My Week – 4 November 2013

A regular update from Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands.

Sir Alan Langlands

The early part of the week was dominated by the effects of the weather. On Monday strong winds and heavy rain in the south-east made train travel south of Peterborough impossible and scuppered a planned meeting with the University of Western Australia, a Worldwide Universities Network (WUN) partner.

By Wednesday – on a visit to the School of Earth and Environment – I was able to take a higher level view of the weather in discussion with the Director of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS), a NERC funded facility that works in collaboration with the University, providing leadership and world class research through fieldwork and modelling studies to improve UK predictions of weather and climate.

The School studies the earth from its core to the atmosphere and, with a complete range of disciplines, working in an integrated way in purpose built accommodation, it also has the range to tackle questions of energy, water and sustainable development.

At a time when the University is first off the blocks with Professor John Lovett’s MOOC on making fair-minded decisions about the management of natural resources, the relevance of this pioneering programme was driven home on my visit when I heard about the UK INDEMAND Centre which aims to deliver significant reductions in the use of both energy and energy-intensive materials in the industries that supply the UK’s physical needs. The dilemma here is that whilst the run down of the UK manufacturing industry has resulted in reduced emissions, our consumption has grown, and the world’s use of energy has risen as our needs are met through imports.  Alongside the gradual equalisation of labour costs, is this the beginning of a case for repatriation of manufacturing to the UK.

Later in the week and in the same territory, the Director of the Centre for Low Carbon Futures – a collaboration with four other universities – briefed me on the economics of a low carbon future in the Leeds City Region and talked me through the University’s work in China on carbon capture, utilisation and storage.

Other highlights were an equally stimulating visit to the Business School – another highly rated ‘ full spectrum’ asset which draws nearly 3000 students from 80 countries and provides a gateway to a powerful international alumni network of business leaders and policy makers – and an extended meeting with all of the Pro-Deans for Student Education.

In the Pro-Deans' meeting we discussed the development of the Student Education Service; the need to achieve greater consistency in the way we implement academic and personal tutoring provision; advances in blended learning and other new digital initiatives; and the power of joint honours programmes as a route to employment and further study and research. I was impressed by the underlying commitment to academic excellence. Invited to comment on the strategic priorities of the University, the Pro Deans never missed a beat in highlighting the ongoing importance of recruiting and supporting high quality students from all backgrounds, and ensuring that our students will graduate as confident individuals able to use their skills of independent, critical thinking in taking their place in the global community.

Towards the end of the week, I met with a number of our senior alumni in London and was impressed by their continued commitment to provide tangible support for student bursaries and key research appointments, and also a clear will to share their expertise with the University community. Next week’s plans include a lightening visit to the US where I will meet more than 120 alumni in New York.

My next update will therefore take the form of ‘A letter from America’ – it remains to be seen if this will reflect the eloquence of the late Alistair Cooke or the earthiness of The Proclaimers!

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