I’d like to start with an update on the matter I reported on last month concerning the cuts to the Horizon 2020 Programme proposed by the new European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker. The proposed reduction is now €2.7bn, with European Research Council funding suffering by €221m. I write this on the Eurostar returning from leading a lobbying delegation to Brussels on behalf of UUK, and I’m glad to say that we received a sympathetic hearing in influential quarters. It would be too much to expect that this cut will be reversed – although along with university representatives from other EU countries we have argued that strongly – but we do need to make it clear that there must be no repeat. Two pieces of good news: the ERC calls already announced for 2014 and 2015 will not be affected, and Cardiff has done well in terms of Horizon 2020 grant-winning so far. We have been successful with 26 projects ranging across all the three pillars of Excellent Science, Industrial Leadership and Societal Challenges, with our successful bids totalling almost £13m. This is great news and a tribute to all those colleagues who have worked so hard to secure the projects.
Still on the research theme, the University Executive Board recently approved the establishment of three new University Research Institutes (URIs): Crime and Security, Systems Immunity and Energy Systems. The four existing URIs were also renewed: the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI), the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute and Sustainable Places. The aim of the URIs, which are developed by the academic community, is to bring strategic co-ordination to our efforts to address global challenges facing humanity or on using particular approaches such as cancer stem cell or catalysis research to focus on such challenges. We have already scored some spectacular successes: the Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute has had its Medical Research Council Centre renewed and has a great track-record in grant-winning, while the Cardiff Catalysis Institute has entered a partnership with the Fritz Haber Institute of the highly prestigious Max Planck Society to develop energy-related research using catalysis. This makes Cardiff a part of the MaxNet network on energy which is not only academically of the highest quality, but also high profile in terms of our reputation. This is real evidence of international research success on the part of Professor Graham Hutchings and his team in the CCI and a feather in the cap for Cardiff.
In establishing the new URIs it was helpful to have the results of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) to hand. In fact, the results served to confirm the thinking we had done beforehand, and as I’ve said before it was gratifying to see such good performances across the board and in all three Colleges. The challenge now is to maintain that very high quality but broaden the base. We entered 738 people for the REF this time; on the next occasion we will want considerably more involved; perhaps over 1200, though we will need to do more work to see what is realistic. As you will be aware, a number of colleagues could not be included this time for strategic reasons, while others are on a clear trajectory for inclusion, so there is a good basis. Any performance issues will need to be addressed and we will want to be making the kinds of appointments that allow us to expand our base whilst maintaining the highest quality and continuing to focus on outstanding impact. REF is not the only dimension to a successful research strategy for 2020 of course, and we need to take whatever reasonable measures are necessary to increase our research income by the 10% per annum set out in The Way Forward. We need a renewed strategic focus on postgraduate research students too; Professor Hywel Thomas (Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Enterprise) has been working on this and other matters as part of a post-REF renewal of our research strategy and will be giving more detail in the coming weeks.
On another matter, you will be aware that on May 7 a General Election is to be held. I will say more about that, and the political issues facing the university sector, in my email next month or perhaps in April. In the meantime we are working closely with the Students’ Union to encourage students to register to vote. They can no longer be registered en bloc if they live in a student residence; instead they must go online at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and have their National Insurance number to hand. The process itself is very brief and uncomplicated. Details of how to find a lost or forgotten NI number can be found here. This has nothing to do with persuading students to vote in a particular way of course; it is merely a matter of encouraging them to register so that they can exercise their democratic right if and as they see fit.
Finally, on behalf of the University may I congratulate Professor Sally Holland of the School of Social Sciences on her appointment as Children’s Commissioner for Wales. This extremely important role in representing the interests of children and young people, now standard across the UK, was first introduced in Wales and carries much responsibility. I’m delighted for Sally, who is an excellent appointment and a credit to Cardiff University.
With best wishes