Vice-Chancellor's March message to staff
As we approach the Easter break, many of us are focused on the final semester and helping our students achieve their learning goals. I’d like to thank everyone who is working so hard for our students.
We all hope an agreement to settle the industrial action can be reached soon. On Friday afternoon a new proposal for a joint expert panel on pensions between Universities UK and the University and College Union was put on the table through the conciliation service Acas. It is a proposal I support.
It is being consulted on by UUK and UCU and would establish a joint panel of independent experts to review the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) valuation, processes and assumptions and agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach to the valuation of the USS fund.
The panel, with a jointly agreed chair, examining the current valuation will require maintenance of the status quo in respect of both contributions into USS and current pension benefits until at least April 2019. You can read more about the latest proposal on the UUK website.
Preparing for post-Brexit
Much work continues as we prepare ourselves for post-Brexit life, and last week I took an active part in a UUK International visit to Finland, Sweden and Denmark to meet other university leaders and representatives from higher education and research institutions. We had very productive discussions on topics including staff and student mobility, research collaboration and partnerships with industry, and I was able to strengthen relationships with our Nordic colleagues.
Our Aurora partners also form an important network for us as we move into unchartered territories, and developing exchange programmes that will mitigate the potential impact of Brexit on staff and student mobility, such as arranging joint summer schools and teaching exchanges, is one of the areas we’re actively developing.
Next week, I’ll take part in the European University Association’s annual conference, which will be on the theme of “Engaged and Responsible Universities Shaping Europe”. I’m looking forward to examining some of the social challenges Europe is currently facing and looking at how we demonstrate the ways our activities contribute to shaping society.
Strengthening relationships by making a positive impact on the community is one of our priorities, so I’m delighted to congratulate Prof Laura Bowater on her appointment to the new role of Academic Director of Innovation, which she’ll take up on 1 May. She’ll help to enhance innovation across all four Faculties and support the development of impact for REF2021 and research grant applications, as well as develop our Enterprise Fund, which provides donor-funded investment for our student entrepreneurs.
I’m also glad to welcome Mahmood Foroughi, who joins us from Addenbrooke’s Hospital as Deputy Director of Estates and Facilities to drive through the Estates projects that will help us to achieve the UEA Plan.
Notable successes this month include the welcome news that we’ve been awarded £150,000 from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) Catalyst Fund, which we, the SU and other partners will jointly match, for a two-year project to research and pilot new ways to support the mental health and wellbeing of post-graduate research students. I’m pleased to note too that we won the national award for best Nightline publicity campaign – a vital service for students to be aware of.
In the face of fierce competition, we’ve also been successful in our HEFCE bid for a further 25 medical student places, starting with the 2019/20 cohort. Thanks to Laura Bowater, Alys Burns, John Winpenny, Catherine Butcher and Steve Chapman, as well as everyone else who contributed to the bid – including Dickie Young, Chris Fox, Caitlin Notley and Julian Beezhold and our primary and secondary care placement providers for their support.
I must also mention Dr Paul Bernal, senior law lecturer, who had a busy week last week commenting on the security of our personal information following the revelations that Cambridge Analytica has been accused of using the personal data of millions of Facebook users to influence how people vote. He appeared on more than 30 television and radio programmes around the world, including Newsnight, Radio Five Live, Radio 2 and the BBC World Service as well as TV and radio in Turkey, Austria, France and New Zealand, looking at the implications of the revelations and suggesting ways we can limit the damage.
It’s also great news that the Royal Society of Biology has accredited our BSc in Biological Science, meaning it’s passed a rigorous independent assessment and giving our students a year’s free Associate membership and access to a network that will help them in their future careers.
Finally, I had the pleasure of addressing guests at the opening of the new “Superstructures” exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre last Friday, marking its 40th anniversary since opening to house the art collection that Sir Robert and Lady Lisa Sainsbury donated in 1973. It was the first public building designed by Norman Foster and is now not only a well-recognised Norfolk landmark but one of the most significant art centres in the country. The exhibition covers the story of architecture’s fascination with technology from 1960-90. The East Anglian Film Archive has an Anglia Television programme on the origins of the building and its art collection, which I highly recommend.
May I wish you all an enjoyable Easter break.
Prof David Richardson