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President's weekly update

21 September 2017

Senior colleagues and I are following up on my visits earlier this month to Hong Kong and Shenzhen.  After a busy week back in Manchester, I spent a couple of days in Singapore on my way to speak at an international conference in Melbourne.

In Singapore, I met the new team leading our very successful Singapore Alumni Association and the immediate past President Hian Seng Tang who has been enormously helpful to us. Singapore is one of our most active alumni associations.

The Patron of our Singapore Alumni Association is the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Teo Chee Hean, who I met with Professor Sir Andre Geim. We discussed collaborations between the University and Singapore in materials, including our Royce Institute; research in risk – in which we have an institute known as the Ashton Institute; and health. Singapore has a major interest in health data and informatics.

I met the President of the National University of Singapore to discuss collaborations in the above areas and in public engagement and in our museums, each of which has a focus on natural history, particularly dinosaurs.

I co-hosted an event in Singapore with Roland Davies, Director of the British Council in Singapore, where I spoke about our University, and universities of the future. Andre presented to around 200 people on graphene and its potential applications. During questions, he described his experiments on levitating frogs which led to the award of his Ig Nobel prize. I also met several senior alumni and potential donors to the University at lunches and tried the famous durian fruit – which was much nicer than I had been led to expect (but does smell pretty bad).

At an event to celebrate the widening remit of our University of Manchester Worldwide with the British High Commissioner, we cut a purple ribbon, witnessed an amazing Chinese ‘lion dance’ (in purple of course) and took part in traditional ‘tile painting’.

Before I left the UK, I co-chaired a meeting of the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST) with Professor Sir Mark Walport, which was  Mark’s last meeting as he is moving to be  the Chief Executive of UK Research and Innovation. We welcomed new members to the CST, but as yet have no news on Mark’s successor as the Government Chief Scientific Advisor. I attended the leaving event for Mark at the Science Museum in London and met many leaders in science, current collaborators and former staff.

I met with staff at the Royal Society to discuss alignment of projects between the CST and the Royal Society. I also met Professor Richard Clegg, a former member of our staff who is now Managing Director of the Lloyd’s Register Foundation which  we are working with on our new risk institute and potentially several other initiatives.

The journey back from London was not as expected – there were no trains from Euston on Friday morning due to a fire by the track, but after a long journey via Sheffield, I made it back to Manchester in time to welcome some of our many international students who have joined us, along with many other students returning for the new academic year. I told the story of Manchester being known as the ‘City of Migrants’, welcoming people from across the world.

Back here on campus, Welcome Week is in full swing and it’s great to see so many colleagues wearing their Ask Me badges.  I’ve also filmed a welcome message for new and returning students. 

One of the highlights of Welcome Week is the Sustainability Challenge where 8,000 first year undergraduates are invited to take part in an event based on building a new campus for the fictitious University of Millchester.  This event is a great introduction to:

It is also the first step towards achieving the prestigious:

I am sure that you will have noticed that there have been media stories about universities over recent weeks covering everything from student fees, value for money, vice-chancellors’ salaries and staff pensions. Not all of the reporting has been particularly well informed, but there is no denying that as a sector we are firmly in the spotlight and that reform of university funding and student fees and debt are now on the agenda of many politicians. We shouldn’t necessarily fear reform, especially if it addresses some of the inequities of the current funding system for students and graduates. But we do need to ensure that any proposed short-term fix doesn’t cause long-term irreparable damage to our world-class universities or particular subjects, especially as we know that the cost of undergraduate education for our University is almost exactly the same as our income from student fees and government funding. We can best prepare for the forthcoming debate by becoming more transparent and by communicating more effectively about the tremendous contributions that universities make to our economy, society and our local communities.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor

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