VC Bulletin – 30 March 2015

  • Students' Union president Grant Clarke, Chancellor Sandi Toksvig, Sandi's guest, human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy QC, and Vice-Chancellor Graham Galbraith

    Students’ Union president Grant Clarke, Chancellor Sandi Toksvig, Sandi’s guest, human rights lawyer Helena Kennedy QC, and Vice-Chancellor Graham Galbraith

    As I write this month’s bulletin I am reflecting on how good the city looks when bathed in sunshine and the feeling that spring has eventually arrived, with all that this evokes around new starts, new beginnings and new opportunities and challenges.

  • It is in some ways a new start for the University Alliance, of which we are members, with a new Chief Executive, Maddalaine Ansell, and a view that we need as an organisation to be clearer on our purpose and what we stand for. It was good therefore to welcome Maddalaine to the University on 2 March, along with Sam Jones, Head of Communications for the Alliance. They met with Pal Ahluwalia to talk about research, and met with senior colleagues and me over lunch. They were also taken on a whistle stop tour of selected areas from each Faculty. They were very impressed with what they saw and with the enthusiasm and commitment of all the staff and students that they met, which was very encouraging, especially considering they have done similar visits around other Alliance universities. Maddalaine wrote to thank me for the visit, advising that it had given them several memorable examples of the University that they could use when in conversation with ministers and stakeholders.
  • This visit was followed up on 12 March when I attended the University Alliance (UA) Members’ meeting in London. Discussions took place around the key strands of UA work in preparing for the first post-election comprehensive spending review, with a focus on areas of strength for UA universities with the aim of demonstrating the specific role we play in supporting UK wide competitiveness. The core of the meeting was, however, the formal debate around the future direction of UA, informed by some excellent work produced beforehand as context to the discussions. It was interesting to see some of the debates we had during Shaping our Future revisited and it was clear to me that the direction of travel of UA now very firmly matches with our own aspirations for the University of Portsmouth. More work is needed, but a clearer statement of the purpose and intentions of UA will be launched over the coming months.
  • And of course we are now approaching the general election and all the change that this will herald for our sector. It was with real interest that I attended on 2 March the 2015 Election Hustings for Higher Education in London. This event, in the form of a panel discussion, was organised by Times Higher Education, Higher Education Policy Institute, the Open University and Universities UK, and chaired by Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, Chancellor of the Open University. The audience consisted of senior leaders from the higher education (HE) sector, as well as students, policymakers and journalists. It was an event that I was really looking forward to, with the three main political parties outlining and debating their vision for HE.
  • I must confess to being totally underwhelmed and disappointed by the evening and it was clear that whatever happens there are going to be some real issues for the sector given the lack of clear political vision for HE. In many ways it is what is not said about HE that is the concern in that each party is trying to avoid the pitfalls of being too specific after the Liberal Democrats promises of the past, but there was little sense of how we will be supported as a world class resource for the UK. I think as a sector we have underestimated the importance of having an HE minister like David Willetts who really cared about the sector and was interested in finding innovative ways of securing an appropriately funded future. If you are interested there is a video of the event.
  • Having as a University agreed our high level mission, vision and values, we of course now need to translate these statements into a formal strategy document and start to prepare our delivery plans and key performance indicators of success. On 3 March we used the annual Governors’ Spring Seminar to begin that next stage of filling out our strategy, with a focus in the afternoon on our research and innovation strategy. There were a mixture of presentations and group discussions and the whole Executive Board was present to help host discussion groups and to provide the context that is so valuable for governors when considering such issues.
  • It was a very successful event and I think has provided the Executive Board with the direction necessary to produce, by September, our new strategy for formal launch, along with greater clarity on the central role that research and innovation will play in securing our future success.
  • Giving the introduction to the Athena SWAN Conference held on 4 March was not a new experience, but it did signal a new beginning as the first such conference since successfully achieving the Bronze Award for the University. The conference was a sell-out and very successful, with the theme this year focusing on how we as an institution can build success in our Athena SWAN action plan through inspirational leadership. There was an excellent array of external speakers including Jane Duncan, President elect of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the RIBA Equality and Diversity Champion, and also Andrew Miller MP who is Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee for Science and Technology.
  • It was encouraging to see a number of men at the event, but we do need to get the message out that such events are equally important for men and women. For me, the whole issue of how we encourage positively female members of staff to engage, for example, in promotion opportunities, is of vital importance as we have a lot of work to do in ensuring that we benefit from good gender balance in our leadership at all levels.
  • Minister for Portsmouth Matthew Hancock

    Minister for Portsmouth Matthew Hancock

    On the evening of Friday 6 March we had a brief visit from the Minister for Portsmouth, Matthew Hancock MP, where he met some of those involved in the Portsmouth bid for a University Technical College (UTC), including colleagues from Portsmouth City Council, the Royal Navy, BAE Systems, QinetiQ and Admiral Lord Nelson School. The Minister took the opportunity to try out the current Formula Student car and I hope to encourage him to visit the University again for a full tour of the campus where we can demonstrate to him the range of our facilities and our many areas of excellence.

  • This visit by the Minister was the first time he had been to the University and was a precursor and photo opportunity in preparation for the exciting announcement on 11 March of our success in the bid for the University Technical College Portsmouth. This is excellent news for the city and for the many young people it will benefit, and represents a new opportunity for the city. The hard work now begins in creating UTC Portsmouth from scratch and developing the curriculum for the first cohort of students.
  • I was very pleased to visit for the first time our annual Festival of Culture and I must say it provided a welcome break from the normal daily business and really lifted my spirits. The stalls and activities were brilliant and the students engaging and great fun – an excellent reminder of the amazing students we have. I am grateful to the International Office and various student societies for enabling these kinds of events which allow our vibrant and talented international student community to share with pride their cultures and backgrounds. I was particularly pleased to see a British stall present for the first time which demonstrated clearly that this is an event for everyone at the University. I was so pleased that our Chancellor, Sandi Toksvig, managed to attend and see the high level of engagement of our international students.
  • Sandi had been at the University the whole day enjoying lots of activities with students. It was a pleasure to have lunch with her, the Chair and Deputy Chair of Governors and our new Dean of Science, Professor Tara Dean. It was during that lunch that I realised that if I am not to shame myself completely I need to find a way of starting some running practice in preparation for the University charity run Sandi is leading in September! I hope it will be a well-attended event so please keep 26 September free, but don’t worry – most of the Executive Board will be walking the 5km rather than running!
  • Another first for the Students’ Union was the General Election debate on Friday 13 March involving the five main candidates for Portsmouth South, which they arranged in partnership with the Political Union. This event was very well organised and I was most impressed by the chairing of Grant Clarke, President of the Students’ Union, assisted by Siân Brooke, President of the Political Union. It was an excellent idea for the Union to host this debate and our students’ participation was outstanding.
  • The whole event was a credit to the Students’ Union, with the conduct of the discussions fair, good humoured and professional. The students were highly articulate in the discussions and I noticed that BBC South News featured some of the student-recorded footage which led to the Conservative candidate having to defend comments on live TV. Our students recording and posting of the live debate on Youtube, along with the live tweeting, all added much interest to the event.
  • Sandi Toksvig in conversation with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC at the second Chancellor’s dinner, in the city’s Guildhall

    Sandi Toksvig in conversation with Baroness Helena Kennedy QC at the second Chancellor’s dinner, in the city’s Guildhall

    On Saturday 14 March our very hard working Chancellor, Sandi Toksvig, was back at the University to host her annual Chancellor’s Dinner. This year her special guest was Baroness Helena Kennedy QC who was an inspirational speaker and, with Sandi, created a truly memorable evening for over 300 guests including current and former students and VIPs from across the city. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and I must say it exceeded even last year in presenting the University and our Chancellor at our very best.

  • On Sunday 15 March my family and I attended the UPSU Varsity Day where Portsmouth teams competed against the University of Southampton in a range of sports. The day was extremely well organised and it was good to see so many of our students participating in and supporting the various sporting events. I was very proud of the University and our students and, while it was a shame that the final result was not in our favour, we were excellent hosts and demonstrated great sportsmanship throughout. Maybe next year a victory! It was fantastic to see all of the pitches at HMS Temeraire being simultaneously used for sports fixtures and we were very grateful to the Royal Navy for making them available for this competition.
  • I attended a Vice-Chancellor’s Reception at Buckingham Palace on 16 March hosted by HRH the Duke of York. The purpose of the event was to raise our awareness of the Duke of York’s work in inspiring young people to develop skills to enable them to become economically active, encouraging a culture of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.
  • His Royal Highness concentrated on three core areas: Education and Skills; Entrepreneurship; and Science, Technology and Engineering. He has developed several initiatives, including Pitch@Palace, which aims to amplify and accelerate the work of entrepreneurs and for which there is an invitation for students to get involved. It was not clear at the conclusion what expectations and opportunities there were for engagement, but it is possible that there will be a follow up in the future.
  • I was invited to attend a Students’ Activities Council meeting on 18 March where I was able to talk about our mission, vision and values and take questions. There were a range of questions covering diverse topics with some areas of concern identified which I will be following up. As always there was not enough time and it struck me that I would benefit from attending more such events, but with the focus being on the opportunity for open questions. I did feel exhausted afterwards and had some insight into how politicians must feel when faced with questions covering a huge range of topics with the expectation that they will have all the answers!
  • 19 March saw me attending my first quarterly Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Regional Council meeting since I was elected as a member. This was held in Reigate with discussions around the general election and what this will mean for business; Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) objectives; key performance indicators and delivery mechanisms and also the challenges around building the high skills pipeline which is of increasing concern to employers. Our profile in CBI is increasing and it is clear that over time engagement with them and their members is likely to open up opportunities which will provide mutual benefit.
  • I returned from Reigate in time to attend on the same evening the University of Portsmouth Enterprise Challenge. This was very encouraging and, as I said on the night, if it was a pitch for support from the Executive Board for our enterprising students, it was an excellent attempt! What an amazing array of business start-ups are emerging from our students and it was so encouraging to see staff receiving awards for supporting students in enterprise activities. This will now be an annual event and there is no doubt that amongst these start-ups are ideas which will not only succeed but have an important social or economic impact.
  • I am sure like me you are now looking forward to a few days off and I would like to end this bulletin by wishing colleagues a well-deserved, relaxing and enjoyable Easter.

 

 

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