Vice-Chancellor news

Professor Dylan Jones, Ukraine, Alzheimer’s research

Dear colleague

This month we received the very sad news of the passing of Professor Dylan Jones, former Head of the School of Psychology and inaugural Pro Vice-Chancellor of the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences. It was very much Dylan’s vision and drive that made the College what it is today, and in many ways the same could be said of the School of Psychology. Dylan was a wonderful colleague and a great support for me in my early years at Cardiff, as well as being an erudite and highly amusing friend. Some of you will know him as an outstanding researcher, and indeed he retained his post part-time as an active researcher after giving up his various offices. I know I speak on behalf of all past and present members of University Executive Board when I say that our hearts go out to Dylan’s family, friends and colleagues, and we will miss him very much indeed.

You will be aware that Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues to reveal new horrors daily, and I want to update you with more details on the support measures we are taking. As I have said before, we want to support individuals who are affected, both staff and students, as well as universities. Our long-standing work with the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) continues via their Researchers at Risk Fellowships, which are being organised in association with the UK National Academies. We are making a further donation to support this work, subsequent to the donation we made earlier this academic year. In addition we are sharing with CARA the list of projects that Cardiff academics have prepared under the Science for Ukraine banner, to support their work in matching academics with suitable vacancies in UK institutions.

So far as students are concerned, I am pleased to announce that we will be offering ten undergraduate and ten postgraduate scholarships for Ukrainian applicants for the academic year 2022-23. Details will be available in due course, but these will cover fees and a stipend for each student. In parallel we will be reviewing our current asylum seeker scholarship scheme to ensure that it is both robust and flexible enough to support those displaced by conflict across the globe.

We have expressed our interest in twinning with a Ukrainian university, to support them in rebuilding their infrastructure and their academic capacity. Professor Steve Riley, Dean of the School of Medicine, has also confirmed that we are willing to support a Ukrainian medical school as part of the same scheme. We hope to have confirmation of our new partners shortly and will be asking staff to support us in working with Ukrainian colleagues. Cardiff is also part of a scheme alongside other universities in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand, to offer open access to library stocks for Ukrainian institutions.

The Universities and Colleges Union has announced that both strike action and action short of a strike are planned for the 40 branches — including Cardiff — that have a mandate as a result of the recent ballot. Further information is likely to be forthcoming on 12 May. We will be considering how best to respond and protect the interests of our students once the details are clearer. The action so far announced is in relation to last year’s pay claim, the outcome of which you have been receiving since August 2021, rather than in relation to the present position, on which negotiations are in process.

In other news, Professor Julie Williams of the School of Medicine has for some years now been conducting research to identify genes associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Julie’s colleague Dr Rebecca Sims co-leads the Cardiff part in this major international study which has identified a further 42 genes that play a role, taking the total now to 75. Alzheimer’s is a complex condition that is difficult to diagnose before it is quite advanced, and this approach of assessing risk based on the genetic make-up of individuals will be an important tool in early identification and intervention, as well as helping the understanding of the mechanisms that underlie the disease and finding therapies to treat it. The work of the Dementia Research Institute — led by Professor Julie Williams — is making huge progress in helping to tackle this scourge and it’s great to see this tangible evidence of how Cardiff University is contributing to our collective international understanding of it.

Some years ago the long-standing partnership between Cardiff University and Beijing Normal University marked a significant milestone by establishing a dual degree programme in Modern Chinese. The programme was and is aimed at students who wish to become proficient in Chinese language and culture and, crucially, spend two years in China studying at Beijing Normal University as part of their programme, leading to a dual award. We all know how common it is for students from China to study here with us and with other universities across the UK and the world. What is less common is for students from outside China — and especially from Europe — to study there. This trailblazing programme has now led to the first cohort of graduates achieving dual degree success. This is a huge and significant achievement not just for the students concerned — all of whom I heartily congratulate — but more widely for Wales and the UK. It is vital that intercultural exchange is precisely that; a two-way process which will create the skills needed here for a fully fledged cultural, social and economic relationship between our countries. Dr Xuan Wang in the School of Modern Languages continues to do outstanding work in leading on this innovative programme for Cardiff and I am sure we will see continued success into the future, headwinds such as COVID-19 notwithstanding.

I have talked before about the Caer Heritage Project, an outstanding civic mission initiative that has resulted in a very close and continuing relationship between the School of History, Archaeology and Religion (SHARE) at Cardiff University and the communities of Caerau and Ely, where the iron-age Caerau Hillfort is to be found. That project has had a very impressive outcome in the form of a new Community Heritage Centre funded by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant. Now the initiative is being expanded under the banner of CAER Connected to work collaboratively with groups working in similar way with communities near hillforts in Penparcau, Ceredigion and Oswestry, Shropshire. This is a very exciting development and testament to the way in which the energy and commitment of Cardiff colleagues — and in this case, Dr Oliver Davis of the School of History, Archaeology and Religion — can have a profound, lasting and extensive impact in a way that combines civic mission with research, aligning our key strategies and demonstrating why, in the face of relentless anti-university coverage in some sections of the press, what we do really makes a difference.

Normally in this email I tend to review key events of the month, but on this occasion it is worth looking forward to the second week of May, when the results of the Research Excellence Framework 2021 come out. We will receive our results on Monday 9 May and will immediately begin our analyses. On the Tuesday we will get the results across the sector so we can carry out comparisons before the whole set is published on Thursday 12 May. I need hardly say how momentous this occasion is in our part of the sector, and I will be reflecting on the outcome in my next email.

Finally, and rather relevantly, I am delighted to be able to welcome Professor Roger Whitaker as our new Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Enterprise. Roger will take up his role on 1 June, which gives a good opportunity for hand-over from in the meantime. Many congratulations to Roger, who I know will do an excellent job, and I very much look forward to our working together on UEB.

With best wishes

Colin Riordan

Vice Chancellor