Vice-Chancellor's February message
I’m writing this message on the second day of national UCU industrial action over the proposed pension changes. Respect for individuals’ freedom to express their views is one of our great strengths here at UEA, and I know that the decision to strike hasn’t been taken lightly by anyone, and in no way indicates that staff are not passionate about our students. It’s a complex dispute and I know that, whatever our own individual opinions might be, we will continue to work together as a united team.
I am listening to staff and working closely both with my UUK colleagues and our UCU reps to find a way through the dispute that offers the best possible outcome for staff and students. I’d like to see an element of defined benefit retained in the pension scheme but, as I’ve said before, it has to be affordable for the University and an additional increase in our employer contribution – already standing at 18% - cannot be made without cuts elsewhere.
The effect on students is another paramount concern. We’ve done our best to ensure that their teaching suffers the minimum possible disruption but some impact is inevitable, which is why we’re ring-fencing the deductions from striking staff’s pay to create a pot of money for their benefit.
The Government’s review of higher education funding is another national issue with a huge impact on UEA - this time the financial future faced by our students. I welcome a re-examination of how university education is funded and would welcome the restoration of maintenance grants. These would reduce the need for students to earn while they study and make university a more attractive option for the less well off.
When it comes to tuition fees, I’d like to see a better balance between the student and the state, reducing the burden of debt on students and acknowledging the benefits that the state enjoys from a highly-educated workforce.
I would not, however, welcome any proposal to charge different fees for different courses, because university experience amounts to much more than the subject a student studies. I don’t believe that STEM subjects offer greater value or prospects that the Arts and Humanities – and Joe Greenwell, our Chair of Council and Chancellor Karen Jones, who are both UEA humanities graduates with stellar careers in the world of business and industry, are embodiments of that conviction! Importantly, as higher education providers, we must also be confident about our level of income so we can sustain, and continue to enhance, the experience we offer students and the value of our research.
Recognition and awards
This value is demonstrated every day across our campus, and just two examples are a couple of fantastic grants recently awarded to Dr Camilla Schofield (History) and Dr Emma Long (American Studies). Camilla received almost £250,000 for her investigation of the social history of racism in England from 1960 to 1990, while Emma was awarded £232,000 to look at the modern roots of evangelical engagement with American politics. I very much look forward to seeing the outcomes.
I was also very proud to be among the guests invited to accept the Queen’s Anniversary Prize won by Environmental Sciences from the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at Buckingham Palace, alongside Karen Jones, Prof Kevin Hiscock, Prof Corinne Le Quéré, Joe Greenwell and five students.
Our contribution to the environment has also been recognised in quite a different way, with the Enterprise Centre winning a National Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) Award, acknowledging its low carbon design that’s focused on the health and wellbeing of its occupants.
And we haven’t left it to external organisations to recognise our brilliance – we’ve celebrated the great work done on campus ourselves with the inaugural Innovation and Impact Awards. It was fantastic to mark the incredible achievements of both staff and students and the positive impact we make on the wider community. Many congratulations to everyone.
I’m also very pleased to see that nominations are open for the SU’s Transforming Education Awards, giving students the opportunity to recognise academic and professional services staff. There are 13 categories, including my own award for the overall winner. Please tell your students about them so they don’t miss the chance to nominate, which they can do on the SU website.
I’m happy to say that our reputation continues to spread internationally too. Our 125,000 alumni are among our greatest advocates both at home and abroad and I was delighted to see Chinese actress Jiang Shuying accompanying Theresa May during her recent visit to Wuhan University as part of the UK-China Spirit of Youth Cultural Festival. You may remember that we welcomed Jiang back to our campus in September as part of a trip to promote links between the UK and China.
Our international students are a vital and valued part of our community and we work hard to strengthen relationships with organisations in our target countries. Earlier this month representatives from our “Humanities in India” partnership visited the University of Calcutta, with whom we have a Memorandum of Understanding, to participate in a roundtable on Academic Diplomacy and a workshop discussing the Challenges of Curriculum Development. Both were very productive and the visit included a meeting with Dr Baru, the new Secretary General of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, who accepted my invitation to UEA – where he worked in ECO in the 1980s – later in the year.
A quick reminder to encourage your final-year students to compete the NSS – or the UKES for non final-year students and, for post-graduates, the PTES. Response rates are down on last year for all three surveys and I can’t emphasise enough how important this feedback is both to help us make improvements and potential students’ choose to study here.
As I said at the beginning of this message, I’m proud of the spirit of tolerance and inclusiveness that thrives on our campus, and another example is the events that took place as part of LGBT History Month. I was also delighted to hear that we’ve done so well in this year’s Stonewall Index, jumping 89 places - well into the top half of the table. Last week we also launched our “Straight Allies” campaign, through which we can all show solidarity with the LGBT community by wearing a lanyard or pin badge.
All these things show the strong and supportive spirit that characterises our great university!
Prof David Richardson