For Staff

Separating fact from fiction - November 2011

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the launch of the Carbon Management Plan has been a success. As you may have noticed, the high-profile start of our campaign to reduce carbon emissions by 35% by 2020/21 was parodied by Leeds Student and others, who produced photocopied spoofs mocking the campaign and my salary and distributed them around campus.

I'm pleased students are interested in this issue and the send-ups amused me greatly. Our carbon emissions are an important issue and we wanted to stimulate debate. In 2009/10, our annual energy bill was £11.5m and unchecked, that could reach £17m by 2020/21. I hope students maintain their interest in the plan, and include facts and figures about carbon use in future spoofs!

If we cut our energy use we can spend more on what we are here to do - education and research - and this can only have a positive effect on recruiting the students we want in a more competitive market. There's currently great interest in undergraduate application numbers. The introduction of higher fees in 2012 makes speculation on this issue inevitable - but at this stage in the recruitment process unhelpful.

When tuition fees rose from £1k to £3k in 1994, applications to universities fell 4% before recovering in subsequent years. When fees at some universities reach £9k, you could expect a larger decline, and a recovery taking longer. To counter this it's vital there is accurate, clear information available. I would urge anyone interested in really understanding the new fees system and what it means for students to visit Click on the 'students' tab to help separate the fact from the fiction.

In the meantime, beware of speculation. Applications fluctuate weekly, but the important thing is numbers on 15 January when the deadline closes. There's no complacency, but remember ours is a very popular university. We received more than 52,000 applications from home and EU students for 6,700 undergraduate places last year. I am keen to improve our conversion rates. We need to nurture the students we offer a place to and keep them better informed, so they know how interested we are in them from an early stage.

Some of you may have read press reports on UCAS' recent proposal that there should be wholesale changes to the admissions system. The UCAS review highlights problems including students being allowed to hold offers from multiple institutions, the advice and guidance given to students about applying to university, and the clearing system.

Clearing is a mess and there are problems with the admissions system, but the evidence that we need to abandon it and move to a post-results applications model is far from clear. I found UCAS' suggestions puzzling and to my read, there's no evidence to suggest that the changes will do anything to help widen participation and ensure fair access.

The weight of evidence shows that most A-level predictions, particularly the A-level grades that concern this university, are pretty accurate. There's also a myth that it is children from state schools whose grades are often under-predicted. In fact the converse is true - most of the inaccuracy in this group is an over-prediction, usually by only one grade. If anything, this helps us assess their abilities in a more holistic way that takes account of their potential as well as their achievement.

Let's see what the consultation on UCAS proposals produces, but I am currently quite concerned that the proposed change to a post-A-level result application process has the potential to damage all our good work in widening participation.

I know from regular meetings with our alumni how important it is that we are doing everything we can to encourage any student with the talent to succeed at Leeds to be able to come here - regardless of their background. The subject came up recently when I went on a short alumni and corporate relations trip to North America. Forging closer links with former students is increasingly important, I met close to 200 alumni of all ages in Toronto, New York and San Francisco, and it was highly successful in building up our network and receiving donations.

I also visited Goldman Sachs in New York where we have been running an innovative pilot scheme called "10,000 Small Businesses". Through this, our academics help educate Yorkshire's entrepreneurs in business principles. Entrepreneurs learn new ideas, form peer groups and drive success in the region and it's worked brilliantly. I've met some of these young (and not so young) entrepreneurs and they are a deeply impressive group. It is good to see a company like Goldman Sachs engaging actively in corporate social responsibility and I'm very pleased that they are contributing something tangible to the local economy here in Yorkshire.

In Palo Alto (a stone's throw from Stanford University) I visited 'StartX' - a student-run start-up designed to help students and staff create companies. The students get free business space and advice from top-level entrepreneurs, business angels, companies and venture capitalists to get their companies fizzing and buzzing. I learned about it through our international network, as the daughter of one of our alumni is involved. I was blown away at their thinking, creativity and passion. Student enterprise is strong at Leeds. But can we do more and can we learn from StartX? We're thinking about getting some of our student entrepreneurs over to Stanford to see for themselves.

Finally and as reported last week, I would like to congratulate John Fisher and Eileen Ingham for winning a Queen's Anniversary Prize for their work at the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering. This is a great achievement for everyone at iMBE, and particularly for John, who somehow manages to combine the role of Deputy Vice-Chancellor with this outstanding research, innovation and entrepreneurship.