VC blog – Community, culture, impact

In a personal blog, our Vice-Chancellor Professor Simone Buitendijk reflects on the last few weeks, including COP27, the Knowledge Equity Network and Campus Live.

Performers at campus live

Building a strong University community

We are now well into our academic year and the campus is busy and vibrant. It’s been brilliant to see music, comedy, dance, street entertainment and art through our Campus Live programme, bringing atmosphere, joy and fun to university life.

Our culture and our community is at the very heart of our strategy and our values. We can only make a positive difference to the world if our University community is strong and we collaborate with other communities across the planet.

Delegates at Ken

Knowledge is power

With that in mind, it’s been fantastic to see the progress being made through our recently launched pioneering Knowledge Equity Network (KEN).

KEN is creating the opportunity to globally and openly share the collective knowledge of universities and other producers of research. The launch summit, organised by the University of Leeds and held on campus at Nexus, brought together higher education leaders from, for example, South Africa, New Zealand, Thailand, Mexico, Sudan, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States.

At the summit we emphasised the vital importance of working together in research and research-led education to meet the United Nation’s sustainable development goals and tackle the world’s most difficult and urgent challenges.

Historically, it hasn’t been as straight forward as you might think – or hope – to share knowledge equitably with thought-leaders, policymakers, funders, experts and learners internationally.

Together, through KEN, we will work with our partners to adopt open and collaborative practices of knowledge creation and dissemination with and for our staff, students, and the local and global communities that we serve. And, by doing so, build greater agility as a global community to respond to inequality, social injustice, the global climate crisis and socio-economic challenges the world over.

Demonstrators wanting climate action

Climate change and COP27

On the global stage, we continue to influence world leaders. At COP27 in Egypt, a team of academics, researchers and alumni from the Priestley International Centre for Climate presented research evidence on issues including energy governance, Congo peatlands’ carbon storage, the role of heritage and culture for global change and food transformations.

I was struck by the message from one of our Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Sumeha Basu, who said: “It is time to walk the talk. Climate change is here and now. It is affecting daily lives. Leaders need to forge a multidimensional, human centric, just strategy for implementing their climate change commitments immediately.”

The power of those sentiments, I am sure, are supported by all of us in the University community. I’d like to extend my thanks to the delegation – and also to all those who ensure that we continue to deliver on our climate change commitments.

Last year we launched our Climate Plan, with an investment of £174m over the next 10 years. Much of that investment will be focused on meeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

In recent weeks, we published our first annual progress report and invited comments from staff, students, researchers and the wider community on our direction of travel. The Priestley Centre is analysing the feedback and will publish its response early in the new year. We understand there are those who want to us go faster. Next year we’ll do more to raise awareness and understanding of this important work. We hope to hear your views, have further debate and build partnerships across our community.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Simone Buitendijk in conversation with two scholars

Scholarships Reception

I recently had the pleasure of attending our Scholarships Reception. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our extraordinary scholars and personally thank our donors and supporters for their generosity and support of students.

During the evening, I spoke with many of our incredible scholars and had the absolute delight of introducing Henschel Freduah-Agyemang, a remarkable scholarship recipient currently studying Medicine and Surgery.  Henschel spoke to our guests eloquently and powerfully about his personal journey to studying at Leeds and I was particularly struck by his unwavering commitment to use his own experience to help others succeed.

Supporting our community

In these challenging times, we face pressures as the cost-of-living crisis continues and people face real hardship during the winter.

The impact of these challenges will be hardest on our students and colleagues in lower grades. So we are giving a second cost of living payment of £650 to those colleagues and we are increasing the student financial assistance fund.

We can’t resolve the cost-of-living crisis alone, but it is right that we have extended further financial support. We will closely monitor the impacts on our colleagues, students and researchers in the coming weeks.

Your health and wellbeing cut to the heart of our community. Please reach out for help through our support networks if you are struggling in the current climate.

Staff engagement

One highlight of recent weeks was getting to meet a group of our cleaning staff. I was struck by their commitment to waste reduction and the net zero plans for the university. They had many suggestions for change that we will be looking at carefully in the months to come.

We have so much to thank our cleaners for, from keeping us safer during the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensuring we all have a pleasant and healthy environment in which to work. 

Their pride in working for the University of Leeds was truly inspiring. 

I have also been talking to some of our brilliant technical staff to understand what matters most to them, what’s working well and where things could be improved.

We spoke about the University’s Fair Attribution Policy, which is designed to recognise the great contribution made by technical staff. We talked about the changing nature of their roles and responsibilities and career opportunities available to them.  I am pleased the University has signed the

Technician Commitment - a Science Council commitment to provide greater visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technical staff.

Early in the new year, we will also be launching our staff engagement survey. This will be an opportunity for you all to share your views on the university’s performance, your experience as employees and what matters most to you. We will listen to your views, analyse the results and build open and transparent action plans in response. 

Winter graduation

Finally, I’m really looking forward to being part of our Winter graduations. It’s such an honour to welcome graduands, and their family and friends, on to our campus to celebrate their achievements. 

We’re so proud of our graduates. Many of their predecessors have gone on to achieve great things and we hope that this year’s graduates can take what they’ve learned at Leeds to create a better world for generations to come. 

We also know that this isn’t the end of their time at Leeds: it’s the beginning of a life-long relationship with us as part of our global Leeds alumni community.

I know that, despite the many challenges we face today, colleagues care passionately about our students, and work incredibly hard to help them fulfil their potential. We are creating bright futures - thank you for your drive, commitment and the contribution you make every day.

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