My week - 13 January 2014 - the Student Education Conference and recuitment

A regular update from Vice-Chancellor Sir Alan Langlands.

Sir Alan Langlands

Welcome back and I wish you all good health and great success in 2014.

The highlight of our holiday was the birth of James, our first grandchild.  As I looked into his eyes I was moved by the idea that he is conceivably the first member of our family who will live into the 22nd century – so I enter the New Year with a great sense of hope for all that lies ahead.

The highlight of our first full week back at the University was undoubtedly the third annual Student Education Conference.  With more than 500 participants, this was a tribute to the leadership of Viv Jones and the conference organisers Kelvin Tapley, Stephanie Stones and Rebecca Shaw.  The conference enjoyed inspirational and thought-provoking contributions from Martin Bean and Sophie Duncan, and an extensive programme of workshops.  My own opening remarks are reproduced below and reflect my sense that our commitment to innovation in student education is our strongest foundation stone.

“There are only a few universities that could hold a conference like this and having read the abstracts no other that could mount such a rich and diverse programme.  This reflects the University’s central commitment to the integration of world class research, scholarship and education and the pursuit of academic excellence.  It is also a tribute to all of you who work hard to inspire and enrich the lives of our students.

I like the conference theme of engagement, a reminder of the part we play in civilising society, enabling social mobility, providing relevant education and professional training, and making a wide range of economic, social and cultural impacts. Such service is not at odds with the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake – throughout history universities have always had to strike a balance between wisdom and utility and they still do.

Whilst accepting the importance of engagement – we must also recognise that University often transforms the lives of individual students.  Aldous Huxley said: “There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving and that’s your own self”.  Universities help individuals to improve themselves and the one to one engagement between student and tutor must not be eclipsed by national and international perspectives. 
The vibrancy of the student body and the explicit commitment of the University to achieving the highest standards in student education are two of the most striking features of Leeds.

These build on:

  • a dynamic approach to curriculum review and quality improvement
  • the growing success of the Leeds for Life approach, which fuses the academic and co-curricular experiences of our students
  • the strength of the Partnership between the University, Leeds University Union (with its compelling vision for student life) and the wider student body
  • a positive attitude towards technology enhanced learning, assessment and student support. Last Thursday I saw at first hand the brilliant work being done in the medical school on this and of course we have made a serious start on MOOCs
  • and all of this is underpinned by the development of the student education service – which improves and simplifies the support provided to staff and students, whilst promoting innovative practices.

It is against this background that the University recruited a record number of high quality students last summer – alongside Manchester, probably more ABB+ students than any other University in the country and more than Oxford and Queen Mary Universities added together.  We are also making really good progress with 2014 entry, but with a lot of hard work ahead.

We should also take particular pride in the fact that we did this whilst continuing to build on the University’s commitment to spot talent early and to boost the aspirations, attainment and achievement of students from more challenging backgrounds.

I saw the report to the Office for Fair Access and HEFCE the other day documenting our progress on access and widening participation.  Total fee income committed to financial support, outreach and student support was nearly £13.5m in 2012/13; more than “one in three” of our students received financial support and first year full time entrants from low socio-economic groups was more than 22%, without any downside on quality.

We are doing great things at Leeds – so take time at this conference to celebrate your success, to learn from each other and to refresh and renew your commitment to the excitement of great higher education."

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