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Vice-Chancellor news

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

25 July 2016
Colin Riordan

Dear colleague

One of the most noteworthy pieces of news in a month of extraordinary events was the appointment of the new Foreign Secretary. I refer of course to the appointment of our own Professor Richard Catlow of the School of Chemistry as the Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society. There could be no better time for Professor Catlow to be accorded the distinction of being elected to this important role, which dates back to 1723. The Royal Society has immense international standing and influence as the voice of British science, and I know that Richard will be a wise, well-informed and sensible representative of the research community as the UK negotiates its new position in the world. I should like to congratulate him warmly on behalf of the University and wish him well in his important new capacity.

In the meantime we have a new Prime Minister and indeed a more thoroughgoing change of government than anybody could have expected (although very few things that have happened in recent weeks have been expected). It is certainly helpful that we do not have the originally anticipated months of uncertainty before the formation of a new government following the resignation of the previous Prime Minister. There are two main aspects to this worth noting. Firstly, it means that the UK can move more quickly to establishing government policy on exit from the EU. Neither University interests nor the national interest will be served by a long period in which we are not clear what the future holds and on what terms we will be able to carry out research, recruit and teach students from Europe and so on. The sooner we have clarification on matters such as the ability of European students applying for the academic year 2017-18 to access loans on present terms the better, and it will be hugely helpful to understand the direction of travel the UK government will be taking in terms of the negotiations generally.

More specifically, we have had a reorganisation of Whitehall such that the education element of English universities will now come under the auspices of the Department for Education (Secretary of State Justine Greening) while research matters relating to all UK universities including ours will be the responsibility of Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. In a welcome sign of continuity, the Minister for Universities and Science remains Jo Johnson, who will now report to two cabinet ministers (Ms Greening and Mr Clark) and work with officials across the two departments. The big area of uncertainty will be the general approach of the new government to universities and research. The previous Chancellor George Osborne was very supportive of research, accepting as he did the important role that higher education, science and research more generally play in stimulating economic growth and encouraging innovation. I would hope that his successor Philip Hammond takes a similar view, and await with interest any indication of the approach that we can expect from the new Prime Minister Theresa May. As Home Secretary Mrs May was frequently at loggerheads with universities over the visa regime for international students, and it may require some work to establish the relationship on a new footing. My view is that as we exit the EU, international students and through them our relationships with important global allies in Europe and beyond will be more critical than ever. This is in fact the point that the new UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has repeatedly made and I hope we can see that as a good sign.

Closer to home we had another excellent Graduation week this year. We have continued to make adjustments to the way the ceremonies work and I feel that they now flow very well and that there is a good mix of the ceremonial and the informal. The ceremonies were shorter and the look and feel of St David’s Hall and environs more consistent with Cardiff University branding. As you know Graduation is a huge operation; taken together, our graduands and their guests numbered some 24000 people, with another 20000 watching events via the web stream. The organisational demands are immense and I would like to say a big thank you to our presenters, to all those who worked hard on the very successful School events, to the Students’ Union and the myriad colleagues in the Professional Services, especially Catering, Portering, Registry, IT, Development and Alumni and, not least, Communications and Marketing, all of whom work so well together to make this highlight in our calendar the success that it is.

Finally, it is a great pleasure to be able to welcome Professor Laura McAllister CBE to the University. Laura will be joining the Wales Governance Centre, moving from her present position as Professor of Governance at the University of Liverpool. Laura is both hugely academically distinguished and very active in public life and as an Honorary Fellow already has good links with us. Her expertise will prove invaluable not only within the University but more generally in Wales and beyond as we grapple with the consequences of Brexit and its implications for devolution.

Normally I don’t send an email in August; I may do this year if I feel there is particular news that might have implications for the University. Otherwise I will be in contact as usual at the end of September. In the meantime I do hope you manage a restful and well-deserved break at some time over the summer. I’m very aware of the pressures on everybody and extremely grateful for all your efforts; our various successes continue to arouse external attention and it’s great to see the progress we are making recognized.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan