staff suggest that the proposed move to a defined sch… by Mary Corcoran on this entry

Blog archive

Loading…
RSS2.0 Atom
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder
© MMXVII