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VC bulletin – 3 February 2015

  • FIC_opening

    Official opening of University’s Forensic Innovation Centre. L-R: Professor Graham Galbraith, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire Simon Hayes and Chief Constable Andy Marsh

    I imagine for most in the University the main event since my last bulletin has almost certainly been the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results, which were an outstanding success. More than 60 per cent of the research submitted for assessment by the University was rated as world-leading or internationally excellent, this being an increase of 21 per cent from the last Research Assessment Exercise in 2008. These results validate our decision to enter new units of assessment and our commitment to growing our breadth and depth of research, including the development of our early career researchers. I want to thank the whole University community for their support of our research efforts, and particularly Tara Dean and the various Unit Coordinators, who together masterminded our submission.

  • Of course we do not yet have any idea of the impact that this will have on our quality-related (QR) funding as that will not be announced until the March grant letter from Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). If we manage to maintain current levels of QR funding support, I suspect this would be a good outcome considering the challenges on government funding at present.
  • We now have a strong platform upon which to build and I think it will be important to begin our planning for 2020 now. I am delighted to hear that many such early discussions are already taking place across the University.
  • There was also good news with the announcement that the University has been awarded the maximum £5m by HEFCE towards a new STEM Centre. The University will contribute a further £6m to establish ‘The Future Technology Centre’, which will support significant innovation and expansion of the University’s engineering and science provision, allowing the development of new courses in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). This initiative will aim to engage young people of all genders in engineering and technology subjects, and in doing so, create new opportunities for the city and the region. The Centre will be housed in a new wing of the Portland Building with construction work beginning this summer.
  • I am sure  you will have seen from press coverage that just before Christmas, at a private ceremony, our Chancellor Sandi Toksvig converted her civil partnership to her partner Debbie to a marriage at a London registry office. I am sure you will want to join me in congratulating Sandi and Debbie on their marriage and wishing them all the very best for their future together.
  • On 12 December, I was delighted to attend the annual International Agents Conference, which was organised by our International Office. Fifty agents from over 30 countries attended this event, including representatives from Colombia, Zimbabwe, Morocco and Ghana – as well as from our more traditional markets in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Nigeria, The Gulf, Cyprus, Romania and Bulgaria.
  • Events like this are very important, our representative agents being an integral part of how we reach out to potential international applicants, parents and sponsors. They are a crucial link in the communication channel, not least in helping students navigate through the ever growing complexity of UK visas and immigration processes and regulations. I was particularly impressed by their commitment to the University and their interest in the University’s ambitious plans for the future. While here, they were also, quite rightly, taking the opportunity to enjoy the social side of Portsmouth!
  • I am sure you will have seen before Christmas the various newspaper reports on the latest wave of additional Home Office restrictions related to international students. I am pleased to say that despite the best efforts of the Home Secretary, the right for international students who have gained employment above a threshold of £20,500 to remain in the UK, has been retained. Unfortunately, discussions still continue on their plans to restrict the ability of universities to issue CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) numbers to students at partner colleges (such as our current arrangements with International College Portsmouth), although I think there is now at least some recognition of the devastating impact this would have, not only on export earnings from overseas students, but also on the financial strength of many universities.
  • On Tuesday 16 December, I was pleased to be invited to give the introduction to the Support Staff Conference where staff from all areas of the University came together to celebrate our strengths. This very successful conference shared good practice and celebrated the many successes around the University. Highlights of the conference were a session presented by Darrel Woodman, from the Art of Brilliance and from our Chancellor, Sandi Toksvig.
  • I was also very pleased to take part in the Staff Induction Conference on 18 December. I very much enjoyed presenting our University plans and our future direction to what was once again a very successful event with very positive feedback from the staff that took part. Can I please encourage all new staff to make the effort to attend one of these conferences as I know that you will find it very valuable and a good way to get to know new people from across the University.
  • In late December, we also received notification of the interim arrangements for supporting taught postgraduate students for next year, while the details of the new postgraduate loan scheme are finalised for implementation in 2016/17. I was delighted to see that we received the highest award among our regional universities of £680,000. This sum of money will be matched by us to provide scholarships of £10,000 for up to 137 students. This is excellent news and the University Executive Board (UEB) has decided to focus the availability of these awards to our own graduating students. The details of the scheme will be published shortly.
  • UEB felt that the best way to ensure that the scheme opportunities are understood by students was for the academic community, particularly personal tutors and course leaders, to personally discuss this one-off opportunity with potential candidates from among our final year cohort.
  • On 8 January 2015, I visited HMS Warrior and met with the Chief Executive and Captain. This was a very useful meeting where it became clear that there are many possible areas of collaboration that we can pursue, and a genuine desire to build a closer relationship. There will now be a number of follow-up meetings with staff across faculties who have the potential to benefit from such collaboration.
  • On that same evening, I was pleased to see a strong turnout of staff from across the University to formally say farewell to Rebecca Bunting and to wish her well in her new role as Vice-Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University. It was good to recognise Rebecca’s significant contribution to the University’s success over the years, but just as important to celebrate her achievement in being promoted into her new role. We all wish her every success for the future.
  • On 15 January, I was pleased to be invited to a private lunch in the naval base. This event was hosted by the First Sea Lord Admiral Zambellas and was focused around the support of university technical colleges (UTCs) by the Royal Navy, and in particular their commitment to the Portsmouth bid. The lunch was attended by very senior members of the Royal Navy, the Baker Dearing Trust, including Lord Baker himself, and representatives from other universities who are involved in UTCs with the Royal Navy. While we do not know as yet the outcome of our bid, the expectation is for an announcement within a matter of weeks.
  • I am sure that you are aware that the main UCAS deadline for applications to study at university was reached on 15 January. We have seen some very unusual applicant behaviour this year, with a surge of applications to study at the University received a matter of days before this deadline. For the first time in a number of years our application numbers have fallen slightly, being overall down 7 per cent on last year, but remaining 5 per cent above the number of applications the year before. Of course the key issue is converting applications to confirmed offers, and the importance of our Departmental and Faculty open events being held over the next few months cannot be overstated. It is vital that these events are an excellent experience for potential students as it is the impact of these visits which determine decisions to choose us as their preferred university. I know that preparations are now in hand, but I cannot emphasise enough the importance of us working together to secure a strong student cohort for next year.
  • It was useful on 20 January to have the opportunity to visit Southampton Solent University and meet their new Vice-Chancellor, Graham Baldwin. I was particularly impressed with their ‘Solent Creatives’ initiative and their maritime testing facilities including composite fabrication activity, as well as the plans for their new building due to open next year. There are clearly many opportunities to collaborate, with our shared interests in the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and the regional growth agenda areas; I think working together could bring many benefits.
  • I enjoyed very much my first visit to the Queen Alexandra Hospital on 22 January to meet with Sir Ian Carruthers, who is the Chair of Portsmouth Hospitals Trust, former CEO of South West Strategic Health Authority and also the Chancellor of the University of the West of England. It was a very positive and wide ranging discussion and I sense a real determination to find ways of developing a longer term partnership with the university, which can deliver increased success for both the Trust and for the University of Portsmouth. We already work closely with the Hospital but there are opportunities for growing the scale of our joint activities. We will meet again at the start of the summer, by which time we will have had a chance to consider the possibilities and the practicalities of making them happen.
  • Sparsholt College is one of our most important partners in the delivery of franchise programmes and it was good to be able to visit them for the first time last month. I was accompanied by Paul Hayes, and it was clear to us both that our relationship is very strong, and growing both in quality and volume of activity. It was good to share our own strategic ambitions with them and to hear their future aspirations. The Principal, Tim Jackson, is committed to our partnership, and our discussions identified a number of opportunities for our relationship to grow significantly over the coming years.
  • You will have been aware that following an extensive external search process for a new Dean of the Faculty of Science, we interviewed four candidates just before the Christmas break. Unfortunately, we were not able to make a successful appointment at that stage, and therefore continued the external search, particularly focussing on candidates who initially expressed interest but did not follow up with a formal application. Two potential candidates for shortlist emerged, which led to a final interview process on the 23 January. As you will have seen from the all-staff email sent recently, I am delighted to be able to report that Professor Tara Dean has been confirmed as our new Dean of the Faculty of Science. It is particularly pleasing that, in the end, we secured an internal appointment for this crucial role for the University.
  • Tara has officially taken up duties as of the 1 February, with David Franklin remaining until the 31 March as an Assistant Dean to support Tara’s transition into her new role. We all look forward to supporting Tara and welcoming her on to the University Executive Board.
  • It was only with one weeks’ notice that I realised that my invite to a Royal Navy Burns Supper on Friday the 23 January involved me delivering ‘The Immortal Memory’ to Robert Burns. This is a very formal part of the proceedings, and I have to say is a speech I have never before prepared or delivered. I am glad to say that in the end the evening was great fun, and I am sure the volume of food and drink contributed a great deal to the guests’ appreciation of my efforts! It was a great honour to have been asked to do this and is a powerful statement of the growing relationship between the Royal Navy and the University.
  • I was very pleased to present a session on ‘understanding the University context for change’ to the latest cohort taking the staff development programme ‘Supporting Positive Change’. These kinds of development programmes are so important in helping support us with taking the institution forward through high quality leadership.
  • I had the pleasure of attending the launch at Westminster of the new strategy for the University of the West of Scotland. It was a very interesting event and there is no doubt that many universities are adopting some radical ideas. The press coverage of the event focused on the proposal that the University will give full refunds to any student who fails to successfully graduate. Certainly a bold idea, but I am not sure it was one that the Finance Director was too pleased about! What was clear, however, is the determination of many universities to drive hard on improving National Student Survey (NSS) results and employability, with NSS overall targets of 95% satisfaction being considered attainable. The competition among universities is clearly growing and what was a real surprise was the drive by many of the Russell Group universities to improve learning and teaching in their institutions.
  • The value of such events is of course meeting with others and I will be following up on a number of opportunities which emerged.
  • The launch of the Forensic Innovation Centre (FIC) took place on 29 January, and was attended by many senior staff from Hampshire Constabulary, including the Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and the Chief Constable of Hampshire. This was an excellent celebration, not only of the launch of the FIC itself, but also the partnership development between the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies and the Hampshire Constabulary, which spans 20 years. The FIC is the latest but most exciting in a range of joint ventures between us and the Hampshire Constabulary, and will provide a range of possibilities for student and staff engagement with practice, and in joint research and development activities.
  • The interviews for the Director of Corporate Governance took place over 29 and 30 January. This role will replace the current role of Sally Hartley as University Secretary/Clerk to the Board of Governors. Following a search led by a recruitment agency, we interviewed three strong candidates. The interview panel have selected a very talented and experienced candidate for appointment, and when this decision has been ratified by the Board of Governors, an announcement will be made.
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Thank you for this very interesting report. I was particularly interested in your comments on QA , FIC, HMS Warrior and the Navy

    At the risk of getting my head blown off:
    As you may know we are in initial discussions about developing a small project developing visual materials for training surgeons and that we are also developing links with FIC in the area of visualization. We have also been working with the MOD in the area of visualization. Whilst these projects are working fine individually, I was wondering if from your elevated vantage point you would consider that there is a benefit in developing a more holistic approach to these areas?


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