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Vice-Chancellor news

Vice-Chancellor’s all-staff email – June 2016

30 June 2016
Colin Riordan

Dear colleague

We find ourselves in the United Kingdom in a position of turbulence and uncertainty that many of us have not experienced in our lifetimes. The turbulence is political and financial, and is likely to have increasing negative effects on the real economy, although it is to be hoped that eventually we will emerge into renewed stability and even greater prosperity, as some have promised us. All of this disruption was predictable and indeed widely predicted. However, there are other effects — social and emotional — which were less expected and it is those to which I would like to turn my attention initially in this email.

Firstly, we must do whatever we can to counter the threats to social cohesion that have arisen in recent days. You will be aware that across the country there have been incidents of racial abuse and potential hate crime. Let us please be absolutely resolved that we will tolerate nothing of the sort on our campus, in the course of any of our activities or in our communities. It is our duty to create a level of social pressure that makes anybody who feels emboldened to behave in this way recognise that racism or intolerance is unacceptable in our society and indeed can be a criminal offence. We should protect and build on the reputation of Wales as a friendly and welcoming country, and reassure everybody that Cardiff University remains a tolerant, diverse, friendly and welcoming university.

We must of course acknowledge that there were and are strong feelings on both sides of the debate. Many Leave voters feel liberated and energised by a result that they may not have believed possible, and are happy that at last they have been able to make their voice heard and their strongly held views count. People on the Remain side speak of feelings of bereavement as millions face being stripped of their European citizenship against their will. Citizens of other EU countries who live in the UK report feelings of betrayal and alienation. Across the spectrum many people are fearful of what an uncertain future might hold. In these circumstances it is extremely important to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Clearly, we don’t want to feel as if we must censor ourselves, walk on eggshells or descend into wary seriousness. Gallows humour has its place, but let’s please be extra careful to take account of how other colleagues or students might be feeling about the circumstances in which we now find ourselves and ensure that Cardiff University plays a leading role, by example, in helping to heal the divisions that have emerged.

Secondly, it is critical that we stay engaged with the European Union and continue to develop the partnerships and collaborations that we are working on. I was delighted last Friday to receive an email of support from Professor Rik Torfs and Professor Danny Pieters, Rektor and Vice-Rektor of KU Leuven, assuring me of their desire for continued co-operation whatever the processes that now ensue.  They say: ‘The new political reality emerging from yesterday’s referendum may confront us with new obstacles; together with you, we are ready to overcome all possible new challenges.’ In that spirit I ask all academic colleagues to continue with their plans for research applications, to continue to foster Erasmus networks and to proceed with any other plans they may have had for European collaboration. We are still in the European Union and it will be months before we have any detail on what exit might mean. Years will pass before any decisive change happens. So there is much to play for: above all, we must not make inevitable the loss of collaborative networks and all the other benefits to research, teaching and student and staff exchange that the EU gives us. Time spent on making European applications and fostering European relationships is not time wasted. We are working hard with the government and the Commission to ensure that there is a level playing field for the UK until definitive rule changes happen. Please also report any suggestions by European partners that the UK should be removed from consortia or demoted in importance. Such moves are entirely unnecessary at this stage and we will be doing all we can to resist them, including using your powers of persuasion.

In a similar vein, we were very pleased to see that the announcement that EU undergraduate applicants who are hoping to come and study with us in September will still have access to all the financial support they were expecting, for the duration of their course. It is important to assure any applicants that this is the case, and reassure existing students that all commitments will be honoured for the duration of their programme. International students, too, may have the perception that there is change so far as they are concerned. The message is that all remains as it was for international students and will do so into the future. Cardiff is a highly internationalised global university and we will continue to welcome students and staff from all over the world.

Thirdly, there is a more insidious and unexpected byproduct of the referendum campaign. In order to counter the weight of expert evidence on the Remain side, Leave campaigners asked the public to ignore the experts and disregard the preponderance of evidence showing that leaving the EU would have a net negative effect on the UK. There is little point now in revisiting the evidence itself; the potential problem we face is that the public may be less inclined to trust the expertise that is available in universities. Even beyond this effect, there are lots of reasons why the public may have lost trust in a perceived elite. There is a big challenge to us to make sure that if this is the case, we remedy the matter and we will, over time, need to devote attention to it.

Please be assured that although I normally only send this email once a month, I will keep you updated if there are significant developments affecting higher education. Most of the critical matters are of national and international importance of course, and will be very widely reported; I will do my best to interpret the effects for us as necessary and to ensure that you are kept informed through all the channels at our disposal.

Before I finish for this month, let’s remember that life goes on. All the normal business of the University will continue; graduation, admissions, the new term, research, learning and teaching, outreach and all the myriad activities that we engage in. And we will continue to have successes, as we have in June. The opening of CUBRIC by the Her Majesty the Queen was a high point, and we scored a royal double through the award of a highly prestigious Regius Professorship to the School of Chemistry. The title of Regius Professor will be given to Professor Graham Hutchings, the director of the Cardiff Catalysis Institute (CCI), whom I should like to congratulate on this rare honour. I was delighted to see that Professor Karen Holford, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, has been named in the inaugural list of the Top 50 Women in Engineering. Many congratulations to Karen for this well-deserved distinction. Sincere congratulations also to my predecessor Sir David Grant, who was knighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. This award reflects both his work for science and technology and his distinguished service for Cardiff and is a matter of great pride for the University. I was delighted that the Academia Europaea awarded the 2016 Erasmus Medal to Astronomer Royal Lord Martin Rees at their annual meeting and conference in Cardiff, and can testify that the lecture Lord Rees delivered to mark the occasion was not only accessible and fascinating, but highly appropriate given the recent remarkable successes of our Gravitational Waves group. Cardiff hosts one of the four Academia Europaea European Knowledge Hubs, and will help play a key role in facilitating the new Scientific Advice Mechanism for the European Commission. Finally, and by happy coincidence, Cardiff University has been ranked 45th in Europe and 8th in the UK in a new Thomson Reuters ranking of Europe’s 100 most innovative universities. This is a very welcome recognition of the success of our innovation system and an excellent reminder of the importance of working closely with our friends and colleagues in Europe.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan