Brexit and the Office for Students — Vice Chancellor's blog
Thank you all for your contributions to the University during this exceptionally busy term. I am grateful to so many of you for helping me get to know the University during my first weeks as Vice-Chancellor and for attending, either in person or virtually, my inaugural lecture on 7 December. As well as a recording of the event, the text of the lecture is available online.
I would like to focus my blog this month on two matters in our external public policy environment of enormous significance for the future of the University. The first of these is Brexit, where the government is finally beginning to reach the sharp end of negotiations. The announcements on Friday on citizenship and the future rights of EU residents in the UK, on access to Horizon 2020 and Erasmus + beyond March 2019 and on the UK’s future participation in EU programmes were a step in the right direction.
However, we continue to monitor the extremely volatile political situation through our Brexit Taskforce, shaping the measures that will help us mitigate the impact of Brexit for our students, staff and the institution. Moving forward, we will be working with faculties to arrange for legal and policy experts to attend staff meetings and answer questions from colleagues. As the national negotiations continue, the Brexit Taskforce will also publish more regular updates on the work it is doing, and on the wider political situation. In the coming months, we plan to put additional measures and investment in place that will provide further support and guidance for all international staff and their families on the many complex issues surrounding immigration and citizenship.
Finally, I am obviously disappointed at the European Commission’s decision to bar the UK from the European Capital of Culture competition, which included a strong bid from Nottingham, backed by the University. However, we are not giving up yet. We will seek to keep up the momentum generated by the work and spirit of the bid – bringing cultural and civic partners together from across Nottingham and Nottinghamshire under its "breaking the frame" banner.
The second area much on my mind is the evolution of policy around the Office for Students (OfS), which will become an official higher education regulatory body on 1 April 2018. The Department for Education consultation on the 500+ page regulatory framework is about to close. While I am pleased that the educational quality and attainment of our students is being given serious attention, there are some worrying aspects of the regulatory document as it stands. The OfS will have the powers to register universities and to close them, as well as to set expectations about how we conduct our affairs and manage our budgets.
With Nicola Dandridge as Chief Executive and Michael Barber as Chair, we can have some confidence that the OfS will act as a fair regulator. However, the University will be submitting an institutional response to the consultation, and I will be sending a joint letter with the President of our Students’ Union, Alan Holey, expressing our concerns about a number of the proposals. I will ensure that copies of both the consultation response and joint letter will be available to staff across the University shortly.
For the students at our University, I have been keen to engage as many staff as possible with important reforms to improve how we deliver services to them. In October, I announced a "review and improve" task group to consider operational effectiveness around our delivery of student services. That group, chaired by Sarah Sharples and sponsored by Jeremy Gregory, has done some stellar and rapid work over the last few weeks and will make recommendations to the University Executive Board in the new year. Thank you to all who have joined workshops or fed into the review.
I also announced intentions to hold a University-wide debate about the "21st Century University", sponsored by Sarah O’Hara, as well as a review of our recruitment processes from an equality, diversity and inclusion perspective, sponsored by Marion Walker. Both of those projects have now been scoped and will begin after Christmas – I hope you will feel able to contribute your views to them. I have been pleased to see positive actions taken by Schools and Departments in response to the staff engagement survey. The University Executive Board is also developing an institutional action plan for the survey which we will publish when we return from the Christmas break.
In closing, I would like to announce two additional initiatives. First, the BBC documentary Blue Planet II has brought public awareness of the damaging effects of plastics on our environment into sharp relief. As a University known for its sustainability initiatives, I have asked Andy Nolan, Director of Estates (Sustainability) to produce a comprehensive plan for how we can further reduce our use of plastics over the coming years.
I would also like to make a personal offer. In developing our submission for the Athena Swan award, it is clear that we need to improve our succession planning for women in leadership roles. As a personal contribution to that agenda, I would like to offer some shadowing opportunities to women in the University who aspire to senior leadership roles in higher education – more details will follow after the Christmas break.
Thank you again for all your support these last few weeks. Congratulations to all our students receiving their degrees at graduation ceremonies this week. I wish you all a relaxing and happy holiday season, and hope you will return energised and refreshed for the new year.
Professor Shearer West
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