February 01, 2017

My first year as your Vice–Chancellor

Stuart_graduationIt 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Oculus buildingFinally, 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.

City of Culture - backing the bidLooking 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.

Best wishes


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