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President's weekly update

23 January 2020

Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, visited us.  Professor Philip Withers updated him on the Royce Institute (the building is due to be handed over next month), Professor Sir Andre Geim spoke about current research on graphene and other two-dimensional materials and showed him our clean rooms in the National Graphene Institute. Professor Nigel Scrutton spoke about biotechnology and Professor Barry Lennox showed him some of our robots and described their applications particularly in hostile environments where there is contamination.

We also updated the Minister and his colleagues on our research on digital (he was particularly interested to hear about fintech and legaltech), health (including our new Christabel Pankhurst Institute for Health Technology, Research and Innovation), environment and energy and Innovation District Manchester (IDM).  We gave him a short tour of our North Campus where IDM will be based. Given all the messages from Whitehall about support for science and technology, I urged that the Government must not forget the critical importance of social sciences, business studies and the wider humanities. Creative industries are extremely important to Manchester. He was interested in our initiative Creative Manchester and the appointment of leading figures in creative activities, such as Sir Peter Bazalgette.

At the Greater Manchester (GM) Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) meeting I spoke about our plans for a new model for commercialisation of graphene and related materials given that so many applications are now emerging. We also discussed skills, achieving zero carbon (with major input from our Tyndall Centre noted), business support, social enterprise and interaction with the new Government.

I have been in many meetings with staff, either in small groups (such as Inspiring Leaders and Leading@Manchester cohorts) and in a much larger forum of an open meeting with senior colleagues. The latter was attended by about 300 staff and you can watch a recording on StaffNet. The main topics that came up were wellbeing and workloads, our credit rating and impact on finances, equality, diversity and inclusion, environment and our investments, interdisciplinary research, staff contracts, delivering value for students and what excites us about ‘Our future’ - our new vision and strategic plan - many of us said our people (staff, students and alumni) being at the heart of it and integration between each of the themes.

I hosted our annual ‘civic dinner’ which was attended by local leaders including the Lord Mayor, the Lord Lieutenant, the High Sheriff, the Honorary Recorder and the Chief Executives of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and Manchester City Council. As usual I invited feedback on the University, we discussed how we can balance the prosperity of the North and the South and across different communities in our city region, our role in civic engagement and global influence.

We held one of our regular meetings with leaders from the GMCA. We spoke about the Minister’s visit and likely follow-up, and opportunities for Government funding in the North. We updated colleagues from GMCA on our many activities with them including for example Policy@manchester, volunteering, engagement with schools, the recent excellent report on our Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit, business engagement and skills.

I attended one of the Humanities’ Dean’s Core Brief sessions. We discussed ‘Our future’ and the critical role of humanities. I noted some recent major successes in humanities spanning creative, business, policy, legal, social sciences and development and the importance of so many cross-University projects that engage humanities such as digital, creative, environment, business etc.

I met Professor Linda Merrick, Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music to talk about arts and health (a great example of humanities engaging with other parts of the University) and ‘popular culture’, which Manchester is so well known for.

It was a great pleasure to have a viewing of the ‘Seeing the Invisible’ exhibition in our John Rylands Library. Professor Peter Pormann showed me incredible manuscripts and early printed books, some over a 1,000 years old. Using an ‘Arts Lab’ approach with advanced imaging techniques, Peter and his colleagues have revealed the hidden text of an erased manuscript, known as the Syriac Galen Palimpsest: it contains an extremely influential pharmacological text, originally written in ancient Greek and translated into Syriac. The exhibition highlights the forgotten contribution of Middle Eastern Christians to the development of science and medicine, not just in the Islamic world, but also in European universities. The exhibition is open until 8 March 2020 and well worth visiting.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor

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