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December 7, 2006

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» The Graduate Employment Debate

The University recently hosted a dinner with Richard Lambert the new Director-General of the CBI, and CBI members from the Valleys economic community. Many of these “Valley members” were chief executives of manufacturing and service organisations and were particularly concerned about the use of the term “graduate employment”. They were pointing out that in factories and call centres, they had need of highly trained graduates in engineering, science, I.T and business in order to compete in their particular markets. They were concerned that many graduates would be “put-off” applying for these posts because they may not be perceived as “graduate jobs” or “graduate employment”.

So, who decides whether one job is deemed “graduate employment”, but another not? The CBI? The Welsh or UK Governments? A panel of “experts”? or representatives of Skills Councils? None of these. No, the sole arbiter is “The Times”. Interestingly, graduate employment data feeds the Times’ league tables and, unsurprisingly, does not include those jobs that the CBI Valleys industrialists were attempting to attract graduates into.

The data for The Times is collected from each HEI via HESA and although HESA do not report on it, it is provided to The Times – presumably under contract. I sit on the HESA Board and I shall register my concern, re. HESA’s complicity in this matter.

I need no further evidence than to read our own internal Graduate Destination Report. I quote “All our competitors in Wales have seen their scores (graduate employment) drop in the last two years … the exception is Cardiff University”. Clearly Mr Murdoch wishes to reinforce the erroneous belief that only those engaged in public service and business function professions meet the Times’ “graduate employment” criteria. At a time when, key to Wales’ future prosperity are …

1) increasing the share of global private sector markets
2) research and development into new products

I suggest we disregard this rather spurious notion of a “Times graduate” job as an indicator of any substance, whatsoever.

December 6, 2006

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» The A Level Debate

Why do the British always react cynically to any mention of improved standards in secondary schools? At dinner parties, or any other social gatherings, people who otherwise would be categorised as of the “sensible variety”, proclaim with sincerity that educational standards must be being “dumbed down”. These are usually people whose last relationship with secondary education was some twenty years ago and who have probably contributed to their own children’s homework in a very “supportive” way by helping them compose/write the report that contributes to the coursework element of a particular A level module, for example, in philosophy and belief.

When questioned further, it transpires that they “know” secondary educational standards are being “dumbed down” from the following “evidence”:

1. Innuendo.
2. What a personal friend in high places in a school/ LEA / government department has told them.
3. They read it in the Times / Daily Mail / Independent / Guardian / Express and therefore it must be true.
4. They have an instinct for these things.

Unsurprisingly, there is absolutely no hard evidence for any of this. Any so-called “evidence” is inconclusive and this is hardly surprising as any basic research methodology programme would counsel against comparing apples with pears, e.g. old fashioned “one exam” ‘A’ levels circa 1968 with the modular ‘A’ levels of today.

What we do know is that a greater proportion of A level students are achieving A and B grades than before and more students, as a percentage of the eighteen year old cohort, are passing A levels or equivalent examinations. Instead of celebrating this huge success, the good old traditional cynical response is to cry “dumbing down” and to argue that top universities and FTSE 100 businesses cannot possibly differentiate between the very best students with A grades. This, of course, is ridiculous. The top universities and businesses have a vast array of techniques to differentiate between students/applicants including interviewing, additional tests, etc.

Nevertheless, under pressure, the Government (through the DfES) has responded to this media howl of “lower standards” and “dumbing down”, by producing an A level grade of A star. This announcement flies in the face of a credible widening participation and access policy. The private schools have a new target to aim for that will enable them to differentiate their pupils from the rest. How is Bristol or Cardiff going to pursue widening access intake strategies when private schools are likely to respond to the latest news by “cramming” their pupils so that they achieve three A stars and crying “foul” if any other measurement is used for university entrance. If you live in the near environs of Eton or Harrogate you will probably be able to hear the champagne corks “popping” as, once again, the difference between “them” and “us” is reinstated, courtesy of the DfES.

November 6, 2006

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» ... A hugely exciting, yet challenging year in prospect

As I write my first Blog of the new academic year, first year full-time recruitment is very encouraging and I would like to thank all those involved in the recruitment and enrolment of students, whether in marketing, enquiries and admissions, campus services, student services, student registry or in faculties themselves. I visited many programme tutors and administrators throughout the clearing process and I would like to thank them personally for the work they undertake on all of our behalf.

Those of us involved in Open Days know that the recruitment process for September 2007 is well underway. The enthusiasm of those involved is very heartening, given the pressure that we have been under to increase full-time student enrolments. Open Days are extremely important in the recruitment process and I am always proud of the way the Open Day team represents the University.

The clear agenda, given this enrolment success, is to improve the retention of these students. There are a number of staff development activities which need to be implemented – peer review of teaching, appropriate and compulsory training for new staff, understanding and support for advice centres, customer-focused training, and, underpinning all of our work, a continuing focus on student needs and aspirations. It can be argued that excellent learning and teaching activities and learning excitement in the lecture and seminar rooms will do as much to retain students as the student support that Glamorgan is justifiably renowned for throughout the sector. Academic quality is clearly key in our deliberations this year and will remain so.

This year is the first full year of Merthyr Tydfil College operating within the University. I look forward to a very positive year where corporate services become more formally integrated and, advice and support from faculties on academic matters becomes commonplace and two-way.

I am also keen to reinforce our relationships with our accredited college network and welcome Neath Port Talbot College into the forum this year.

In terms of strategic alliances, the work with RWCMD goes on apace with the development of a proposal supported by the governing bodies of both institutions and HEFCW which will be submitted to WAG for their agreement to a newly integrated college within the University from 1st January 2007.

The new campus building in Cardiff moves on apace. We look forward to a high quality building matched by high quality provision. I would like to thank all of those members of staff involved in this project, with particular thanks to Alun Woodruff, Director of Estates.

Whilst these projects are indicators of expansion and confidence, it is the core business of providing a high quality learning experience for all our students which is at the heart of our purpose as a first rate University. This is the year we will debate the concept and practice of the Glamorgan Academic that reinforces the place of scholarship and research within the student’s learning experience.

We have a hugely exciting, yet challenging year in prospect. I look forward to it with relish.

October 25, 2006

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» Congratulations to Professor Donna Mead

I’m delighted to add my congratulations to Professor Donna Mead who has been given a special recognition award from the Royal College of Nursing Wales for her innovative and inspiring approach.

As reported in Monday’s Western Mail, The Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Welsh Board said:-

“Donna has been leading in clinical practice, research and nurse education and thus transforming care for patients. This award recognises the value of the nursing contribution to healthcare. She puts the interests of patients at the heart of her work. She is a fine ambassador for the nursing family”.

Congratulations on a well-deserved award.

October 18, 2006

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» Directorate Personnel Changes

Professor Leslie Hobson

Many of you will know that Professor Hobson has been considering early retirement for some time and I can now announce that he has decided to retire with effect from 1st May 2007. We will be advertising for his replacement in November.

Professor Hobson has worked at the University for twelve years. In that time, he has been responsible for the quality, research and resources of Glamorgan and he has had a major impact upon University vision, culture and strategy.

He has been hugely supportive to many staff and his contribution to the life, prosperity and growth of the University has been enormous.

In my time as Vice-Chancellor, he has been a real support, a valued adviser, but above all, a good friend. I shall miss him and I am sure all those who know him will likewise want to put on record their appreciation of his contribution to Glamorgan.

Professor Hobson’s expertise will not be completely lost to the University as he has agreed to continue his association with the University on a consultancy basis from 1st May 2007.

Professor Hobson will have the title of Provost and will work on a one day a week basis to advise Directorate and myself on various topics, as required, but especially in the areas of Lifelong Learning in Merthyr Tydfil, strategic initiatives involving Coleg Morgannwg, sustainable development and European issues with emphasis on student recruitment.

In order to support Professor Hobson’s work in sustainable development, I have asked Professor Demetri Djialii to advise him and the Directorate on this important aspect of the University’s work.

Professor Aldwyn Cooper

Professor Cooper has recently announced that he has accepted the post of Chief Executive, Regent’s College, London with a starting date of 1st January 2007.

His Pro Vice-Chancellor post will be advertised at the same time as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor post in November.

I am sure you will all wish to congratulate Professor Cooper on his promotion and thank him for all his work at the University, especially in the areas of IT and e-Learning, Human Resources, Marketing and Learning Resources.

He has been an invaluable member of the Directorate and I have personally valued his advice and friendship. There will, of course, be opportunities to say goodbye to Professor Cooper in the usual Glamorgan way and at those times, I shall reveal new aspects of his extraordinarily creative life!

The New Posts and the Proposed New Directorate Structure

Whilst this news may come as a ‘shock’ to some people, Professor Hobson and Professor Cooper shared their plans with other members of the Directorate and senior Governors earlier this year.

As a consequence, the Chairman and myself are receiving presentations from headhunters as part of a selection process on 20th October with an intention to advertise for the new posts in November.

In order to shape their presentations, I have given headhunters a draft outline future Directorate structure.
Download file

This structure is for external use and therefore refers to functions rather than corporate departments.

Once again, I would personally wish to thank Professor Hobson and Professor Cooper for their invaluable contribution to the life and work of Glamorgan.

July 24, 2006

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» The End of Another Academic Year ...

The end of another academic year is a time for reflection; did we achieve what we set out to do, what could we have done better, what lessons are to be learnt. I can confidently say that most of the things that we set out to do have been achieved … the Cardiff development is on track, faculties will be established next week, the Enquiries and Admissions Unit is up and running, the Estates Strategy was submitted to HEFCW, and so on. The “to do better” list includes meeting our undergraduate credit targets and improving student MIS, but I am certain that measures put in place this year will make a fundamental impact in the coming years, e.g. introduction of scholarships, establishment of Advice Shops, review of Quercus +, etc.

The 2005-06 academic year was also a difficult year arising from the protracted pay dispute. I am, as I am sure you are, glad that this issue has now been resolved. The examination period was a particularly difficult and stressful time for staff and I thank you all, especially the support staff, for the extra effort put in to ensure our students graduated last week.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all staff involved in the Awards Ceremonies, which as ever, went very smoothly. The temperature in the hall was an issue, but we can hardly complain given that winter will be soon upon us!

Have a good summer, wherever you may be, and I now look forward to working with you in 2006-07 in the pursuit of achieving our key strategic priorities. See you at Clearing!

June 19, 2006

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» Details of the nationally agreed pay award – subject to ballot

I thought it would be helpful if I explained the details of the pay offer that is currently subject to ballot.

Every year, the nationally agreed pay award is presented to the University’s Board of Governors to consider and approve locally.

As this institution will not have implemented a new pay and grading structure (as part of the National Framework Agreement) by 1 August 2006, the award, if approved by Governors, would be applied to current pay scales. The detail of this is being finalised at national level but as soon as the rates are available they will be posted on Inform.

The national agreement provides for pay rates for non-clinical staff covered by HE national agreements to be increased as follows:

August 2006 - greater of 3% or £515
February 2007 - 1%
August 2007 - 3%
May 2008 - greater of 3% or £420
October 2008 - greater of 2½% or RPI (as at September 2008).

If you have any queries about the pay award, please refer them to the HR department.

April 11, 2006

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» Support Staff Conference

I yesterday attended the Support Staff Conference held in the GBC. The programme was well balanced - key messages were conveyed to staff, but with a touch of humour.

I would like to thank all who participated and, particularly, Rob Baker and the organising committee for their excellent work in pulling the event together.

I now look forward to participating in next year’s event … but without the “Eastenders” introduction (you had to be there)!

» The Chairmen's Committee and Student Retention

The Chairmen’s Committee of Governors is, as its title suggests, composed of the Chairpersons of the committees of the Governing Board as well as the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the overall Board of Governors. It is a committee to which the Vice Chancellor reports successes and failures and is often used as a “sounding board” for new strategic initiatives. The Vice-Chancellor‘s report includes items under two headings: University activities over the period (usually big project updates) and the Vice-Chancellor’s “worry list”. At the last Chairmen’s Committee, I was able to report proudly on activities such as the new South Wales Police Institute, the GEM project, and work supporting Mental Health nurses in Broadmoor, as well as the exchange of contracts for the site in Cardiff, the progress on the strategic alliance with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and the prospect of Merthyr Tydfil College of Further Education being finally integrated by 1st May. I mention these successes (actual or potential) only because they serve to acknowledge the rapid pace of change the University is enjoying in its region and the significant number of new partnerships it is developing as a foundation for a more sustainable future.

However, every Chairmen’s Committee since I arrived at Glamorgan has received, as top of my Vice-Chancellor’s worry list, an update on student retention. We have enjoyed discussing the development of advice shops and the development of the advice shop networks. We have recognised the huge amount of effort from everyone involved at the sharp-end of delivering our retention policies. However, this topic at our last meeting was more sharply focused in discussion because it was placed against a backdrop of a 13% increase of applications over 2005/06 (which in itself proved a very successful recruitment year with overall first year full time targets being exceeded). Chairmen quite rightly asked the following set of questions:

1. The University appears, year on year, to be able to attract more full-time students to apply to our courses. The conversion rate from application to enrolment is improving slightly, yet our all year student number targets and the credits attached to those student numbers have not been achieved in the last four – five years. Why?

2. We have heard arguments about the impact of a students’ social background, financial circumstances, academic ability on entry on student retention, and we recognise these arguments. However, the HEFCW funding model mitigates against those students who enter higher education with some of the circumstances listed above because it is based on funding student achievement and “staying on” rates. The recent increase in the widening access premium does not compensate for this inherent bias in the funding model. Against this, why should we continue with our present policies?

We can all give answers to these questions. I consistently make the point that of ten students defined by HEFCW as “widening access” we retain 70%. Yet we all know of the consequences of “drop-out” – for the student perhaps more than for the University. And any number of advice shops will not be able to help retain students without the help, positive action and genuine concern from all our staff – academic and support staff. Somehow we must move the culture of the University towards one where all students expect to succeed first time at whatever level of academic programme they enrol on. I know many of you have committed yourselves to help solve this problem over many years. Perhaps with the opportunities provided by the Cardiff campus, the Treforest / Glyntaff estate strategy, faculty reconfiguration, the review and development of our FE network and the continuation of the new scholarship scheme, we have an exciting future against which we can make that cultural shift.

April 4, 2006

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» Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Development)

I trust you will join me in welcoming Julie Lydon to the University as our new Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic Development).

Julie comes to us with a strong reputation in many areas, notably in relation to academic quality, learning and teaching strategy and implementation, retention, regeneration and outreach.

As you would expect, Human Resources has provided Julie with a comprehensive induction programme which will entail her visiting many parts of the campus in the coming weeks. If you see Julie on her travels, please do make her feel at home in the same way you did for me when I started at Glamorgan. This was a great help and much appreciated.