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VC Bulletin – 7 May 2015

  • Vice-Chancellor Graham Galbraith

    Vice-Chancellor Graham Galbraith

    As I write this bulletin, I feel a sense of uncertainty as we await the outcome of the General Election. What is clear is that whatever the result, our sector will be facing as yet unknown challenges in relation to funding and in the importance that Higher Education and Science will play in any new government’s priorities.

  • It was therefore good to have positive provisional results from this year’s Strategic and Financial Planning process at the University Executive Board meetings last month. These outcomes are still subject to Board of Governors approval and have been determined in the context of a potential claw back of funds at the latter part of next year, which the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has signalled as a possibility. I am very pleased to see that a large number of the Investment Proposals (IPs) have been approved, which is certainly not the case in many universities. The Executive Planning Group (EPG) has completed this mammoth task effectively and efficiently – I am very grateful to them for their hard work and to you for your active participation in the process.
  • More information on the decisions made will be disseminated through faculty executives and heads of professional services in the coming weeks, and eventually made available to all staff on the internal webpages.
  • Of course, achieving our budget for next year still requires successful student recruitment, but I sense that there is strong determination among colleagues to achieve our set targets, it being important to avoid complacency within such a competitive market for students.
  • Towards the end of last month, I was very pleased to be invited as a civic guest to attend a reception on board USS Theodore Roosevelt when it visited Portsmouth. In addition to being a great personal experience, it was also an opportunity to catch up not only with the Royal Navy personnel involved in the University Technical College (UTC) but also to continue discussions on the ways in which collaboration between the Royal Navy, the City and the University can continue to grow.There is now a strong sense that the University is being perceived as ‘open for business’ and receptive to collaborative ideas and projects, which is very encouraging.
  • This year’s Stargazing Live event on 24 March in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was a powerful example of collaborative outreach in which we use our expertise to support our city. I am pleased to say that despite the weather, it was an outstanding success with the tickets sold out. I was given a guided tour by Bob Nichol, Director of our Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation (ICG) and I was immensely proud of our staff, students and colleagues from the Hampshire Astronomical Group who supported the event with great passion and enthusiasm. Despite early rain, the skies did clear as darkness fell, which was a great relief to all of us!
  • I was so impressed with the range of activities and particularly the engagement of our students and staff, including Karen Masters from ICG. I learnt that Karen was involved as the ‘astronomical consultant’ in the design of ‘Lottie the doll’, who will help inspire the next generation of female scientists and budding astrophysicists. I have to admit that the first thing I did the next day was to order a Stargazer Lottie doll, which now proudly watches over me in my office!
  • On 25 March the Board of Governors met and it was good to welcome our new External Governors Frances Morris-Jones, Margaret Scott and Brian Sellwood to their first meeting of the Board, and also to welcome the new Students’ Union President Elect, Nick Johnson. Among many items on the agenda was approval of the appointment of our estates master plan consultants, Architecture PLB, who are based in Winchester.
  • Immediately following the Board, I was delighted to give the introduction to Professor Sara Holmes’ inaugural lecture on ‘Policy, Practice and Power: Creating a Dental Academy’.  Sara gave a thought provoking and well-illustrated talk on how the development of the Dental Academy has informed and influenced the education and training of the dental team, and it struck me just how innovative and brave the University was in establishing the Dental Academy. It was clear that we have demonstrated many times our ability to be creative and agile in what we do, and that we can be confident as a University to develop new areas and be prepared to challenge conventional educational practice.
  • It was good to be invited by the Finance Department to attend their staff meeting on 26 March to discuss the next steps in developing our strategy. While I am sure it was useful for the Department to hear my thoughts, I can certainly say listening first-hand to their challenges and the ways in which they are responding made the meeting really useful for me. I do find these opportunities so valuable in keeping me connected with your views and as such I enjoy attending local meetings whenever possible.
  • On 27 March, I was very pleased to open the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society conference at the Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) in Eastney. It was good to see such an excellent attendance and in particular the high level of research student participation. Events like this taking place around the University are vital in raising our profile by showcasing our work, creating a sense of community around our research and education, and providing great networking opportunities for staff and students.
  • Our activities in this field are clearly of great importance for the University and I was rather ashamed to admit that this was my first visit to our IMS facilities. I very much appreciated the guided tour which helped provide me with an understanding of the quality of the work undertaken within some facilities which I am sure could benefit from future University investment. Investment in this site has been under consideration for a number of years and, considering the quality of work and potential for the future, I am sure that a good business case can now be presented.
  • Halls resident assistant Blessing Adedokun, Jenny Shaw, Chair of Unite Foundation, and University of Portsmouth Vice Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith and   resident assistant Kenya Martin

    Halls resident assistant Blessing Adedokun, Jenny Shaw, Chair of Unite Foundation, and University of Portsmouth Vice Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith and resident assistant Kenya Martin

    We have, as I am sure you are aware, been working in partnership with Unite to provide student housing for many years. It was therefore fitting that on 1 April I signed an agreement with the Unite Foundation on behalf of the University in which they will provide financial help for care leavers who find it difficult to access higher education. These scholarships will be available from September 2015 and will strengthen our existing bursaries and reiterate the University’s commitment to providing access to education for students of all backgrounds.

  • The scholarships will involve five new free places in Unite halls over each of the next three years for the full duration of the studies of qualifying students, and will also include some additional subsistence funds. In steady state, Unite will be supporting around 15 free halls places, which is a significant support package. We are very grateful to the Unite Foundation for helping our students in this way.
  • The Health Education Wessex Board meeting on 14 April was very interesting and to an extent a little concerning, particularly the discussion around the future needs for nurses and the reported estimated shortfall of GPs in the south of around 500 over the next five years. There was a general feeling that a radical rethink of nurse and GP training and service delivery may be needed, with some innovative approaches required on both programme structures and funding, if a potential future skills crisis is to be avoided.
  • On 21 April I was fortunate to be invited to a University Alliance (UA) dinner, with a small number of Vice-Chancellors, to meet Martin Donnelly​ (Permanent Secretary) and Philippa Lloyd​ (Director General for Higher Education),​ the new key civil servants in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) responsible for the Higher Education and Science portfolios. It is a steep learning curve for individuals who do not know the sector well, with the risk that they may not understand what our universities contribute, their knowledge being potentially based on their own personal experience of HE, which may be neither current nor representative of our type of institution. It is important to communicate clearly the strength and depth of our universities and their importance to the BIS agenda. This is particularly the case ahead of a new government being elected and the setting of a new Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) covering funding for the next five years.
  • It was clear from the discussions, that while there is a strong recognition of the excellent work we do and our importance to the success of the UK, their view was that the sector was well funded and that we should expect greater financial constraints in the future, whatever government is in power. The issue of justifying clearly why funding such as Student Opportunity Funding (SOF) and Higher Education Innovation Funding (HEIF) is important, with clarity on what we do with the money to leverage success was emphasised. There is a strong feeling by all political parties that this money may be best invested elsewhere in government. It was also made clear that the Quality-related Research (QR) funding allocated this year should be considered subject to review when a new government is in place. There was discussion around the importance of links between Further Education and Higher Education and the need for growth in the full range of skills, including at level 4 and 5, with advanced apprenticeships likely to be expanded in the future.
  • In that respect, I am pleased to report that the University, led by Paul Hayes and Catherine Harper, has been successful in our bid to be a provider of Higher Apprenticeships. The final award value and details from the Skills Funding Agency for Higher Apprenticeships has yet to be confirmed, although our original bid was for 100 apprenticeships over three years.
  • I attended an educationalist lunch hosted by Portsmouth High School on 22 April which was held at Spitbank Fort. It was my first experience of visiting one of these forts in the Solent, and I have to say it is impressive. It is difficult to imagine that the first use of this fort was as a nightclub aimed at students, and frankly, if my experience of getting on and off was anything to go by, I am not surprised that this original venture was not a success, at the very least due to the health and safety challenges!
  • This turned out to be another good networking opportunity with our City Leaders, the Royal Navy and others, and it was very interesting to hear strong endorsement of the University from the Ben Ainslie Foundation, including our positive engagement with the Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team. This is another good example of the willingness of colleagues to engage externally and to embrace opportunities such as the BAR team being based here in Portsmouth.
  • For me the highlight of the month was on 23 April when we had such a positive Heads’ Away Day. Over 70 Heads, both from academic and professional services, Associate Deans, Faculty Managers and the majority of UEB members were in attendance. The day was well organised by Bernie Topham with a great deal of assistance from her PA, Nadia Stroud, from Peter Brook, and the Management and Staff Development team led by Emma Loten.
  • The event was expertly facilitated by Paul Gentle and Rosemary Stamp from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) and provided a very worthwhile forum for discussion and sharing of views on the development of the University. The criticality of senior managers in the delivery of strategy was clear as was the importance of their insight when developing our plans and setting measures of success, including realistic but ambitious targets. The general consensus was that we simply do not set aside enough time for such discussions and so we plan to repeat the event at least annually.
  • It was agreed at the close of the day that dissemination of our conclusions would be directly through team briefing by attendees to their reports (rather than by email!) and that the further refined strategic plan document would be circulated to all staff with an opportunity for some final contributions on Key Performance Indicators in particular. More details will follow in due course.
  • On the Friday of that week I had a really enjoyable time seeing first-hand the fantastic work of our engineering students. I was so pleased to have been invited to their Projects Open Day and it was good not only to see such high quality and potentially high impact ideas and artefacts created by our students, but also to feel the positive atmosphere created by the significant number of external visitors. There was a huge number and variety of ideas on display, some of which I am sure have commercial potential. This was one of the most impressive shows of its type I have seen and is a testament to the hard work of the academic and support staff who are facilitating such a volume of high quality project activity.
  • This month, of course, covers a period towards the end of the teaching year with many celebration events organised by the Students’ Union, including the Athletics Union Dinner, the Student Led Teaching Awards, the Activities Awards and the Volunteering Awards.
  • I was very proud to be able attend the Student Led Teaching Awards where staff are nominated and voted for by students in a number of categories including Best Personal Tutor, Best Feedback, Most Innovative Teacher, Outstanding Professional Services Staff, Outstanding Learner Support, Postgraduate Choice, Apex Award and Overall Impact. It was inspiring to see the same names appearing for several of the categories and also to see that some of those nominated were also nominees or winners last year. There can be no better accolade for staff in the University than being voted by students for excellent teaching or support. I am sure you will join me in congratulating all those nominated for these awards and the subsequent winners. My table for the evening included the Deans, and the competitive spirit was certainly active between faculties! Tara Dean was certainly smiling, with Science scooping 10 of the total of 24 awards available. I was pleased to see staff from all faculties receiving awards, as well as from a number of support departments, and of course some of our students and alumni for their engagement in our APEX programme that supports the development of academic staff as educators.
  • volunteer awards

    Waqar Yonas, Laura Porcza and Kieran Milton receive their awards from Professor Graham Galbraith

    I also attended the Volunteering Awards which was another great night of celebration, with talented performances by our students (the Show Choir and Bhangra Society) making the evening very memorable. It was a real honour to be asked to hand out the Outstanding and Special Recognition Awards at the close of the evening. I was pleased to see the awards reported in the local press, as the work our students carry out for our community is just outstanding. I was so impressed, not only by the excellent arrangements and hosting for the event itself, but also by the fact that around 5,500 students took part in volunteering activities last year. The range of contribution is so varied, from supporting reading in schools to mentoring for Barnado’s. It is at events like this that you realise how impressive our students are and the very positive impact they have on our city.

  • It is also the time of year when we reach the conclusion of the Destination of Leavers in Higher Education (DLHE) survey on student employability and the National Student Survey (NSS). It is always difficult to secure an adequate response to both surveys but I am pleased to report that thanks to the hard work of staff across the University, but in particular Purple Door and the Department of Curriculum and Quality Enhancement (DCQE), both surveys have concluded with the required response rates achieved overall.
  • For the DLHE we submitted by the required date of 7 May and will not hear our result until June when we will have information on our own data, but crucially we will not be able to compare our performance until the full release of data in July.
  • For the NSS we managed to achieve an improved response rate overall, with 72.2% of eligible students completing the survey against 68.4% last year, compared to a 71% average across all UK universities. We will not know the outcome until August, but again I want to thank everyone involved for achieving this level of response.
  • These are very important surveys as they both feed directly into the UK university league tables which are becoming increasingly important in affirming the relative standing of universities and in driving student choice.
  • Over the 29 and 30 April I visited Dublin to attend the Times Higher Education’s (THE) Young Universities Summit. This two-day event was dedicated to the academic leadership of higher education institutions under 50 years of age, and considered how young universities can compete in a fast-paced global market. As well as providing excellent networking opportunities, the summit also addressed a number of key industry issues, including the funding and leadership challenges faced by newer universities, niche research strategy, and the pursuit of excellence and brand distinctiveness.
  • I was pleased to be present to hear Pal Ahluwalia deliver the lead presentation as the stimulus for a panel debate on distinctiveness and branding in a competitive global market. Pal outlined the issues in a way that stimulated good debate, while at the same time presenting our own University success effectively.
  • While we always need to be wary of putting too much emphasis on league tables, I have to say that the highlight of the two-day event was the unveiling of the 2015 THE 100 Under 50 Rankings, especially as the University of Portsmouth was ranked 85th in the world for the first time ever. This was announced by Phil Baty, Editor of THE, who also gave a masterclass on results analysis, case studies of excellence and unpicked the methodology for these rankings. I am very pleased that the University of Portsmouth is now recognised as part of the modern global elite of universities – universities that are bold not old, universities which are catalysts for change and which have a strong sense of energy, flexibility and dynamism.
  • Alongside our recent rise from 63rd to 59th in the Complete University Guide earlier this month, this is an important endorsement of the rising success of the University and means that we should be confident that we are part of something at Portsmouth which is among the best in the world.
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Whatever the election results, keep on talking to those civil servants, and stop HE money being syphoned off to other areas.

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