Vice-Chancellor news

Vice-Chancellor’s October all-staff email

Dear colleague

I read the other day that the Queen has started tweeting. I don’t tweet myself so can claim no expertise on the subject but have to confess that I struggle slightly with the idea of our monarch jabbing away on her phone about the latest state visit or whatever. Having said that, I’m not so out of touch as not to realise that the Queen won’t really do her own tweeting; this is an initiative by the Palace communications office and that’s perfectly reasonable. The monarchy has always adapted to social and technological change, and tweeting is just the latest phase.

What made me think of this is that we are launching a University Executive Board blog, which you can see here.  The idea is that colleagues can see all the different activities that Board members undertake and get some insights into how things are working. Unlike in the case of this email, however, which I write myself every month, most of the blog entries that come out under my name will be drafted for me. I will review and if necessary edit them, and occasionally I will write entries myself. I think this is fairly normal practice and I will still have editorial control, but it’s important to me to be clear about these matters. At any rate I hope you enjoy the blog – which will feature entries from a range of UEB members – and find it useful.

Earlier this month I attended and spoke at an event that I regard as one of the highlights of the year: the international scholars’ reception. I met students from all over the world; the US, Ghana, China, South Africa and India are just some of the countries that spring to mind. The students I met were extremely articulate, bright, engaged and inspiring. It reminded me – though I don’t need reminding – that the diversity of our student intake is one of the things that makes us strong and successful. At the moment more than a quarter of our students originate from beyond these islands; indeed the proportion rises to just over half for our postgraduate taught students. That’s a good thing; we’re a university and we need to recruit the best and brightest students with the potential to succeed wherever they are to be found, whether in the Welsh valleys or on another continent. UUK research shows quite clearly that a majority of people in this country welcome international students and recognise that they come to this country to study, perhaps to work for a period if they are able to, and then return to their home country with a great set of skills, education and experience. One of the surprises of the party conference season this year was seeing that even UKIP would remove students from the net migration target. It seems we have broad agreement for the arguments we have been making as a sector on student visas and I’m hopeful that we might see some movement on this after the general election.

October has been a big month for launches. We launched the Cardiff Innovation System in the Hadyn Ellis Building, the five flagship engagement projects in the Senedd, and the GW4 Alliance in the House of Commons. All were very well attended and attracted favourable comment. For a range of reasons it’s important not only that we do innovation, engagement and collaboration but that we’re seen to be doing so. I realise of course that we have been undertaking these kinds of projects for years but now we’re taking a conscious, strategic approach that will inform investment decisions and be very visible externally. All this will help us improve our own position and have a beneficial effect on the health, prosperity and well-being of people in Wales and beyond.

Before closing I want to say a few words about the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the proposed changes to which affect a large number of colleagues in the University and which is the subject of planned industrial action by the Universities and College Union (UCU). The first point is that the issues are extremely complex and are being negotiated at a national level rather than by individual universities. The proposal from UUK agreed by the USS Group of the Employers Pensions Forum is out for consultation and can only be agreed by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), which has representatives from both the employers and the UCU. Any proposal from that body will need to be agreed by the USS Trustees and the Pensions Regulator and will be subject to a formal consultation with all USS members. Subject to negotiations, any changes would be unlikely to come into effect until April 2016 at the earliest. So this is a long process that will involve protracted negotiation. It’s important to be aware, however, that if the parties concerned cannot produce a solution to the scheme deficit that satisfies the Pensions Regulator, a solution might be imposed that could be less attractive to members than either party might wish, so it is in all our interests to reach agreement.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan

Vice-Chancellor