Vice-Chancellor's updates

On these pages you’ll find all the latest correspondence from the Vice-Chancellor, as well as details of his upcoming staff events and you’ll be able to catch-up on the termly Vice-Chancellor’s Forum.

Upcoming staff events

Next Vice-Chancellor's Forum - 28 February 2023, 13:00

Catch-up on the latest Vice-Chancellor's Forum

Questions from staff at the 18 October Forum that didn't get chance to be answered live:

Financial strategy

Any news on the reforming of the support staff pay spine? You withheld support staff from getting recognition increments or one-off payments this year because you said you were reforming the pay spine by August 2022, but this hasn't happened and so no support staff got rewarded for going above and beyond this year.

Detailed discussions are taking place with the unions that represent support staff. We hope that the new arrangements will take effect from 1 January 2023 but the exact date will depend on the progress of these negotiations.

Discretionary increments were not made this year but one-off payments were made for high performance. In addition, an interim award to all support staff was made on 1 August 2022, consisting of a pay uplift of 5% plus a one-off payment.

Sustainable Travel

How does the university plan to balance our responsibilities in terms of climate change and sustainable travel, with the important work and objectives in terms of international engagement?

The challenge here is huge. Sustainability is a pillar within our 2030 Strategic Framework, where you can read about the action we have taken, and are committed to taking. In addition, back in the summer, the University declared a climate emergency.

The University has a long track record of addressing global sustainability challenges, and there is some hugely exciting and important research being undertaken in this area. We must also embed sustainability into the way we operate as an institution: from travelling to work more sustainably, to ensuring our campus works efficiently, to avoiding waste, and recycling. And, as you note, we must appropriately balance the need to travel – to engage in-person with our students and our international partners and collaborators – with the need to reduce our carbon footprint. Professor David Hannah, Director of the Birmingham Institute for Sustainability and Climate Action, is our new institutional lead for sustainability, and will have much to share in the coming months.

I am absolutely committed to this important agenda and I encourage us all to use our combined influence for positive, sustainable change.

Do we know when the new University train station buildings will be open?

We have been told that the station will open in Spring next year.

Student Concerns

A question from an EDI lead on behalf of a student who wanted to ask: How is the UoB working to create sensory friendly spaces for students with a learning disability and/or autism (e.g. quiet spaces, neutral decor, sensory seating options/accessories, staff training). To help support neurodiverse students and maximise inclusion, would the UoB consider installing something like the Cubbie?

We aim to create spaces that are inclusive and flexible by design. Colleagues in the Estates Office, in collaboration with the Student Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team, have developed an inclusive design guide that is issued to the architects and contractors working on our new and refurbished spaces. The guide references the importance of flexible lighting, neutral décor, and quiet spaces. In addition, a dedicated Accessibility Adviser works with students and staff to understand the lived experience of disabled people so that we can enhance and further improve our spaces.

Staff training is available through the Wellbeing Development Programme and through training packages including The Accessible Educator and The Inclusive Educator.

Some students currently studying abroad are relying on food banks to feed themselves (particularly in the US), affected by exchange rate. Can the support be extend to them in principle?

Students studying abroad can access support from their host institution. If colleagues know of students who are struggling to get help, please ask them to contact our Study Abroad team.

Covid and hybrid working

Any update on the hybrid working framework that is being reconsidered? When is this likely to be published?

The Framework for Hybrid Working is being reviewed at the moment. We will communicate any changes to the framework in the new year.

Professional Services

We always hear about wanting to attract the best and brightest academic staff, why do we not hear this rhetoric for Professional Services? Do you think that by including Professional Services in this narrative, that it will encourage all colleagues to respect the roles of Professional Services staff and the work they do?

I am very aware that the work of Professional Services colleagues at Birmingham is exceptional (and did include that on my slide at the Open Forum). The University benefits from outstanding professional support across a huge range of areas and functions, and attracting, developing, and retaining talented Professional Services colleagues is crucial to our continued success.

Our impressive Birmingham Professional programme exists to support Professional Services colleagues to excel in their roles. At its heart, Birmingham Professional seeks to develop a culture of partnership and trust between academic and Professional Services colleagues, and I see – and personally benefit from – many instances of this every day!

It was mentioned that creating an empowering culture where people can take risks and be innovative is important. My experience is that UoB is quite reactionary and always working at full capacity. How will space be carved out for these innovations to take place and how can planning cycles be managed better so we as a collective are more proactive?

Working cultures are both amongst the most important part of any organisation and amongst the most difficult things to change. For all of us, it can be comforting, if sclerotic, to double-check on things where a simple decision can be made by someone, or to refer to a committee for a decision when none is needed, and so on. The University Executive Board has a workstream on developing culture change, but – ultimately – everyone will need to embrace these changes. No culture change takes place overnight, but over the course of months and years I hope that we will recognise the difference.

EDI

I think your point about being an exemplar in EDI was a great one to finish on. As well as considering those in black & minority ethnic groups, will this also be inclusive of neurodivergent employees (and indeed students also)? And will you directly speak to people in diverse communities to gain insights from lived experience

Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion team, under the leadership of Professor Jo Duberley, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equalities, considers issues in relation to all of the protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010. The protected characteristic of disability includes many types of neurodiversity, and this forms an important strand of the team’s work.

The University supports a wide range of staff networks, and representatives from these groups meet with Jo regularly to ensure she understands colleagues’ lived experience. In addition, the University’s staff survey asks respondents to anonymously disclose information about their protected characteristics so the experiences of different groups of staff can be compared.

Action taken to tailor our estate to neurodivergent students is outlined above.

What is the University's plan on addressing EDI at senior level of the University? How would the University support early career underrepresented staff to develop in becoming future leaders?

The University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy has benchmark targets for female staff and Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff representation at senior levels, which in turn informs and underpins the development of University-wide initiatives, such as the Birmingham Academic Career Framework.

The University supports colleagues’ leadership ambitions in a number of ways. We offer a series of leadership development programmes that support staff throughout their career. For academic staff who consider themselves to be at an early stage of their career, we offer the Leading and Managing Your Academic Team programme. All staff, whether in academic or professional services roles, are eligible to enrol on a level three or level five Apprenticeship in Leadership and Management, provided some minimum role requirements are met. As staff progress through their career, they may be nominated to attend the Emerging Leaders’ Programme and then Senior Leaders’ Programme.

While these programmes are not specifically targeted at under-represented groups, we continually review cohorts to check for representation, complete equality impact statements as necessary, and provide guidance to senior colleagues ensure equality of access.

In parallel to these programmes, the Aditi Programme is open to Black, Asian and/or minority ethnic colleagues, typically but not exclusively at grades six to eight, who are keen to develop their leadership capability. The programme helps colleagues identify their unique leadership qualities and where and how these can be utilised as they progress their careers. We also support staff to participate in Advance HE's Aurora programme for women and those who identify as a woman.

We have recently made available, to all staff, the Managing People Toolkit. This on-line resource outlines the University's expectations of those in management roles. The toolkit provides an extensive bank of resources, guidance, and advice to any member of staff in, or who aspire to, to be a manager.

Car Parking

Can car parking charges be linked to pay so that those on a lower wages aren't disadvantaged? Those deciding on charges are usually paid much more.

Re parking, is there plans to talk to the Enabling Staff Network about changes to parking? Some disabled staff rely on car travel, yet are unable to get Blue Badges.

Colleagues in Campus Services are reviewing the way we administer car parking and will hold a series of consultation events before Christmas. Groups including the Enabling Staff Network and the Parents and Carers Network will be invited to take part, and there will be open forums through which individuals can contribute too. Further details will be distributed through the University Briefing emails.

Education

In light of the media coverage and government discourse around the value of arts subjects (with a somewhat favourable stance towards STEM and employability outcomes), how do you perceive the humanities flourishing into the future at the University of Birmingham - and are you optimistic?

Birmingham has a long – and distinguished – history of excellence in the arts and humanities and some of our best outcomes in the REF were in humanities disciplines. The challenge that we face, like most other universities in the UK, is that the number of students who want to study for the traditional humanities subjects has fallen rapidly and continues to do so. There were also reports this week that Jacob Rees-Mogg wanted to close the Arts and Humanities Research Council when he was Secretary of State in BEIS because of a misperception about the value of humanities research. Despite this, I remain optimistic – the underlying intellectual quality we have is clear and it is also true that humanities graduates have careers that confound the stereotypes. That said, we need to ensure that the courses we offer are those that students want to do and I know that the leadership in the College of Arts and Law are working on plans to do this.

First Year as VC

In your first year as VC, what has been the most challenging aspect of the role and how have you managed this?

I – quite genuinely – love being back in Birmingham, and I don’t expect sympathy for this, but the workload can be pretty punishing.  In a typical week, I’m either hosting or out for dinner on three evenings and am usually at my desk for 8.00. Part of my coping mechanism is simply enjoying what I do, but I also try to find time to practice yoga or do some cycling on my turbo in the garage.

Bureaucracy and Core

The principle of self-empowerment for core should be only for straight-forward processes/tasks. Unfortunately Core has pushed some quite complex tasks and processes onto staff to make savings in head count in some central teams. That doesn’t seem to be cost effective. Is anything planned to address this? And a specific point - budget holders are reliant on others to approve spending on their budgets. This is highly inefficient as the budget holder then has to audit their spending as approved by others, rather than acting directly as the gatekeeper.  Something that would be great to have re-examined, as we still have a further audit process to prevent fraud/misuse of funds and so on.

Considerable work has been undertaken to improve colleagues’ experience of Core, including enhanced reporting for those with research grants and a new recruitment system. Lots of guidance and training is available for key aspects of the system, including general support and procurement-related guidance.

Self-service is at the heart of the system. In most cases, this approach is easier and more efficient, although I recognise that not everything is as straightforward as it might be. In response to your question about spending, the system is designed to automatically approve small purchases and to forward larger spending to a group of staff in each division for consideration (so there are no delays if a colleague is out of the office). Budget holders can access a summary of spending on their account, and it is straightforward to adjust budgets if spending has been misallocated.

Colleagues are continuing to work on improvements to the system. The Core Systems Optimisation Team continue to undertake key work on the system, and Research Strategy and Services are looking at the entire research process – and in particular the role that Core plays at each stage – with the aim of implementing improvements.

Vice-Chancellor's all-staff emails

Here you will find copies of the VC's correspondence to staff from this academic year so far.

13.01.23

Dear colleague

The departure of Tim Jones to take on the VC role at Liverpool has led us to spend the last few months recruiting a permanent Provost. We undertook a rigorous external search, which attracted a diverse field of strong candidates from across the sector. Following an extensive selection process, which included representation from academics, Professional Services and students across the University, I am delighted to let you know that Council has approved the appointment of Professor Stephen Jarvis to the Provost role on a permanent basis from 1 February 2023. Many of you will know Stephen, who has been an excellent PVC and Head of College of Engineering and Physical Sciences since he joined us in June 2020, and an equally effective interim Provost since he stepped into the role in September last year. I’m sure you will join me in congratulating Stephen on his appointment.

This leaves a gap for a permanent PVC and Head of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, and we will start the recruitment process for this post shortly.

I am also delighted to announce that Professor Catherine Mangan has been appointed as our new DPVC EDI. I wrote in my first ever View from email (and since) that I believe the University should be characterised by our actions to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and I am confident that Catherine is the right person to lead us towards that aim. Catherine is currently Director of Education for the College of Social Sciences and Professor of Public Management and Leadership in the Institute of Local Government Studies and will take up the DPVC role on 1st February 2023. I’m very much looking forward to working with her.

It has, otherwise, been a busy week for me and I know that I’m not the only person who feels that we’re back to work with a bang.  I visited the University of Birmingham School on Wednesday for the annual ‘Members Meeting’ and received an update on another successful year.   The School is now in its eighth year and has proved to be a real success: pupils join from across the City and from across the social spectrum.  With the exception of those with special educational needs, all classes are genuinely comprehensive – there is no academic streaming – and the school has a strong emphasis on helping their students develop into rounded, robust young people who can reach or surpass their educational expectations. In this the school is doing impressively well for pupils from all backgrounds. As a result, it experiences one of the highest levels of applications of all secondary schools in the city. I’m aware too that the school and its pupils enjoy - and hugely benefit from - the support and contribution of staff from across the University. Thank to everyone who works with the school in this way.

On Wednesday evening, I was privileged to be shown around parts of Campus Services by Einita Suman.  We visited the genuinely impressive facilities in the sports centre (though standing poolside in a winter coat probably wasn’t my finest look) and talked with the senior team and some members of staff there.  The ethos is to support performance sports, but there is a particular emphasis on encouraging active participation from every member of the University’s community – whether staff or student.  I know that the idea of going to a gym full of 20-year-olds pumping iron can feel intimidating, but the atmosphere is friendly and inclusive of all … so if it feels like the right time, it really would be worth taking a look – especially as there are offers for staff which start at £20 per month.

I then went to the Community Safety Hub at the top of the Green Heart.  The Hub opened last year and has a dedicated – in both senses of the word - team to support and help students with all aspects of personal safety and much else besides.  At the start of the academic year, for example, they gave away personal alarms to well over 3,000 students and provided bike locks and bike marking.  The team works closely with the police to ensure that students have the safest and most enjoyable time possible.  Following this, I visited the main Security Office and talked with staff who were monitoring the campus and I joined a handover shift of the Security Team preparing for the evening.  Last year, the University got access to an app for both Apple and Android phones called ‘SafeZone’, which allows members of staff and students to report incidents ranging from abuse of any description through to vandalism or theft, request first aid, call security or press a panic button in the event of an emergency.  This button is the best way to report because it is accurate to within a few meters and allows security to get to an incident rapidly.  Every one of our 400+ buildings has to be locked and unlocked every day and a significant part of the Security Team’s time is spent doing this – it’s a huge task, but it does allow them to check everything is okay.

We finished at the Vale – our largest student village – where we took a look at the new laundry and ate at the student canteen.  It shouldn’t have, but it surprised me how much better the facilities are now – not just from when I was a student but from when I last visited the Vale about eight years ago … but the real stand-out was the range and quality of the food we’re feeding our students!  I met a lot of people and, rather than name check a few, want to thank everyone for generously spending time with me.

When I visit academic departments, the most frequent comments I receive are about the quality of research grant support and administration in the University.  We have genuinely excellent people working across the range of activities but, it is clear, our systems are complicated, confusing, repetitive and consequently slow.  Catherine Cochrane, who joined us last year as Director of Research Support Services, has been working on a major service improvement project and gave me an overview of the plans this week.  As part of this, Catherine has spoken to every member of staff who provides research support and the clear message from them is that they are absolutely dedicated to their jobs but that our processes are clunky and hard to navigate.  Catherine will be writing to all staff with an overview of the changes in the next couple of weeks and you’ll start to notice the changes from March.

Have a lovely weekend

Best wishes

Adam

06.01.23

Dear colleague

Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful break and had the opportunity to spend some time doing things you enjoy.  Our plans were slightly disrupted by family members getting, separately, Covid and flu – though, because they were vaccinated, no-one got seriously ill.  I also spent a few lovely, if horrendously wet, days in Snowdonia walking along endless sandy beaches and walking a little bit in the hills.

Since my last email there has been much to celebrate.

Janet Lord was awarded a CBE in the 2023 New Year Honours for services to older people. Janet is Director of the MRC-Versus Arthritis Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research and was previously Director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing. Her research explores the relationship of the immune system to ageing and inflammation and has had a tremendous impact on improving the lives of elderly people in the UK and worldwide. By coincidence, I visited the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing this week and particularly enjoyed meeting a wide range of researchers who outlined some of the amazing translational research in the Institute which is leading not only to new understandings, but to interventions which will combat a range of ailments, from the pain associated with inflammatory disease or brain injury from sports related trauma. Many thanks to everyone who explained their science so clearly to someone with a background in the social sciences! 

I was delighted to hear that Michael Dobson, Director of our Shakespeare Institute, has received a prestigious award from fellow academics in Ukraine recognizing his work to develop Shakespeare studies in the country’s universities. Michael has been admitted as an Honorary Member of the Academic of Sciences of the Higher School of Ukraine.

The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) has awarded the University a Gold Engage Watermark. This is a significant achievement that recognises the impact that we have on our city and region through our research and relationships with civic partners, communities, and businesses. The assessment panel particularly noted how embedded public engagement is across the institution – including through the public programme at The Exchange, the Engagement and Impact pillar in the Strategic Framework, the Birmingham Academic Career Framework engagement and impact pathway, and the establishment of a Public Engagement team to co-ordinate and deliver training and activity. This award reflects the work of many colleagues but a particular thanks to Lauren Deere, who was integral in co-ordinating contributions throughout the nine-month application process, the Public Engagement Team, the College Impact and Engagement Leads, and Dominique Moran, Richard Black and Hugh Adlington whose advocacy, guidance and constructive challenge helped us develop our strong application and ambitious action plan.

The University has been awarded the National Network for the Education of Care Leaver (NNECL) Quality Mark in recognition of the work we do to support care experienced and care leaver students. We were rated particularly highly for the support we give to students before they join us, and how we support students’ physical and mental wellbeing. A massive thank you to everyone who is involved in this really important work, including colleagues in accommodation, admissions, student services, and careers, and a particular thanks to the Care Leaver working group and Alice McGowan and Claire Churchill who coordinated the submission.

Congratulations to everyone above. Being able to share achievements of colleagues is a genuinely lovely thing to be able to do, so please keep sending them to me and I will include them where I can.

Best wishes

Adam

09.12.22

Dear colleague

Although the University remains open for a further week because some people will be taking leave before then this will be my last message of 2022. For me, this marks my first year back at the University. In lots of ways the year has whipped by, but I simultaneously think that I’m very new in the job and can’t imagine myself as ever having done anything else. It’s been a year when we’ve been shown at our best – with our exceptional improvement in the REF; showcasing the practical solutions to seemingly impossible problems at the Forum for Global Challenges; demonstrating our impactful research to funders and politicians; during the Commonwealth Games; in the way that we responded so positively in developing a meaningful partnership with Ivan Franko University and our support for Ukrainian students; in the seamless return to teaching normally; and in numerous other ways. Throughout the year, I’ve been congratulated or thanked by external partners of the University and in every case I’ve had the same response: it isn’t me who should be thanked, it is the exceptional staff working for us and I’d like to emphasise my gratitude once again. Personally, it’s been quite genuinely lovely to meet so many members of staff at visits to schools, colleges, and professional service divisions, at my open office sessions or over food, or as people have stopped to talk with me as I’m walking around campus.

2022 has also been a year which has exposed many challenges for us. High rates of inflation are making life more difficult for many of our students and staff and will mean that some of our ambitious plans will need to be looked at carefully; universities are under more political scrutiny than ever and we need to demonstrate the importance and relevance of our education and research if we are going to continue to receive public funding at the scale we do; the politics of immigration are raising their heads again and international students are an easy target for hostile media; and whilst the pandemic has receded, it’s legacy remains strong.

But it isn’t all gloomy: at the national level, there is strong cross-party recognition that investment in university research is essential for the long-term prosperity of the country and I’m optimistic that some of the heat will come out of the culture wars. And our quality, centrality at the heart of the city and region, relative economic strength, and self-confidence means that we can face these challenges head on and thrive. I believed this whilst I was being interviewed for my job and I believe it more strongly than ever.

If you want evidence of the truth of this, today’s news that the Jubilee Centre, in the School of Education, has been selected by QS (a rankings company) as the winner of their Global Award for Reimagining Education. There were over 1,100 entries from around the world to this award, which they describe as the Education Oscars, and their judges come from 77 countries. The Jubilee Centre won the prize in recognition of their work on the character framework and its innovative and effective pedagogy, and for ‘achieving remarkable scalable impact’ on a global stage. We celebrated ten years of the Jubilee Centre earlier in the year and they couldn’t have received a better birthday present!

The sense of celebration this week is underpinned by the winter degree ceremonies. During the summer, we contemplated cancelling some of the ceremonies because of the intensity of the heat. We faced no such challenges this week but – at some of the ones I presided over at least – the noise levels must have come close to causing industrial injuries, as friends and family have effusively congratulated people they love. Degree ceremonies are real moments of joy for all of us and form cherished lifetime memories: I still remember my (very downbeat 1980s Manchester) graduation. Our ceremonies don’t just happen by accident: they take an enormous amount of preparation and care from a huge range of people. As I was coming into the office, one of our cleaners told me how important to him it is that everything is special for people joining from around the world – a sentiment shared by us all.

The Great Hall will play host to another joyous occasion on Monday: the Chaplaincy’s annual University Carol Service. Colleagues, students, alumni, friends, and family are all invited to join a service of carols, readings, and festive contributions from our Department of Music. Doors open at 17:30 and there’s no need to book – although you may want to arrive early. I look forward to seeing many of you there.

The last couple of weeks have seen some staff take part in industrial action but there was an important announcement on Friday that UCEA, who represent all employers in pay negotiations, and the combined trade unions have agreed to a period of talks to try to resolve their dispute and, whilst this is underway, all sides would de-escalate. This is very positive and I’m sure that I’m not the only person who hopes that we can see a period of calmer industrial relations in universities.

I’d like to finish where I started: with thanks to everyone for the work that you do to make our university so exceptional and to wish you all a restful and joyful break.

Best

Adam 

02.12.22

Dear colleague

I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to write about the length of these messages: the overwhelming feedback – including one in poetic form – was that I shouldn’t worry about how long they are, but it was especially lovely to hear that people enjoy reading my reflections on the week.

The last ‘View’ was written by Tim Jones who is currently using up his leave before he starts as Vice Chancellor at the University of Liverpool in January. Tim has been Provost at Birmingham for six years and has provided exemplary leadership for the University. Working closely with others, Tim’s achievements are too many to mention but include pivotal roles in developing our presence in Dubai; sponsoring and supporting a major redevelopment of the estate, such that we now have one of the most impressive sets of facilities in the UK; sponsoring and supporting the Birmingham Academic Career Framework, which recognises and rewards the full range of academic life; and leading the financial planning process which has ensured that we continue to be in a position to reinvest in people and infrastructure, unlike many other universities.

Those of you who know Tim will know that he is warm, intelligent and funny and I couldn’t have asked for better support, advice or friendship during the year that we’ve worked together. Tim studied for his degrees at Liverpool and his return will be a real homecoming and I’m confident that the University will thrive under his leadership … but we will all miss him here.

I spent most of last week in India, visiting Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi, where we are developing an exceptionally strong presence and strong partnerships with universities, businesses, regional governments and the UK High Commission. Our Chancellor, Lord Bilimoria, is very well-known and highly regarded in India and we usually get a warm welcome: but this was a really special visit. Amongst the many highlights was visiting the campus of Tesco in Bengaluru – the base for much of the global operations of the company - and signing an agreement which will see internment opportunities for our students and research opportunities for our staff; our signing a collaboration with IIT Madras – one of the most prestigious higher education institutions in the world; and numerous partnerships. As so often, the hard work is done by others before and during my trip – developing the collaborations; setting complex itineraries in train; delivering on our promises – and I am extremely grateful to everyone who supported me and, particularly, to Dipankar Chakraborty and his team based in Delhi and elsewhere in India.

When I was in India, I met with Professor Dion Morton and some of his colleagues from the NIHR Global Health Research Unit in Surgery. This group, which is led from the University of Birmingham, has 7 clinical research hubs across three continents in low and middle income countries. Although significant and important research is central to their work, this collaboration now includes 200,000 patients in over 100 countries and is already improving patient safety by reducing wound infections and saving lives. These findings have contributed to worldwide safety guidance and are now providing vital evidence to strengthen surgical services.

Back in Edgbaston, I was really pleased to be able to visit the School of Metallurgy and Materials (Met & Mat) and managed to crash land an airplane on the flight simulator – part of their new and extremely popular Aerospace Engineering course – and learned about the genuinely world class research in battery and rare earth recycling technologies. The infrastructure to support the transition to a green economy vitally depends on elements that presently end up in landfill and our researchers are leading the way in ensuring that they don’t. In this context, the University’s Council – our governing body – approved an investment in a new Energy Research Accelerator building on Wednesday, which will allow us to bridge the gap between fundamental research on campus and translational work at the Tyesley Energy Park.

I mentioned a month ago that Professor David Price (until recently Vice-Provost – Research at UCL) is leading a review of the College of Life and Environmental Sciences, with a particular focus on whether the structure of the College best supports the future success of its disciplines. David has now started work and has met with a number of colleagues from the College over the last couple of weeks and will continue to do so before and after the break. I am very grateful for the constructive spirit in which these conversations have been held, and I know David is exploring the pros and cons of a number of options. This intranet page includes the Terms of Reference for the review, as well as an email address to which anyone is welcome to submit their reflections and suggestions to the review team: – I’d encourage you to do so.

Staff at Birmingham continue to be recognised and in the last few days it’s been terrific to hear that Professor David Hannah, who leads for us on Sustainability, has been appointed to Chair NERC’s Science Committee; that Adam Schembri, Professor of Linguistics, has been elected as a Corresponding Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities; and that the Improving Adult Care Together (IMPACT) Centre has passed its review with the Economic and Social Research Council and The Health Foundation, releasing £13.8m of the £15m grant and moving the Centre to its delivery phase from January. Congratulations to all!

Finally, you will all be aware of Birmingham Professional – our very successful programme that supports and develops professional services colleagues and showcases their invaluable contribution to the University. This year’s celebratory Festive Forum for all professional services staff is on Thursday 15 December in the Great Hall. Unfortunately, the event clashes with some interviews that I have to chair, but there is a short film and – much more enticingly – drinks and something to eat. If you do work in the professional services, please sign up!

Have a lovely weekend.

Best

Adam 

25.11.22

Dear colleague

I have invited Tim Jones to write this week’s View as next week will be his last full working-week as Provost. Tim joined the University in September 2016 and I hope you enjoy hearing his reflections on the last six years.

Best

Adam

I am writing this message from Dubai, where I have spent the past few days visiting our wonderful new campus. Remarkably, on my first day it rained quite heavily, a very rare occurrence in Dubai! This is my first visit since February, when the team had just moved into the new facility, and local Covid restrictions limited the number of people who could be present on campus. It is now fully operational and I was delighted to have the opportunity to engage with colleagues in an all-staff forum, as well as meeting a number of students, including some of the new student leaders, who were full of inspirational ideas about how the student experience might be developed in such a new environment.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presiding at our winter degree ceremony, our largest ceremony yet in Dubai, with around 250 people attending. Isobel Abulhoul, a member of our Advisory Board in Dubai, gave a wonderfully inspiring speech to the new graduates. We also held a celebration for our latest group of PGCE students, the first time this has been done by the University, and an occasion that will continue in Edgbaston in December. The new campus provides a very special environment for our graduating students and it was wonderful to meet so many happy people yesterday. I was also delighted to be able to meet with Dr Abdulla Al Karam, the Director of KHDA, one of the most important education regulatory authorities in the region. He has been a great supporter of our developments in Dubai and was extremely positive about the campus, the students and staff we are attracting, and how we are viewed within the region. I left feeling very confident that the University of Birmingham Dubai will be a resounding success.

Over the past few days and weeks I have also spent moments reflecting on my time at Birmingham, which I joined in 2016 and which feels like only yesterday. I have, of course, led several significant institutional projects aside from Dubai, including major capital projects such as the School of Engineering, the Teaching and Learning building, The Exchange in Centenary Square and Molecular Sciences; all either fully operational or close to completion. The Precision Health Technology Accelerator (PHTA) and the Birmingham Health Innovation Campus (BHIC) are also developing at pace and will provide a fabulous opportunity for the University to take a leadership position in health innovation. Our campus really is a wonderful asset.

I am also very pleased that the new Birmingham Academic Career Framework is now fully operational after several years of development. It is, of course, a crucial component of the People and Culture pillar of our strategy, Birmingham 2030, and recognition that academic careers have evolved significantly in recent years. And of course, the REF 2022 results, which came out earlier this year were a clear validation of the excellence of our research across the University, and the culmination of a huge amount of work over several years by everyone across the institution.

But, of course, universities such as ours are defined by the people who work and study in them. Over the past six and a half years I have had the privilege of working with a huge number of people from across the institution – academic and professional service colleagues, students and alumni – and I am reminded every day of the outstanding quality and creativity of our people and what they achieve. The University of Birmingham really is an outstanding institution and an inspiring place to be a Provost.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the University and will always keep an eye on how things are going in the future…

Best wishes

Tim Jones

Provost 

18.11.22

Dear colleague

I have had some feedback that my weekly messages are a little long and so this week’s is shorter than usual. If I know anything, it is that universities are places where there are – to say the least – a variety of opinions so if you disagree, let me know.

The most important event this week was the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement. Against a challenging backdrop of spending cuts and tax rises, it was really pleasing that the Government continues to be committed to investing in Research and Development and highlighted that innovation is one of the three main priorities for growth. Although the devil is often in the detail released following budget statements, the fact that the Government continues to recognise that research in universities is central to the UK’s future is really welcome. The Department for Education has also seen its funding remain stable, though high levels of inflation do mean that they will have to find ‘efficiency savings’.

On Tuesday, some of my senior colleagues and I welcomed the new Secretary of State for Education, Gillian Keegan, to the University for a wide-ranging discussion about the role that universities play in developing and nurturing talent. We were all encouraged by her commitment to supporting universities and her understanding of the pressures we face. Gillian left school at 16 and studied her degree apprenticeship in Liverpool: she is strongly committed to these as a route to success for people who wouldn’t traditionally study at universities. Birmingham currently teaches nearly 1,000 students on degree apprenticeships and, by coincidence, we were being inspected by Ofsted this week on the quality of our provision. We await the result, but all reports are that the visit went well.

Last weekend I was on campus for our final undergraduate open day of the year. It was wonderful to see so many visitors enjoying the autumn sunshine and hearing about the exceptional education and experience that we offer. Open days are critical events in the University's calendar and Birmingham puts on a great show for students who are considering applying here - and their families. This year nearly 17,000 prospective undergraduate students have come to campus, significantly more than last year, and feedback has been very positive. Our first postgraduate open day of the year is this weekend. Big thanks to all academic and professional services colleagues who make these events such a success.

While we are still early in the cycle for applications, demand for undergraduate places remains very strong and we know that our applications are growing more than most institutions. We are continuing to increase our entry requirements in some of our most popular subject areas to help manage the demand and reduce risks of unplanned over-recruitment. At the same time though, we are expecting A-Level grade deflation this year back to pre-covid levels, which is going to make for a challenging set of circumstances to manage.

Every term, the University Executive Board meets with our counterparts at the Guild of Students (our student union). The Guild is a separate charity but we, obviously, have many interests in common – not least working to serve the interests of our student body. At our meeting this week (which moved following a bomb scare!), we covered a wide range of issues, including how cost of living pressures are affecting students and the packages of support that both the University and the Guild have put in place. We also heard an impressive presentation from them on the range of their activities.

A couple of quick announcements: if you are experiencing symptoms of long Covid, researchers in MDS would love to hear from you and the China Institute is hosting a lecture on the role of science diplomacy on 1st December.

Finally, some staff will be taking part in strike action next week as part of UCU’s national dispute. Strikes can be very difficult for everyone and, irrespective of what you think about the dispute or about the action, I would urge you to be respectful of colleagues who are working and those who are striking.

Have a lovely weekend.

Adam 

11.11.22

Dear colleague

I try to meet with a broad range of staff and students as much as I can and hold regular lunchtime meetings where people can come along and talk about anything on their minds – whether to explain what they do, to raise concerns or discuss things of interest. For all of us, myself included, it’s hard to grasp the sheer scale of activities and complexity of the University of Birmingham and this was brought home to me at a lunch I had with members of academic staff on Tuesday. The expertise in the room was, genuinely, awe-inspiring and underlined quite how important a contribution our university makes through transformational research and inspirational education. Some of the staff had only recently arrived, whilst others were not quite ready for a long-service award, but I loved hearing about people’s research and education interests and discussing some of the challenges for the sector.

In 1973, the University received an unusual bequest from Thomas Baggs, an alumnus, to fund an annual lecture to address the question: ‘What is happiness and how may it be achieved by individuals as well as nations?’. The Baggs Memorial Lecture has been an annual fixture ever since and we have heard people from the arts, sciences and political worlds reflect – in very different ways – on the subject. One of my real privileges as Vice-Chancellor is to be involved in choosing the speaker, and on Monday we heard Bernardine Evaristo, who recently won the Booker Prize for her novel ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ talk inspirationally about how she has found happiness in her life. Bernardine – a true polymath who writes both fiction and non-fiction and is a poet, a journalist and a dramatist – also met with students from our creative writing programme before the lecture and I know that they were delighted to meet with her. The Happiness Lecture is always one of our most popular events and if you have suggestions as to who we might wish to invite in future, do let me know.

This has been a busy week in the cultural life of the University. We were delighted to announce that Jennifer Powell will be the new Director of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. Jenny studied History of Art at Birmingham all the way to doctoral level and joins us having been a curator at Kettles Yard in Cambridge and at the Royal Academy of Arts. She has exciting plans to ensure that our visual arts collection and musical interventions can be enjoyed by as many people in the city as possible. Rather poignantly, though, this came in the same week as I held a thank-you for Nicola Kalinsky, who retired from the Institute earlier in the year having creatively built the collection during her time with us. We also held an official launch for the History Through Objects exhibition in the Aston Webb Building. If you haven’t already visited the exhibition, I would encourage you to do so: it creatively and beautifully showcases the ways that research at the University of Birmingham has changed understanding and improved lives over more than a century. Clare Mullett and her team have done a genuinely exceptional job.

As I said earlier, it is the range of activities here that is so impressive. Along with some of my colleagues, I visited the ‘National Buried Infrastructure Facility’ here on campus on Tuesday. The NBIF is a large-scale testing site, which has no parallel in Europe and allows students, academics and industrial partners to understand how materials and structures that are invisible to most of us, but deliver vital services such as power and water, respond to the stresses and strains of environmental pressures.

Senate on Wednesday focussed on education matters and scrutinised the annual assurance report on quality and standards for the University. This may sound like an arcane and uninteresting thing to many people, but is an absolutely vital component in ensuring that we are confident that our students receive a high-quality education and is an important component in ensuring that universities remain independent and autonomous. Senate also heard from our PVC Education, Deborah Longworth, about plans to review the changes to the academic year in light of evidence around the difficulties that the very long break between formal teaching ending in December and resuming in February is causing. The Guild and College Boards are all closely involved in developing alternative proposals and Deborah will write to everyone as the plans progress. Without exception, members of Senate welcomed the proposals.

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with the rest of the University’s Leadership Forum. ULF is made up of members of the Executive Board, Heads of Schools, Directors of Professional Services, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellors and some of our other senior leaders. Hugh Adlington and David Sweeney, previously Executive Chair of Research England and now Professor of Practice in Research Policy here at the University, led a session on our vision and how we best communicate progress. This was followed by a session on education led by Deborah Longworth and Chris Millward, previously Director for Fair Access and Participation at the Office for Students (OfS) and now Professor of Education Policy here at Birmingham.

If you were involved in supporting the Commonwealth Games in any way, including as a volunteer, do sign up to one of our events next Wednesday so we can say thank you and celebrate your achievements.

I’d like to finish with some very welcome news from across the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences. The Lapworth Museum of Geology was successful in the national competition for Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation support for the coming 3 years, recognising both the academic standing of the museum and engagement it affords. If you haven’t visited the Lapworth please do take the time to pop in. This funding comes alongside the announcement that no fewer than seven research grants have been awarded to academics in GEES in the most recent funding round from NERC. This is a phenomenal achievement and congratulations to all.

Best

Adam