As we approach the end of the current academic year, and my first at Bristol, I would like to thank everyone across the University for the work that we’ve all done to make us such a special place. I have learned so much about the outstanding work colleagues are doing across the board, from devising sustainable catering options to creating successful spin-out companies. The year has not been without its challenge – more below – but I am very proud of everything we’ve been able to do together.
Building our international reputation
This term I’ve focused on international visits; meeting with our Bristol alumni, supporters and partners on both coasts of the United States.
In New York City, I was quizzed by our graduate and BBC reporter, Laura Trevelyan, famous for her determination to redress the legacy of her ancestors who profited from the work of slaves on plantations in Grenada. I was able to talk with her and fellow alumni about how we and our city are responding to the same challenge and how they can help provide redress for long-standing social injustices.
On the West Coast, the conversation turned to our major quantum spin-out success and we were joined by the UK’s envoy for Science and Industry.
Those that have done well recognise that Bristol helped them with their first steps and we are very grateful for their ongoing support with, for example, our Bristol Black Scholarship Programme.
There is still more to do to ensure that future students, businesses and academic collaborators in the USA hear more about our world-leading work in research and education. We now have a team of three colleagues working in the States, focusing on raising our profile and reputation. If you are planning a trip to the US, let us know and we can connect you.
Bristol participates in a number of international consortia. I joined Agnes Nairn and colleagues at the University of Monterrey for the annual meeting of the World Universities Network. We were one of the founding members of this network, which supports international research links, including themes such as student mental health and climate change. This was an opportunity to link up with our partners to discuss the next steps in launching our charter on equitable partnerships between the Global North and South. Thanks to the work of the Perivoli Africa Research Centre and colleagues at UCT and the University of South Africa (UNISA), we will launch the charter in Namibia next month.
Building networks back home
I’ve been continuing to meet schools, faculties, staff networks and students; most recently Geography, Education, Law, Policy Studies, Physics, Chemistry and Engineering, and our specialist research groups such as the Quantum Engineering Technologies Lab. I spent time with more than 100 members of our different staff groups working on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. I left this conversation proud of our mutual support for each other but also very aware of how much more we need to do to ensure colleagues from minority backgrounds feel their experiences are understood, appreciated and valued; and, even more importantly, that their voices are heard and acted upon.
This year has been one of celebrating success but also a time when we have had to have frank conversations around pay, pensions and the terms and conditions for staff. I hope we can all agree that the clear agreement between our union, UCU and UUK, over next steps on the USS pension, is very positive. Now we need to find a negotiated outcome to the other disputes. I hope UCU members will join me in advocating for the changes that Bristol has already put in place around the issues to do with terms and conditions; this makes us amongst the lowest users of short-term contracts in the Russell Group. We are also working with all our local trade unions on our pay spine.
I explained in the live-stream why things have become so difficult. Despite what you may have heard, UCEA, the employers’ negotiating group, has not left the negotiating table. UCEA remains open to discussing terms of reference for a national conversation about the many things that we care about: pay spines, pay gaps, contract and workloads. But with so many higher education institutions facing severe financial challenges, often necessitating redundancies, we will only be able to discuss further national pay rises next spring when we look at the 24/25 pay settlement. In a special meeting of Senate, called by members on 19 June, to discuss the temporary regulations in place to support student progression and graduation this summer, I am pleased to say that, after robust discussion, 78% of Senators supported and had confidence in the regulations. The marking and assessment boycott is truly regrettable and will do little to change the financial challenges caused by rising inflation, flat tuition fees and research income that doesn’t cover its costs. I remain open to hearing from anyone, whether on an individual basis or as a group, about how we try to move forward in a way that supports both our own University and the wider sector as a whole.
Regional and civic engagement
One of the very special aspects of our University is the difference we can make to the city and region in which we live. I was pleased to share the stage with Mayor Marvin Rees at a conference on ‘Realising Regional Growth’ and to have West of England Mayor, Dan Norris, with us when we signed the contract for our new CM1 Temple Quarter main building. This was followed by a ‘breaking ground’ ceremony on site, where we were joined by Mayor Rees, local councillors and our constituency MP, Thangam Debbonaire.
Professor Steve West and I celebrated 30 years of collaboration in Bristol on UWE’s anniversary of becoming a university, signing the Civic University Agreement which provides the framework for future partnership working across the city. And in probably the most impressive news of all, our wonderful University Challenge Team became the first Bristol showing in a series final. Given it was Jeremy Paxman’s last episode, it was particularly nail-biting. While the team eventually lost out to Durham, they really did us proud!
University Structures 2030
Finally, our work is progressing on our strategic business change programme University Structures 2030. Our ambition is to create a clearer framework for decision-making, build a smaller, more agile leadership team, and enable decision-making at the lowest appropriate level. This programme will bring together three strands of change to ensure integration and alignment – Academic Structures, the Professional Services Operating Model, and the Structure of the Academic Year. We intend to establish three new faculties, and are implementing some academic leadership changes from 1 August 2023, as part of a two-year transition period during which structures will evolve to ensure we are fully integrated by 2025.
In support of these changes, I am delighted to welcome our new Pro-Vice Chancellors and Executive Deans: Jeremy Tavare (Health and Life Sciences), Ian Bond (Engineering and Science) and Esther Dermott (Arts, Law and Social Sciences), as well as our new Director of Faculty Operations, Mary Millard, who will lead this change through our transition period. Please also welcome our two new Associate Pro-Vice Chancellors, Liang Fong Wang (Global Engagement) and Palie Smart (Civic Engagement). We also have a suite of new Heads of School including Chrissie Thirlwell as Head of Bristol Medical School, joining us from Exeter University; Jennifer McManus as Head of the School of Physics; and John Wylie, as Head of Geographical Sciences, the latter two both internal appointments.
We have a lot going on across our University and it’s important that we all take time to rest and recharge. I hope that you have holiday booked to enjoy the rest of this glorious British summer weather. We are blessed on campus with the many green spaces to enjoy – thank you to our campus team who do a fantastic job of keeping us close to nature. Remember to make use of these spaces to relax and unwind. Our world-class Botanic Garden offers free entry to staff and students, and is well worth a visit for some peace and tranquility (and, as I can testify, a fabulous place to have coffee and cake).
I hope you have a wonderful summer.
- Temple Quarter breaking ground ceremony image:
Professor Welch, Mayor Marvin Rees, Hector McAlpine of Sir Robert McAlpine, Chair of Trustees, Jack Boyer, and Thangam Debbonaire MP
- Civic University Agreement image:
From left to right: Julia Gray, Principal and Chief Executive Officer – City of Bristol College; Professor Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor and President – University of Bristol; Professor Steve West, Vice-Chancellor, President, and Chief Executive Officer – UWE Bristol; Andrea Dell, Head of City Office; and Stephen Peacock, Chief Executive – Bristol City Council. Photo credit – UWE Bristol