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President's weekly update

12 July 2018

I gave the introductory address at a meeting to launch our new Digital Futures initiative that was attended by nearly 200 staff. This brings together a very large range of research and skills in digital, including computer science and mathematics, health data, ‘fintech’, ‘legaltech’, social sciences data, creative digital, cybersecurity, privacy and trust. Other speakers and I described the importance of this area and our strengths across over 700 principal investigators in the University working in all three Faculties and IT Services and our strong partnerships with the City, the Alan Turing Institute and global academic and business partners.

You may have seen the announcement that Professor Graham Lord a leading clinical academic from King’s College London, will take up the position of Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health at our University early next year. Graham is currently Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. He is also a clinician at Guy’s and St Thomas’.

It has also just been announced that global diagnostic company QIAGEN will markedly expand its research and development base in Manchester. This will involve new collaborations with the University in genomics, diagnostics and precision medicine. Many people within and outside the University have worked hard to make this happen and I’m particularly grateful to Professor Ian Greer, Vice-President and Dean for the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health who played a key role in this landmark partnership between academia, industry and the NHS.

At an away day for senior staff in our Directorate of Finance, I spoke about the current strengths and opportunities for the University, external challenges and uncertainties and how colleagues in Finance can help us to realise benefits and respond to change and uncertainty. I highlighted the ongoing importance of being open and transparent in a rapidly changing environment. Sometimes changes are made due to decisions taken within the University but often they are in response to external factors.  In both cases we must ensure that colleagues are aware why change is happening so that we can all understand how those changes affect us. 

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of league tables as they give a very limited picture of the rich and diverse work of universities and the life-changing opportunities they present.  But they are a fact of life in the sector now.  The THE has just publicised a new league table of teaching excellence in Europe in which we came 7th in Europe. On the face of it this is fantastic, but we do need to take a closer look at the methodology of this table - and that of many other emerging league tables - before we begin to trumpet our ‘achievement.’

At a board meeting for the Dementia Research Institute (of which I am a member) in London we learnt about progress across the six universities in the network and plans for a new Care and Technology centre in dementia.

Whilst in London I also met Rory Brooks, Chair of our Global Leadership Board, and his wife Elizabeth, who are both great supporters of the University. I updated Rory on some recent developments, including the QIAGEN announcement and we discussed his ongoing support.

At our Planning and Resources Committee we received an update on staff compliance with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). All staff are required to take a short online data protection course every two years.  You can check your online training record to see when you are next due to complete it.

I hosted an event with Coutts bank which was attended by a number of their clients (some of whom are alumni of the University) in the John Rylands Library Reading Room. Professor Sir Andre Geim joined us and talked about research on graphene and other two dimensional materials and their applications, his career and winning the Ig Nobel prize for levitating frogs which emerged fully healthy from the experience!

Professor Luke Georghiou, Deputy President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and I met Professor Duncan Maskell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge University. In October Duncan will become President at the University of Melbourne, with which we have an established and successful partnership. We discussed how we could further extend the partnership in research, education, PhD students and social responsibility. 

I met Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, for one of our regular catch ups. We shared concerns about many external uncertainties, considered areas where we can better work together (notably in health and creative activities) and agreed that the next few weeks of degree ceremonies were some of the best in our university calendars. This year they are so far rather warm! 

I took part in a teleconference with The Christie and Cancer Research UK to discuss plans for the new Paterson Building to replace the building damaged by fire. This will require a major joint fundraising effort.

At the weekend I attended our ‘Lab Reunion’ which is held every five years. Over 80 current and past post-docs, PhD students and technicians attended, who had joined us over the past 30 years. Three are now professors in Manchester. One student who had suffered serious illness during her research degree was full of praise for the support she had received from the University.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor