I’m writing this on my journey back from leading a Cardiff University delegation to Leuven in Belgium, during the course of which I signed an agreement with my counterpart at KU Leuven, Professor Rik Torfs, establishing our two universities in a key strategic partnership. We received an extremely warm welcome, our visit coinciding with the start of the new academic year, which Leuven, in common with other Belgian universities, marks with a traditional ceremony including a procession in full academic dress in which our delegation took part. You may be aware that the international strand of The Way Forward document envisages two key strategic university partnerships; Leuven, founded in 1425 and a highly regarded, research-intensive, comprehensive university, is the first of these. As the leading university in Flanders but operating within the larger state entity of Belgium, Leuven (like Cardiff) has to contend with complex and sometimes sensitive issues of language, identity and devolved government. There are many areas of complementarity and I was both delighted and gratified at the positive response to our original approach. I’m sure that this partnership will add multiple dimensions to our international activity more generally and specifically in Europe; not least in terms of engaging with Horizon 2020. We will be wanting to encourage very broad-based co-operation, further details of which will be available in the coming months.
On a similar theme I am very pleased to say that we have now appointed a Pro Vice-Chancellor for International and Europe. Professor Nora de Leeuw, who is a distinguished chemist, joins us from University College London and will be starting on 1 January 2015. Nora will be a member of University Executive Board and will be accountable for matters relating to our international activities, particularly in terms of partnerships and funding applications. This will include overseeing our academic activity in Europe. There are big opportunities in Horizon 2020, the Newton Fund and other similar initiatives and I’m very much looking forward to working with Nora on these matters.
One of the aims of our international strategy is to improve our profile and global visibility. This is worthwhile in itself in terms of reputation and attracting the highest quality staff and students from around the world. But it will also help us to achieve our overall aim of breaking back into the QS World top 100. We’re making good progress on this, having climbed a further 13 places to 123rd in the 2014/15 table, which means we have improved by 20 places in the past two years. We also went up six places in the Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide, where we are now placed 27th. With all the usual caveats about league tables, this is very good news for Cardiff and an encouraging sign for the future. I was also very pleased to see that we received top marks from Stonewall for our support for LGBT+ students (the only university in Wales and one of only six in the UK to do so), and we successfully renewed our accreditation with Investors in People (the only university in the Russell Group to have this status for the whole institution). It was also great to see that we gained institutional Athena SWAN bronze status for our commitment to women in science.
You may remember that earlier this year we introduced the Living Wage at Cardiff University. Since then colleagues have been working very hard to gain accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation and I’m very pleased to say that this has now happened. As an accredited Living Wage Employer, Cardiff University commits to paying everyone working here, regardless of whether they are employees or third-party contractors and suppliers, a minimum hourly wage of £7.65, which is significantly higher than the national minimum wage of £6.50 (effective from 1 October). In practice we have already been doing much of this but the public commitment sends, I think, an important signal, and may encourage other employers to do likewise.
Generally I feel things are going well – though nothing is ever perfect – and I’m optimistic about the prospects for Cardiff as we begin the new academic year. We will complete our estates master planning exercise towards the end of this term and will begin making some big investments. I hope you will soon begin to notice improvements to the existing fabric of the University too. We also have the REF result to look forward to in December, so this does promise to be an exciting year.
With best wishes