All entries for April 2016

April 29, 2016

Looking forward to the Summer term

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.


April 11, 2016

Speaking out

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

April 04, 2016

Prevent, Protect, Preserve

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.


April 2016

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