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President's weekly update

15 February 2018

At a very full Senate we discussed the review of effectiveness of our Senate and agreed on a review group that was representative of the Senate membership with the Chair and terms of reference to be proposed by the group. Importantly the role of Senate as the principal academic authority in the University was reiterated. It was noted that our Board of Governors exercises all the powers and discretions of the University, including all the legal, regulatory and charitable accountabilities.  

Senate also received updates from me on key activities in the higher education sector and at our University.  Vice-President for Research Professor Colette Fagan gave an update on research and Professor Clive Agnew (Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students) updated on teaching, learning and the student experience. Professor Martin Schröder (Vice-President and Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, FSE) discussed plans for the next stages of the review of FSE structure.

I commented on the proposed changes to future USS pension benefits and our concerns about potential industrial action. There were no questions or comments from Senate.

I visited two Schools. Staff in the School of Chemistry told me about their success in research and they were pleased to have been awarded further funding for the refurbishment of the Chemistry building. They asked about the next steps in the FSE review of structures and wanted to know more about the drivers for change, Brexit and potential threats to support for fundamental research. Sadly no students turned up for our open meeting.

In the School of Environment, Education and Development both staff and students asked about the likely impact of proposed industrial action and the implications of proposed changes to future USS pension benefits. Students wanted to hear about how we can better deal with waste management in halls and staff brought up local IT support, the cost of visas for international staff and distance learning programmes.

At Wolfson College, Oxford University, I gave the annual Wolfson-Haldane lecture on our work on stroke, which was followed by a dinner in the College. The lecture is named after a famous physiologist, JBS Haldane. It was nice to see some colleagues and friends, including Professor Keith Gull, who was the first Dean for Research in the School of Biological Sciences at The University of Manchester soon after I arrived.

We were visited by senior staff from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to discuss our research projects and funding from EPSRC, our doctoral training colleges and major activities, including graphene research and the Royce Institute for Advanced Materials.

Professor Colette Fagan and I hosted a dinner for some of our earlier career and established researchers where we discussed improving our research quality and ambition, funding, prioritising support and many other things. All valued the new Presidential Fellowships and Investing in Success schemes.

I was a panel member at a conference at the British Library run by the Knowledge Quarter – this is a district around King’s Cross which has many parallels with our Oxford Road Corridor partnership which I chair. We discussed ‘the role of the knowledge creator’ in an apparent climate of mistrust of experts and ‘facts’.

While in London I also met Professor Patrick Vallance, who will soon take up the position of the Government Chief Scientific Advisor and will co-chair with me the Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology (CST). Patrick has extensive experience of research in academia and industry.

I attended a dinner at Manchester Metropolitan University with Damian Hinds, who has recently taken up the position of Secretary of State for Education. He said he was a ‘Manchester lad’ and spent a lot of time listening and learning about issues around all aspects of education in Manchester.

Our Board Finance Committee considered the first stage of our long term planning for North Campus which we will begin to vacate in 2021 when Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD) is completed. The Committee also reviewed other parts of our campus developments, our current and future financial position and the return of our ‘Transparent Approach to Costing’ to the Higher Education Funding Council for England on the costs and sustainability of all our activities. This shows that last year we just achieved financial sustainability and confirms that an operating surplus of 5-7% needs to be at the very least maintained in the long term.

Our Board Audit Committee reviewed our detailed risk register. This not only highlights key internal and external risks but how we aim to limit or mitigate the consequences of these risks. The most important risks include Brexit, major changes in government funding, loss of high quality students (particularly those from outside the UK) and the impact of industrial action on our staff, students and core activities, though we are aiming to mitigate this as much as possible.

We have just announced the release of some of our endowment funds to support important new activities. In many cases these funds have been unused for many years and therefore have not fulfilled their original intention. For further details see:

There is much current discussion around potential changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s (USS’s) future benefit structure as a result of the latest valuation and economic factors impacting on USS are also having major effect on other pension schemes with a defined benefit element.  The proposed changes are subject to a statutory consultation with all active USS members who are currently paying into their pension, employees eligible to join USS and elected representatives; this consultation will begin on Monday, 19 March 2018. USS has released a statement on the current position and the proposed changes see:

Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor

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