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Vice-Chancellor's April message to staff

I’d like to welcome everyone back after the Easter break, as we enter the very busy exam and assessment season in our calendar.

At this time of year, our students are in greatest need of our support. I appreciate that this has been a very difficult time for many of you and hope that the formation of the Joint Expert Panel reassures you that a satisfactory resolution will be found to the pensions dispute. I also want to thank all of you who have made such great efforts to ensure that disruption to your students’ studies has been minimised.

Last week, I joined our UCU branch president Brett Mills and SU sabbatical officer Madeleine Colledge at an open forum session for students organised by the Students’ Union about the industrial action. I welcomed the opportunity to respond to their questions, which were centred around the measures that we’ve put in place to mitigate the effects on learning and teaching, the issues around compensation and when and how the student fund money will be spent. I also had the chance to talk about wider student issues at SU Council and meet with the newly-elected sabbatical officers. In both cases, these discussions included a number of Executive Team colleagues and we will be reflecting together on the important issues raised.

UEA community

As I’ve said before, I believe that UEA is characterised by our strong sense of community. I see every day the many ways we’re working together, supporting each other and our students.

A successful community must have a shared purpose and common set of values. The values that define us at UEA is a question I want to revisit, but an underlying principle is that everyone should feel recognised and rewarded for the contribution they make. That’s what creates a culture where we can thrive as individuals as well as collectively, and it’s also why our biennial staff survey is so important. UEA is all about people, so I and my colleagues on the leadership team want to hear your views and how you feel about working here. Your feedback will be used to create action plans to make improvements where they’re needed, and will help us to measure the progress we’re making on the initiatives already under way.

This year’s survey opens on 15 May and I urge you all to take up the chance to have your say. This year, for the first time, it will also give us the opportunity to contribute to the wider community in which we live and work. We’ll donate £1 to charity for each completed survey, split between four great causes – if you want a donation made on your behalf, you can vote for the one you’d like it to go to at the end of the questions.

This is also the time when we have the opportunity to consider our objectives for the year ahead and what we’d like to achieve by completing another important form - our appraisals. On a wider level, they’re also a critical element in our progress in achieving Athena SWAN awards, an important measure of our ability to ensure that every member of our UEA community can make the progression they want and deserve. Thank you to everyone who has already done this and, if you are an appraiser and haven’t yet had time to do so, please do put an hour aside to have this discussion as soon as possible.

Student experience

Achievement is something that I believe we’re good at celebrating here at UEA, and no celebration is more rewarding than the annual Scholarship Awards, which were held last Friday evening. This year, 66 talented young scholars received a total of £640,000 in donor-funded scholarships, funding that makes all the difference to their futures by enabling them to continue their studies and equipping them to follow their chosen future careers. Thanks to everyone who put in so much effort to make it an event that I’m sure they will always remember.

We want all our students to have a great experience during their time with us, and listening to what they have to say then acting on it is an essential way to ensure that they do. I know that all of you who teach will have been made aware many times of the importance of encouraging your final year students to complete the National Student Survey but – as the survey closes in just a few days – on Monday 30 April – I want to make a final plea to you to promote it to them once again and, if you can, to put aside a few minutes at the end of teaching or organise a dedicated session when they can complete the survey using the unique email links they’ll have been sent last week by Ipsos MORI.

Building relationships

Listening to people and building strong relationships outside our immediate community is also an important way for us to improve, and the bi-annual Aurora General Council meeting on 2-4 May will offer a great opportunity to share our knowledge, expertise and insights with the other eight members of the network. We share the same vision of making a difference to society and, as the current president, I’m looking forward to using the time we’ll have together to add to the discussions I’ve had individually with our partners to make more progress in making that change happen.

I’ve also had very valuable discussions with two HE colleagues from universities closer to home, Prof Karen Cox, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, and Prof Helen Langton, who takes up her role as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Suffolk on 1 June. As always, I was proud to welcome them to our campus and introduce them to as many people here as possible.

Celebrating success

Collaboration is a key element in research success, and I’m delighted that we’re one of the partners in the Ceres Agritech Knowledge Exchange Partnership that’s been awarded £4.78 million by Research England to drive the commercialisation of agritech research and innovation. Other partners include the John Innes Centre and the Universities of Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Lincoln and Reading. The partnership will develop commercially viable projects with business, including farmers and food producers in the region.

Congratulations also to Dr Toby James, Senior Lecturer in PPL, who has been shortlisted for the Economic and Social Research Council’s 2018 Celebrating Impact Prize. The awards recognise research that’s made a difference to society or the economy, and Toby was selected for his work on improving electoral integrity and democratic participation with the aim of getting more people to trust the system and to vote – a very relevant topic. The winner will be announced at the Royal Society on 20 June.

An impact of a different kind is being made by Katherine Deane, who works tirelessly on behalf of people with disabilities to improve accessibility. She’s been asked to share her expertise as part of a panel discussion during the Women of the World – or WOW – global network of festivals in Norwich, which takes place at Open on 28-29 April. The events celebrate the achievements of women and girls and look at what prevents them from reaching their potential – an important topic that’s on our agenda too. If you’re interested in attending, you can find out more on the website.

Finally, I’d like to remind you of the invitation to come along to our Question Time event in Lecture Theatre One from 12-1pm this Friday, 27 April.  It’s a chance to be updated on the Align project and ask your own questions of the Executive Team panel - Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof Neil Ward; Pro Vice-Chancellor for Arts & Humanities, Prof Sarah Barrow; Pro Vice-Chancellor for Medicine & Health Sciences, Prof Dylan Edwards, and Acting Registrar, Ian Callaghan.

Best wishes

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Prof David Richardson

Vice-Chancellor