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VC Bulletin 3 October 2014

  • science without borders

    Welcoming our students from Brazil

    The summer seems to have flown by and I cannot believe it is now time for my first bulletin of the new academic year. I do hope that among the very busy working lives that we all experience, you have managed some restful and enjoyable holidays over the summer period and are feeling rejuvenated for the new academic year.

  • The news on student recruitment for 2014/15 is very good. We do not yet have confirmed numbers, but the early signs are that overall we have recruited close to the maximum level allowed for Home/EU full-time undergraduates within the Student Number Control (SNC). Clearly the recruitment patterns for individual subject areas do show some notable variation, which we need to be mindful of. Recruitment of students with ABB+ and equivalent levels is estimated at around 120 students higher than last year. The popularity of our courses places us in a strong position for 2015/16 when the SNC is lifted and provides a stable financial environment for the coming year. Further good news is that the international recruitment position is also very strong, with over 10,000 international applications received for the first time. So a big thank you to all those involved in the recruitment process throughout the year – this is a truly excellent result for the University.
  • I want to say a special thank you to those who have been supporting our students into accommodation. It has been an especially difficult year, with parents in particular very anxious about the availability of housing. Our residential team has done a magnificent job managing more than 1,400 students into private accommodation. On behalf of the whole University community, I want to thank them for their hard work.
  • While the city has given planning approval for more than 800 student bed spaces managed by UNITE, they will not be on stream for next year’s intake. This means we will need to consider carefully our immediate plans for next year and of course our overall student residential development strategy in the longer term. This will be a topic of some discussion and debate, both at the University Executive Board and at our Board of Governors.
  • Timetabling is always a sensitive matter in any university and I am pleased that we managed to have a workable timetable in place for the start of the academic year. While inevitably there will be further changes necessary, I want to thank central timetabling for their hard work in dealing with our increased number of students and handling what is one of the most complex and sensitive aspects of university organisation.
  • Our Open Days to support recruitment for 2015/16 begin shortly and I know that colleagues are actively engaged in preparations to ensure that these important events continue to inspire potential students to choose Portsmouth. I value very much the effort that colleagues put into these events and I am looking forward to us showcasing the very best of what we do.
  • Before the summer break I was delighted with the graduation ceremonies, which took place in the Guildhall. Over eight days and 15 ceremonies, more than 4,500 undergraduate and 1,000 postgraduate students celebrated their achievements. The professionalism and success of these ceremonies is testament to the excellent work of University staff in arranging and managing the days. We awarded honorary degrees to John Akomfrah and Simon Ward and are pleased to welcome them to our University community. Our Chancellor, Sandi Toksvig, worked tirelessly as always to raise the profile of the University, and her enthusiasm and dedication to the University and our students is very much appreciated.
  • I and many of my senior colleagues attended the staff party on 11 July and were very pleased to see so many of you having a great time. I really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with so many colleagues and if you were unable to attend, I hope that you can be there when we hold a similar event next year. The success of the party was, in large part, due to colleagues in our professional services, both in the preparation for the event and working on the day. My personal thanks to all involved.
  • Over the summer I have been fortunate to enjoy a much needed family holiday and have also fully relocated my family and home to Portsmouth. It is said that moving house is one of the most stressful life events and I couldn’t agree more! As a family we are now looking forward to settling into life in the city. Our role in the city as a University is vital and it is clear to me as a new citizen of Portsmouth that our influence in the city is of great importance.
  • As reported in my last bulletin, we are supporting educational attainment in Portsmouth through the submission of a bid for a University Technical College (UTC). Colleagues have been working throughout the summer on this in partnership with Portsmouth City Council, the Royal Navy and local schools, colleges and businesses. This significant endeavour is being led by Rebecca Bunting, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, who will provide updates on the timeline and next steps after submission of the proposal in October. If successful, the University will play a key role in developing technical education for 14-19 year olds.
  • A large part of the Shaping our Future (SoF) conversation was around the University’s position in the community and the discussions around this will continue as the consultation moves on to its next phase. In October, I will be giving my first annual address to staff and students where I will outline the mission, vision and values that have been developed from the SoF conversation and subsequent discussion by the University Executive Board and Board of Governors.
  • Following my address, I hope that you will engage in the briefing sessions that will be organised in your areas by team leaders, so that your views can continue to feed into the details of how we will operationally achieve our strategy. These briefing sessions should take place before 24 October so please do ask your manager about them and participate. Student input will also be developed through the Students’Union.
  • At our regular University Executive Board (UEB) meeting on 5 September, it was agreed that the notes of that and future meetings should be published on the University website to continue our efforts to have transparency around the management of all aspects of the University. You can see the first set of notes on the UEB pages. There will, of course, be some items of discussion that cannot be made public for reasons of commercial sensitivity or because they refer to confidential issues affecting individuals. UEB meetings are normally held fortnightly so you can expect to see the notes shortly after each meeting. In future, a link will be provided in the Staff Essentials emails that are circulated by Marketing and Communications on Fridays. I hope you find these documents useful.
  • Our performance in the National Student Survey (NSS) has been maintained this year at 88% overall satisfaction against a sector mean of 86%, which is good news. The results for the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) for the class of 2013 are also good with 73.2% of full-time, first degree UK domiciled leavers in employment for 2012/13 compared with 72.1% in 2011/12. Similarly the level of unemployed graduates was 7.4% for 2012/13 compared with 10.7% for 2011/12. The national graduate unemployment figure is 7.6%. These are important measures of our success as a University and it is clear that Universities are now making significant efforts to improve their performance. While our news is good, we must not become complacent as our relative position against competitors is being challenged as they begin to improve their performance.
  • There is much analysis to be done on these results and work will start around the University on understanding the data at a local level and finding strategies for improvement. The results from the NSS and DHLE feed into the league table data and results available this year are mixed. In the Complete University Guide we are up five places to 63, and in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2015 we remain in the top 400 for the third year running, which is good. However, in The Guardian University Guide 2015 we have fallen seven places to 55, and in the latest Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide we have fallen two places to 57.
  • We must not obsess about these league tables, but they are used as part of the decision making process by prospective students and their parents. Our challenge is that our performance is relatively static while others are improving rapidly. I strongly believe that we deserve as a University to be consistently placed as a top 50 UK University and this should be our aim. To achieve this we need to understand where we can improve and how we can optimise our data returns across the various league tables.
  • You will have seen the recent announcement that we have been awarded an Athena Swan Institutional Bronze Award that recognises the University’s commitment to advancing women’s careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subject areas. It is now important that we operationalise our action plan over the coming years. Of course, as an ambitious institution committed to equality, we must now also work towards achieving the institutional Silver Award.
  • I have often said that happy staff means happy students and so it is really encouraging to see that we have retained our place in the top 30 Employers for Working Families for a second year. This is great news for the University and I know that it is our aim to be at the forefront of providing a working environment that is both engaging and rewarding.
  • On 5 September, I and several other members of UEB visited Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) at Whiteley to discuss ways in which we can support each other. This was a very positive meeting and already there is collaborative working between BAR and the University which I am certain will develop further over the coming years. A number of important opportunities for collaboration like this are emerging and I want to encourage the development of such partnerships that not only help us and our students but also grow the reputation of the city.
  • In early September I attended the annual Universities UK (UUK) conference which was this year held at the University of Leeds. As VCs we were all eagerly anticipating the address by Greg Clark, the new Minister for Universities, Science and Cities. It was in many ways an excellent lesson in how to speak but say nothing and in retrospect being new into the role and with elections approaching, we should not have expected him to make significant new announcements. He did indicate that the move to remove the number cap will be honoured, but also indicated that there were no plans to index link the fee cap of £9,000. While this may be sustainable for next year, this will mean a cut to per-capita funding by inflation each year, which will present some significant budgetary challenges for the sector.
  • Our new Sabb Officers

    Our new Sabb Officers

    It was a real pleasure for me and my UEB colleagues to meet our new Sabbatical Officers on the 12 September. They play a vital role in the interaction between the student body and the University and it was good once again to have a very able and impressive group of young people to work with. I am confident that they will challenge us appropriately and in so doing help us to improve the quality of what we do at the University. Already they are putting forward some excellent ideas in relation to international student fees which we hope to find a way to implement.

  • I once again enjoyed participating in the parents welcome events for the families of new students on Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 September. We are relatively unique in having such events and I must say the parents I spoke to found the sessions very helpful and reassuring. It was great to see strong support and turnout from staff, which was much appreciated by parents.
  • I am sure that you are aware of the important partnership that we have with Navitas through our International College Portsmouth (ICP). It was good to be able to meet their Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director from Australia, Rod Jones, the Executive General Manager University Programmes UK, Kerry Hutchinson, and Chief Executive Officer UK Programmes, John Wood, for lunch and also at their annual dinner to explore our relationship and how it could be enhanced in the future. I am sure that the ongoing success of ICP can be built upon in the future and we will continue our discussion over the coming year to explore opportunities which may emerge.
  • Providing a formal welcome to our ‘Science Without Borders’students from Brazil was a real honour. The feedback from these students in the past has been so positive that this year we have the largest cohort of these students in the UK. We formally welcomed just over 160 students this year and I am confident that we will make those students welcome and encourage them to embrace all that we offer.
  • Amidst a very busy month I was delighted to attend the graduation of Officer Cadets on the 25 September at RAF Cranwell. It was not only an excellent graduation event but a real pleasure to hear first-hand the high regard that the students have for the University of Portsmouth teaching that is part of their training. Meeting the Portsmouth Business School staff gave me an insight on their enthusiasm but also the challenges they face being placed remotely from the main University. It was also clear that the leadership and organisation on site are exemplary and I am sure that over the coming years we will be able to build on what is a strong relationship with the RAF.
  • The new social learning Library

    The new social learning Library

    I hope that you have had a chance to visit our new Library ground floor and our re-furbished Portland Building. The Library has undergone major refurbishment and remodelling of the ground floor area with increased study spaces and a greater range of social learning space and bookable group study rooms. Portland Building is greatly improved with the coffee shop and quad well worth a visit.

  • In an effort to streamline my bulletins, which have been growing longer and longer in my enthusiasm to share as much as possible with you, I will not report here on all the success stories from around the University. I still very much want to hear from you and please do keep sending me messages around your successes and achievements. If you copy in my EA, Shani Thirlwell, we will make sure that the good news is forwarded to Marketing and Communications and reported via an appropriate platform such as Communicator magazine, Research and Innovation News or, Staff Essentials.
  • Links are provided below to all the areas of University communications where you can get updates on all the news and events taking place as well as the UEB meeting notes as reported earlier.

Staff Essentials news and events


Research and Innovation News

UEB notes



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