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VC Bulletin – 5 June 2015

  • Vice-Chancellor Graham Galbraith

    Vice-Chancellor Graham Galbraith

    The main focus of May was undoubtedly the General Election and the impact this will have on higher education (HE). I think everyone was surprised by the outcome, not least the myriad of pollsters who got their predictions wrong. The next few months, and in particular the planned emergency budget, will give an indication of what challenges the HE sector is likely to experience in the face of further significant reductions in public spending.

  • The University Alliance arranged a post-election briefing dinner for Vice-Chancellors on the evening of 14 May to engage in early discussions and reflect on the new political landscape and possible implications, and to map out a strategy for engaging with the new Government. Particular areas of discussion included student number control and funding, further education and apprenticeships, and our approach to the comprehensive spending review (CSR). Alliance universities support many of the stated government priorities, in particular our contribution to skills and the strength of the UK economy. However, we do need to provide the evidence that we are an efficient and effective sector as there still remains the view that we have avoided the reductions in cost that have been imposed on other areas of public service.
  • We were pleased to learn that Jo Johnson MP has been given the HE brief as Minister of State for Universities and Science. He has a significant amount of international experience including studying in Europe and in the past has favoured international students being outside immigration targets. When he was appointed, his father was very supportive in stating that he was surprised by his sons appointment, as he knows nothing about science! You can always rely on a father’s support! His boss, the Secretary of State for Business and Innovation, Sajid Javid, is also likely to be a good advocate of universities and science, although he will be tough on spending. There was some relief that HE has been retained in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and not moved to the Department for Education, which was always a possibility.
  • A large proportion of the discussions were around the health programmes commissioned by Health Education England (HEE). Alliance universities are the predominant providers, and the national contract negotiations are at a difficult phase with it being likely that we will experience a price reduction over the next five years. The initial positioning by HEE was for a 4 per cent reduction in price to match the reduction in health funding. With shortages now being experienced in key health professionals, another possible outcome is a demand for more graduates but for the same total price. This is a challenging area and I will keep you informed of the outcome.
  • There was some uncertainty as to whether there would be a new Minister for Portsmouth and whether that role would continue, but I was pleased to learn that Mark Francois MP has been appointed to this position in the new Government. This is great news for the city and will hopefully assist us in bringing together the interests of the Royal Navy, the city, businesses, the Government and the University in tackling issues of common interest.
  • On 15 May the discussions continued at the Universities UK (UUK) Members’ Meeting with a theme of ‘Post General Election: what now for higher education?’. There was little new to report, although the UUK campaign for the UK to remain in the EU was launched. Discussions after the main meeting within the Longer Term Strategy Network were very worthwhile. The focus of these discussions was on the impact of technology in education and the way in which learning is changing, and yet in general it was concluded that universities are not capitalising on the potential. The role of digital learning, the challenge that this presents for staff development and the opportunities for distance learning including, into developing countries, were explored. The demographic challenges over the next few years were also discussed and the need for us to reach out to new markets including continued professional development (CPD) and lifelong learning where there will be opportunities for business-based corporate degrees and part-time study. The key will be flexibility and harnessing technology to provide this in an effective manner.
  • As we develop our own education strategy it will be important for us to stretch our thinking by considering how we as a University can embrace some of the many opportunities that digital learning will provide for us and for our students, which I think does present some exciting possibilities.
  • It was good to see that this month the University hosted two large conferences. The first was the annual HE Advisers Conference on 1 May, providing an opportunity to showcase our facilities and the support we offer students. The event was very well attended by careers advisers from across the local area, and I was delighted to be invited to join the networking lunch and meet with the advisers.  This excellent showcase for the University is extremely well organised by our Education Liaison and Outreach Team and I am grateful to all the staff involved who make this such a successful event. The work that is done in organising such events is vital to ensure that the education we offer here at Portsmouth is fully understood and remains a popular choice for school and college leavers.
  • There is no doubt that the lifting of the cap on student numbers is creating a very competitive environment for student recruitment, and everything we can do to improve our popularity is important. This year, recruitment will be a challenge, even with us setting reduced intake targets, and we will need to do all that we can during the A level results period to convert applicants, including during clearing. Your support with this will be much appreciated.
  • The second conference, the HEURO Annual Conference, took place on 14 and 15 May in Eldon Building and once again was very well organised with great contribution from our Erasmus team in the International Office. HEURO is the Association of UK Higher Education European Officers which is a voluntary organisation in the UK set up to provide a platform for discussion and promotion of all aspects of European issues in the context of UK higher and further education mobility. I was very pleased to be invited to provide the welcome speech at the conference, especially since internationalisation and enhancing the student experience through placements and study abroad exchanges are key elements of our new vision and strategy. It was particularly interesting timing since during the conference it was confirmed that by 2017 the UK will be voting on continued EU membership. It is clear that this group will have a role to play in explaining the advantages of EU membership in the context of student and staff mobility.
    illustration eldon show

    Illustration by Bo Sun Lam

  • Another large event in the University this month has been the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries (CCI) Showcase 15 which is the annual graduate show for CCI students to exhibit their work and is a key event in the academic and cultural calendar for the University and the city. The feedback I have received on this event has been outstanding both from colleagues within the University and from external visitors, not least Flick Drummond, the newly elected MP for Portsmouth South, who mentioned the show in her maiden speech in Parliament. My congratulations to all those involved.
  • On 8 May a senior team from the Military Technological College (MTC) in Oman visited the University to meet with staff and tour our engineering facilities, laboratories and the University Library. I was pleased to be able to meet with them on the second day of their visit when we discussed progress on our partnership with MTC and the opportunities for strengthening our relationship. We debated the future possibility of dual degree awards from the College, and such discussions will continue with a plan for considering this possibility developed over the next 12 months.
  • I have had the pleasure of introducing two inaugural lectures this month. Firstly I was delighted to introduce the inaugural lecture by Professor Rob Crittenden on 13 May. Rob, Professor of Cosmology, delivered a very interesting lecture on the secret to understanding the beginning of the universe, entitled ‘First Light: the cosmic microwave background’, and the important part his research has played in developing our knowledge in this field.
  • Professor Graham Mills presented his inaugural lecture on 20 May. Graham is a professor of environmental analytical chemistry and he delivered a very entertaining lecture entitled ‘From slug pellets to Fukushima’. He described not only his development of a range of novel water monitoring devices, but did so in the context of his own journey to success. These lectures are always excellent occasions and I am very grateful for the fabulous turn out not only by staff but also the wider community.
    Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith and Vice-Admiral Duncan Potts signing the agreement

    Vice-Chancellor Professor Graham Galbraith and Vice-Admiral Duncan Potts signing the agreement

  • I am always encouraged to see the strength of our links with the Royal Navy growing, so was delighted on the 18 May to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Defence for the prestigious Defence Technical Undergraduate Scheme. This scheme sponsors trainee officer students onto a variety of engineering and technology programmes, principally in the Faculty of Technology. A high level team of naval personnel visited the University for a tour of the campus and to participate in the signing ceremony.
  • The annual Mayor Making celebrations took place in Portsmouth Guildhall on 19 May and I was invited to attend the celebration lunch. Our new Lord Mayor is Councillor Frank Jonas who has experience in this role, this being his second term of office having been elected previously in 2012. He accepted the role as the expected incumbent, the previous Deputy Mayor, unfortunately lost his seat in the recent council elections. The joys of elections!
  • On 21 May all University Executive Board (UEB) members attended a workshop with Architecture PLB, the consultants working with us on our estates master plan. It was a very useful and worthwhile morning of discussions in which the whole team was challenged in our thinking. It was clear that they have already done important data gathering as background to their work and will add real value in stretching our thinking and ambitions for the future. They will now meet individually with UEB members and then arrange to see key student and staff groups to engage the wider community in the process. It was clear that close working with the city will be crucial and they will at the same time begin discussion with the city planners. We all felt very encouraged by this early meeting and have high expectations for the plans that will emerge over the next 12 to 18 months.
  • I am pleased that the University strategy is now nearing completion and I would encourage engagement in particular with the key measures of success that have been recently included. Your input, fed through department and faculty meetings and through key University committees, is much appreciated and we hope to submit the final plan to the July Board of Governors for final approval.
    Dr Jen Gupta

    Dr Jen Gupta at the ceremony

  • I do not often mention particular staff achievements in my bulletin but I do want to acknowledge the success of Dr Jen Gupta from the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, who this month was ‘Highly Commended’ in the Asian Women of Achievement Awards under the category of ‘Young Achiever’. Well done Jen, you are a credit to the University!
  • Finally I cannot end without commenting on the success of the University in the UK league tables published this month. It makes me very proud to see the University of Portsmouth rise four places from 63rd to 59th in the Complete University Guide, and to rise to become a top 50 University in The Guardian league table, reaching 49th place – a rise of six places from last year. Well done to the whole University community for this great result. We now await with some anticipation the publication of the National Student Survey (NSS) and Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) results, which will feed into The Times and Sunday Times league table published in September.

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