You may have seen a recent article in Times Higher Education in which Mr Rob Behrens, chief executive of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, is quoted as saying that the excessive drinking culture at universities is leading to ‘laddish behaviour on campus, which has been linked to a number of cases of sexual harassment and assault’. This has given rise, he said, to cases where students who have faced alleged harassment do not know where to get advice and support. As it happens, I initiated a project some months ago to deal with a broad set of issues of which ‘lad culture’ is only one aspect; namely relationship abuse and domestic violence. Mr Ben Lewis, Director of the Student Support and Wellbeing Division, has been working with the Ministry of Justice and the South Wales Police Commissioner to introduce a University policy and commitment to support students who find themselves in an abusive relationship, whether in terms of psychological abuse or physical violence. Sometimes the signs can be hard to spot, and it is difficult for victims to know what options are open to them, so part of the issue relates to awareness-raising and staff training. I should add that a project to support staff who are victims of this kind of abuse is in development.
These initiatives take place against the background of the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act recently introduced by the Welsh Government, which in due course will allow the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales or ministers directly to issue guidance to governing bodies in relation to the provisions of the Act. Our approach is to be proactive and is not directly prompted by the legislation, but it certainly makes sense to act within the spirit of this new legislative framework. Moreover, it seems to me that we have an opportunity here to make a difference as a university. Despite our relatively poor record on things like equal pay (I’m talking about the sector here, not just Cardiff), universities ought to be able to lead the way on social reform and be beacons for progressive values of equality, diversity and sustainability. We believe the Cardiff scheme will be a first for the sector, so we can play a leading role as we did, for example, with Living Wage accreditation. Projects of this nature work best when done in partnership, so apart from the collaborators mentioned above, and of course the Students’ Union, we are working with third sector organizations including Atal Y Fro, Women’s Aid and Safer Wales. As well as awareness-raising to help students and staff spot the symptoms of relationship abuse, we will be introducing a University-wide referral system so that a member of staff who is worried about someone will be able to make a report, and students will know where to turn for help. To quote the University Executive Board paper which agreed the project, we intend to ‘create University wide tools, both at an institutional and organisational level to respond to the prospect of, and actual, domestic violence and abuse, honour based violence, stalking, sexual assault and peer group abuse’. In addition, we will ‘develop materials, processes and pathways tailored to a HE setting. This in itself will be innovative for the sector, however, we will also develop an upstream approach of awareness raising and campaigning to change organisational culture and challenge “wilful blindness”’.
I am not only personally supportive of this project but I initiated it myself. I believe strongly that everybody has the right to go about their lives free of intimidation, bullying and violence. Sadly, gender-based abuse and other forms of bullying are more common than we would perhaps like to believe, especially the more pernicious forms of psychological abuse. I hope that we as a University can do something to change that.
Indeed one of the most rewarding parts of working in a university is having the capacity to influence and change the world for the better. That capacity has been encapsulated in the word ‘impact’, which has now become such a central part of the Research Excellence Framework, but the notion of universities as a force for social good has existed for much longer. I was heartened, for example, to see that Professor Kevin Morgan, Dean of Engagement, recently published a Senedd paper on obesity which not only demonstrated the debilitating social and economic effects of the epidemic, but proposed practical approaches for the Welsh Government to consider. In the Institute for Welsh Affairs Senedd paper, which is entitled Good Food for All, Professor Morgan proposes that the Welsh Government should work together with relevant agencies and supportive businesses to ‘counter the formidable power of the junk food industry, which is the primary source of our obesogenic environment’. Personally I believe that supporting people to make the necessary behavioural changes means making systemic changes to the way that food is produced, perceived and presented, which is something only Government can do, and that it can only do by combining legislative change with partnership working. The University’s role is to be the intellectual engine for change (as with the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act, which was inspired by Professor Emma Renold of the School of Social Sciences), and to model the right kinds of behaviour where possible. Innovation is about more than new technologies, it’s about shaping society and the economy for the challenges of the future, and the ticking time-bomb of obesity is certainly one of those.
In a similar vein we recently commissioned a report from Viewforth Consulting to assess, for the first time, the impact of Cardiff University has on the local and wider Welsh economy. The report shows that the economic benefits of the University are felt not just in Cardiff but in all parts of Wales. Amongst other things it points out that the University attracts 12,045 students to Wales from other parts of the UK and 6,605 students to Wales from outside the UK. Overall, Cardiff University generates 13,355 jobs, which is equivalent to nearly 1% of all 2013 Welsh employment. We generate a total of £168M in export earnings annually, and our output amounts to £456M with a knock-on effect of an additional £613M in other industries throughout the UK, the majority (£458M) being in Wales. Non-EU students alone generate £94M of output to the Welsh economy. Cardiff University is responsible for £696M of Wales’s Gross Value Added (GVA; a measure of economic contribution), which is equivalent to 1.34% of all 2013 Wales GVA. This is, I believe, a record to be proud of and shows the importance of Cardiff University to the future prospects of Wales.
It’s critical that we succeed in league tables, in REF and in all the other measures that are commonly used to assess the performance of universities. But in the end, we must remember that in essence universities are projects in social, economic and cultural improvement, and it’s great to know that we are doing our bit.
With best wishes