Every time I look at a newspaper at the moment I seem to alight on article explaining, with limited originality, what a bad, traumatic, catastrophic or just plain difficult year 2016 has been. Well it depends on your point of view but while the last calendar year has undoubtedly had its ups and downs for us as a university, we’ve ended on some high notes.
Just a few days ago we received the very welcome news that planning permission for our Centre for Student Life has been granted. This is a very significant strategic project that will not only create more of a campus feel for the University, but will bring together almost all our student services under one roof. It will be a one-stop-shop for student support and will enable us to work even more closely with the Students’ Union, which will have its own highly visible and accessible entrance. A new large lecture theatre will give us the capacity to hold public events and there will be a range of facilities that respond to student needs. It’s worth remembering that when I arrived as vice-chancellor in 2012 I asked the Students’ Union to conduct a survey of their members to let us know where they would like our investments to go: the Centre for Student Life arose directly from that process, so I am confident that we’ll be providing the kinds of facilities that are needed. The new building is scheduled to open in 2019 but the project also involves an overhaul of our web-based support for students, so the benefits should start flowing earlier than that.
I was also delighted to see that we have won a £10m grant for the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to create a manufacturing hub for compound semiconductors. Cardiff will lead the project with University College London, the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield as academic partners, plus a range of industrial partners including of course our main collaborator, IQE. This is a significant success for our compound semiconductor strategy and congratulations are due to the Principal Investigator Professor Peter Smowton and the whole team that was involved. The EPSRC Manufacturing Hub in Future Compound Semiconductors will play a critical role in the development of new technologies such as 5G networks and self-driving cars, and I’m very grateful to the EPSRC for the confidence they have shown in us.
More generally the future is looking brighter than it did earlier in the year. The outcome of the Diamond Review of student support and university funding allows us to be optimistic about the future sustainability of the sector in Wales, and in many ways will create a system of financial support for students that is as progressive as any in the world, and certainly has advantages that the other UK nations do not. Where England has abolished maintenance grants, in Wales everybody will receive some level of non-repayable support, and those who need it most will receive a grant indexed to the living wage. Just as importantly, Welsh universities will be funded to provide the education our students deserve and the research that the country needs. Again this will be a gradual process of change over a number of years but the Welsh Government deserves huge credit for taking a strategic, socially just and far-sighted view of the higher education needs of this country, and one which, over time, will help move Wales towards the head of the pack.
Closer to home, huge congratulations are due to Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, who has been appointed Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University. She will be a great loss to Cardiff where she has served with distinction as deputy first to David Grant, then to me since my appointment, but the benefit to Aberystwyth will be enormous and I know that Elizabeth will do an excellent job. We are lucky to be keeping her in Wales and on behalf of the whole University I would like to offer her my best wishes for her future role when she takes up office in April.
It only remains for me to thank you all for your hard work and commitment in difficult times. I should like to wish everybody a merry Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year, not forgetting those staff who will be maintaining the security, IT and other university processes over the vacation. The work you do is much appreciated and a special thank you is due on behalf of us all.