As I write the news is dominated by the United States travel ban, the immediate political aims of which are clear enough (fulfilling a campaign pledge) though it seems unlikely that the practical ramifications, unintended effects, longer-term political consequences or the broader moral implications have been sufficiently considered, if at all. The human consequences so far reported range from the inconvenient to the devastating, and the departure from accepted international conventions is deeply worrying. So far as Cardiff University is concerned we will ensure that we support any of our own staff and students who might be affected, and of course we’ll need to consider the wider implications as the policy plays out. It’s clear that we now live in a less stable, less predictable world in which rapid and dramatic change could be effected at almost any time, and we will need to be prepared to react quickly and flexibly.
You will be aware that the Prime Minister made a speech earlier this month which for the first time gave some indication of the approach the government is likely to take to UK exit from the EU. It is notable that Mrs May made it clear that the British government would like to see an agreement on the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU as soon as possible and it is very much to be hoped that this can be achieved. There have been some worrying signs that the Home Office has been at the very least insensitive in response to attempts by citizens of other EU countries (including university employees) to secure their position in the UK after exit, and we, along with other universities, will be seeking clarification. We have obtained legal advice on how best to support our staff and will be holding guidance sessions and offering specific support in due course.
Much has been made of the fact that in her speech, Mrs May left the door open to the possibility of not reaching a negotiated deal before the expiry of the two-year negotiating period that will follow the triggering of article 50. This would be the hardest of hard Brexits, and it must surely be clear both to the European Commission and the 27 other member states that such an outcome would be in nobody’s interest. It would not help other EU countries to face a chaotic position where the UK is out of the EU but no arrangements have been made to deal with the myriad ways in which our laws and regulations interlock, or with the fiscal and security arrangements that are presently dealt with at European level. It certainly would not be in the interests of the UK, as the Prime Minister’s speech makes very clear. Why then even posit this option as a possibility? It seems reasonable to assume that the government does not wish to embark on negotiations that it is not prepared, in effect, to walk away from if the emerging deal is sufficiently unsatisfactory. The overwhelming sentiment of the speech, however, is to affirm the government’s commitment to securing a settlement that will be good for all concerned. Personally, I believe that it is counter-productive for our European partners and the Commission to assert that Britain must have a worse deal than continued membership would bring. That kind of approach is exactly what has alienated people from the EU in the first place. It’s actually in everybody’s interests to seek the best possible outcome for all parties and I hope sense will prevail on that matter.
So far as UK universities are concerned, the approach is broadly to say that we would like to remain part of European funding mechanisms and staff and student exchange programmes, but we must be prepared to scrutinise carefully the conditions attached to such continued access. We need to recognise that we would be asking the UK government to pay very large sums of money to the European Commission in order to allow continued participation, but we would not have the influence that we have hitherto enjoyed. There is also a real possibility that our continued participation will be impossible because of other factors in the negotiation, such as the UK withdrawal from free movement. That being the case, it will be important to consider what the alternatives might be, and much work needs to be done on those questions.
Meanwhile you may remember that I mentioned in November we had scored some notable successes in research funding from the European Commission. The data from the first quarter of the academic year show a very encouraging trend: by 31 December awards from this source stood at £5.4m, the highest level in the past four years. Applications in the same period stood at £52m, more than 25% above the next highest figure in the four-year period. It’s important that we continue to participate fully while we remain members of the EU so I’m delighted to see that across the University colleagues are taking advantage of the opportunities that are still available, and demonstrating our commitment to working with partners across the continent.
Another consequence of the EU referendum result is that we now have a green paper from the government on industrial strategy. A green paper is essentially a consultation document and, listening to Greg Clark at an event recently (Mr Clark is the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), I think it is clear that the government is looking for ideas for investment. The idea is not to pick industrial winners but to support particular sectors and also to create the kind of innovation infrastructure that will give UK industry a competitive advantage. There is also a clear emphasis on supporting economic development outside London. There may well be opportunities for us to work with business and we will be exploring those possibilities in the coming months.
Closer to home you will be aware that work is starting on the new buildings on the Innovation Campus at Maindy Road and on the Centre for Student Life. These are very big projects costing tens of millions of pounds, and are part of an overarching academic and financial strategy that stretches over years. The University’s turnover has now surpassed half a billion pounds but nevertheless we face some challenging times ahead. I won’t go into the details here, but if you’re interested in our overall financial position you can find out more on the intranet.
Finally, earlier this month Professor Dylan Jones announced that he will be stepping down from his role as Pro Vice-Chancellor for the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences this summer. Dylan has been a joy to work with and has done a superb job for the University and for his College. He has maintained an active research career throughout his time as Head of School and then PVC, and deserves the opportunity to ‘spend more time with his data’, as he characteristically put it. I am delighted that we will continue to benefit from his research excellence and wish him all the very best in that endeavour. We will search for his replacement as PVC without delay and I would hope to have somebody in post by the beginning of the next academic year.
With best wishes