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President's weekly update

13 December 2018

We held the official opening of the Masdar Building which is at the southern end of our North Campus and houses the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (the GEIC).  The event was attended by His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, representatives of each of the funders (the building is entirely externally funded), city leaders and dignitaries including the Lord Lieutenant, the Lord Mayor, the High Sherriff, and 180 guests. Our new start-up companies (including several started by our own PhD students) were particularly impressive.

At the opening we had a tour of exhibits showing the applications of graphene and other two-dimensional materials and new equipment in the large ‘high bay’ area. In the formal ceremony the Duke of York unveiled a plaque to mark the opening of the building which was followed by a lunch.  The next day almost 300 people visited the GEIC to see the demonstrations and hear about our research and facilities.

Immediately after the GEIC opening I attended a Board meeting of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership Board (of which I am a member) chaired by George Osborne, which discussed transport across the North, trade and investment, energy strategy and digital strengths and opportunities.

The Northern Powerhouse also featured at an event in our John Rylands Library on Deansgate which I co-hosted with Lord Jim O’Neill and was attended by a number of donors, alumni and senior local business leaders. I gave an update on our University, including our plans for the North Campus. It’s interesting how many people who have lived and worked in Manchester for some years have never been inside the amazing historic reading room at the John Rylands.

At the Council for Science and Technology, which I co-chair with Professor Patrick Vallance the government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, we updated on the many ongoing projects and had an extended discussion on the value of cultural industries to the UK and the development of creative digital approaches. Both of these are very important to the Manchester city region.

I spoke at the joint launch and stakeholder event for the new mental health partnership between the region’s four universities and the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership. This is a new initiative between our University, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), the universities of Salford and Bolton, the Royal Northern College of Music and Greater Manchester (GM) Health and Social Care Partnership. This new approach, believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, will provide a dedicated, fast-track mental health service for students at the GM universities and will begin in September 2019.

I attended a joint meeting between University staff and those from the GM Combined Authority where we discussed the GM Local Industrial Strategy, follow up from the recent ‘anchor institutions’ meeting we hosted, work with local schools, progress on our Digital Futures and Creative Manchester initiatives and on North Campus development.

In one of my regular meetings with Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of MMU, we discussed the potential implications of Brexit, pensions and the on-going Augar review of post-18 education and funding. There have been reports in the media suggesting that the review may recommend a significant reduction in the cap to undergraduate home fees – possibly to £6,500 or £7,500.  If this is the case, then it will be essential that the difference between any new fee cap and the existing £9,250 fee is made up by government funding.  Given other budgetary pressures, many believe that this is highly unlikely.  If this does prove to be the case and a reduction in the fee cap is accepted by the government it would have a very major impact on universities such as ours.

At a meeting with Professor Sir Salvador Moncada who is one of our leading experts in cancer research, we discussed progress with his vision for enhancing research into the prevention and very early diagnosis of cancer as a means of improving patient outcomes and reducing health costs and the growing issue of people ‘living well’ with cancer.

At one of my regular update meetings with Edward Astle, Chair of our Board of Governors, we discussed the GEIC event and the commercialisation of two-dimensional materials, external pressures such as Brexit and how difficult it is to predict outcomes, the Augar review, student recruitment and experience, the Board conference next Spring and the forthcoming round of performance and development reviews and priority setting for senior staff.

This week we held winter degree ceremonies which are always a time for celebration - although the weather this week was not as good as for those held during the summer. At the ceremonies I presided over the diversity of our student population was very clear as students from so any different countries attended.

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor