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President's weekly update

15 November 2018

Thank you to so many of you who’ve taken part in the Our Future initiative – we have received hundreds of suggestions from a wide range of people about what our University might be like, and known for, in the future. These include ideas from a group of nine-year old local schoolchildren!  These ideas and suggestions are now being distilled and discussed and whilst there is a huge diversity of views, even at this early stage some key themes are emerging. These will form the basis for a discussion with our Board of Governors in March 2019 and we will keep you updated and involved in these discussions.  We will publish all the ideas submitted on the Our Future StaffNet site

Of course it won’t be possible to use all of the ideas submitted, some are contradictory, others are about imminent issues rather than our long-term future and some depend on the external environment and perhaps more benign funding conditions than we face.  Where ideas relate to local issues that leaders and teams can address, I’d encourage you to think about how these can influence your own operational plans. Our Future is all about shaping our new vision but it is only the first stage in thinking about our future. We will build on this, seeking the views of individuals and groups across our University on how we get there. We would welcome your feedback on what you have found valuable about Our Future, please email:

I have just begun my series of annual visits to Schools across the University.  In the School of Computer Science I acknowledged colleagues’ great performance in teaching and discussed the huge opportunities in digital, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Staff raised issues about procurement and students said that they found the workload very heavy at certain times and suggested that we could make better use of the valuable graduate teaching assistants (TAs). You may wish to read a statement on StaffNet about TAs.

At one of my regular small meetings with staff from across the University, some said what a great place the University is to work,  but wanted better performance management of staff, more transparency over costs (eg: for minor estates work) and felt that while the University is really good at ‘big things’ we are less good at smaller routine things. They wanted clear statements that we are a place that truly values the discovery of new knowledge, for which the benefit and application is not (at least yet) known. Of course I fully endorsed this which will be part of our next vision.

I spoke at a Foundation for Science and Technology event in London on the role of universities, with Lord David Willetts, former Minister for Universities, and Dr David Sweeney, who leads Research England within UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), our major research funder. My key point was that universities are for ‘public good’ and this applies to all activities.

The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, Kate Gilmore, spent a day in the University to take part in an event on social cohesion and tackling violent extremism which was organised by Policy@Manchester. This was to mark a month of events to recognise the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I hosted a lunch for her with a number of senior colleagues. She then gave a lecture at our Alliance Manchester Business School on ‘Democracy and Human Rights - Which Role for the Youth?’  You can see an interview with Kate on Twitter.

At the Greater Manchester Local Enterprise Partnership (GM LEP) we discussed the local industrial strategy for GM which aligns with our own strengths ie: health innovation and advanced materials and manufacturing, underpinned by digital, creative and the environment. The strategy is currently out for consultation with Greater Manchester citizens. We also discussed support for start-up and scale up companies and major transport problems across the region on road, rail and airport.

I attended another cohort of the second round of our Inspiring Leaders Programme with Patrick Hackett (Registrar, Secretary and Chief Operating Officer). We heard about what they have been learning from the programme and discussed feedback on performance, wider engagement with our local communities and dealing with major uncertainty and the need for change.

The Ethiopian Ambassador, His Excellency Dr Hailemichael Aberra Afework, visited the University to discuss our new Equity and Merit scholarships and other links with Ethiopia and to meet our Chancellor, Lemn Sissay.

We have just completed the Annual Performance Reviews for the three Faculties, Professional Services and the Library. These review all aspects of performance and look at benchmarks against other universities. This time we decided we would not wait a whole year to reconsider progress against targets, but would have a light touch review on the main actions in three to six months.

I interviewed Professor Brian Cox at an event at Jodrell Bank hosted jointly by the University and Coutts Bank. He is on the last stage of filming his next television series for the BBC called ‘The Planets’ which will be broadcast next spring. He passed a few of the biology questions on to me!

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor