VC's letter to all staff

The Vice-Chancellor has sent a letter to all staff.

Dear colleague,

I am writing to you at a critical moment for our University. We stand at a crossroads, and different paths now lie before us, offering rather different outcomes. But there is one road that is already closed, no matter how much we may have wanted to take it.

There is no turning back the clock on the tumultuous changes that have swept through the higher education system in the last few months. Change is seldom straightforward, and I know that the current period of unprecedented turbulence has been a difficult time for all of us.

But the coalition government is not going to change its decision on higher education funding, and we need to move on and focus on what will happen in the future. The new era of higher tuition fees will do for teaching and learning what the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) has done for research. The RAE transformed this country's research landscape, not only dramatically boosting the quality of research, but concentrating funding in research-intensive universities like ours.

Similarly, asking students to contribute more to the cost of their education will create a clear link between funding and performance in learning and teaching. We must ensure that the learning and teaching we offer always lives up to superb reputation we have built up over the past 107 years.

Viv Jones has spoken about the special 'partnership relationship' that exists between ourselves and our students. This relationship has been nurtured and promoted through initiatives like LeedsforLife and the Learning and Teaching Partnership, and is treasured. It is clear that higher tuition fees pose a major challenge but I am sure that our responsibility is to respond by focusing on what is really important - our students.

We will continue to compete with other top universities to recruit the best and the brightest undergraduates, regardless of background. But we will have to go further. We need to show that coming to our university will be one of the best investments a young person with the suitable drive and ability can make in their future. We must strive to articulate this as clearly
as possible, and we must redouble our efforts to ensure that parental income and a disadvantaged background are not barriers to becoming a Leeds student.

When we have convinced them to come, we must consistently deliver the highest quality student experience. We already offer a high-quality, distinctive student experience and this means we have solid foundations upon which to build. LeedsforLife is special and successful and our students love it.

Four years ago, the student representatives system barely worked. Contrast that with the situation today, where a fantastic network has been established and is already working well in most schools. The curriculum review is a massive piece of work, but will ensure that our offering to students is tailored, up to date, and as good as it possibly can be.

Improving our scores in the National Student Survey (NSS) will be important because of the way students will decide which institution to apply to. The NSS is a critical indicator of how well we are doing and currently, our results are - to be blunt - patchy, ranging from the excellent to the decidedly lukewarm. We must deliver excellence across the board, with no exceptions. The current review of Student Services will similarly focus on improving the consistency, quality and equity of experience for all students at all times on all courses, as well as provide career progression for our staff.

We cannot be diverted or dragged backwards by futile and time-wasting argument. It is obvious that the months in the build-up to 2012 will be best spent ensuring everything is in place to give our students the best possible experience at Leeds.

As you may know, the UCU is currently balloting locally for strike action. I've almost lost count of the number of disputes, of one type or another, declared by the current leadership of Leeds UCU. But I do remember that around a year ago, in similar circumstances, I said I was not prepared to let the university become the battleground for the future of higher education. That remains the case because that would damage us hugely. So despite UCU's latest claim - that 1,000 jobs at Leeds are under threat, which is reckless and untrue - my door remains open to the UCU and I am willing to listen to reasonable and rational arguments based in fact.

So for the record, let me say what I believe about the current fees situation. I don't agree with the government's decision to cut public funding for universities. I would prefer a more balanced, fair and equitable approach, with government and students sharing the cost of their degrees.

But we have to deal with the situation as it is, not as we might like it to be. Higher tuition fees are a done deal and no amount of arguing will alter things. We must remain in charge of our own destiny. We have already started on this course - the economies exercise took £35m of cost savings out of the University, making us more efficient and able to cope with the government cuts that have now been imposed without having to make further economies. The review process, overseen by Senate, is in place to help schools ensure they are academically and financially sustainable; their successful completion is of critical importance to our future. We have an agreement on change management processes that offers the highest level of job security possible in the current climate; nobody has ever been made compulsorily redundant from a job at this university and it remains the very last resort.

My overriding concern is and has always been ensuring our university's academic excellence. I know that this university's greatest asset is its staff, and I value greatly what you have to say. As I walk around campus, I hear interesting - and sometimes challenging - opinions about what should happen. I want to hear more and that is why three public meetings will be held on campus on 17th, 24th and 25th of March. The 'Preparing for 2012' meetings will be your chance to ask me and other senior officers about what is happening, and to share ideas about how to make things better.

We are fantastically well-placed. We have a great university, great students and great staff. 2012 and beyond promises to be hugely challenging, but we have the skills and the determination to respond.

Thank you for reading this letter.

Yours sincerely

Michael Arthur

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