14 October 2010

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to my first update as the College’s new Principal.

I would like thank Professor Rob Kemp for his hard work as Acting Principal and I am delighted to continue his tradition of producing a regular Principal’s update. I would welcome any feedback on the update, including ideas for future coverage, style and frequency.

An innovation in this report is a Comment column, designed to address a topical issue by a member of the senior management team. The first of these highlights Public Spending Cuts and The Browne Review.

It has been a pleasure meeting colleagues across the College and I hope to see as many of you as can make it at the next lunchtime Staff Open Meeting on Wednesday 3 November at 1pm in the Windsor Auditorium.

Professor Paul Layzell

News updates

Times Higher Education World University Rankings

You will have already been notified of the stunning performance of the College in the 2010 Times Higher World University Rankings, achieving 88th position in the world and 13th in the UK. This result is underpinned by the strength of our research citations and mix of international staff and students, although with weaker scores in other factors such as teaching and research and industry income.

Whilst all league tables need to be treated with a degree of caution and taken ‘in the round’, there is no doubt that such recognition comes at an opportune time when the competition for the best students is likely to become more aggressive.

Start of the New Academic Year

The start of the new academic year proceeded smoothly with arrival weekend, induction and the start of classes. Home/EU undergraduate numbers are on target. There is currently a shortfall of around 100 international fee-paying students and modest shortfalls in all other areas. It is too early to confirm final numbers and typically there will be a fair degree of change for several more weeks. We shall monitor carefully the progress on international fee-paying student numbers to assess the extent to which UK Border Agency factors have impacted admissions. In the meantime I would like to thank all of you who have worked so hard to get the new academic year off to such an encouraging start.

bigvbusDuring the first weeks of term, the College’s volunteering programme has been signing up participants and now has over 1,100 registered volunteers. The drive to engage more of the College population was helped by Community Action securing Royal Holloway as one of just seven sites to be visited by the big ‘v’ bus, as part of a national tour to promote volunteering.

The converted double decker bus was parked for the day outside Founder's Building and students were invited to get on board and discover how volunteering can provide skills to help candidates stand out from the crowd when applying for a job, as well as being a fun and rewarding experience.

Open Day

A College Open Day was held on Saturday 25 September 2010 attracting a record attendance of around 8,000. I was impressed with the smooth logistical arrangements, as well as the range of academic and professional service staff involved in making presentations to prospective students.

The overall standard of our open day is comparable to many of our competitors, but we will need to keep it under review as proposals emerge from the Browne Review, impacting the perceived value of higher education held by students, their families and supporters.

Professorial Banding and Pay Review

At the time of writing, the professorial banding and pay review process is underway and will reach a conclusion shortly. Whilst the process was agreed prior to my arrival, I have taken a number of steps to improve it including the appointment of three independent moderators to review the outcomes of process and to offer specific advice on a small number of cases that have been difficult to assess. I have also chaired an extra meeting of the College Review Group to allow time to review decisions on professorial banding and to satisfy ourselves as to the consistency of the decision-making process.

Whilst these additional steps will lengthen the process by a short period, I believe this is entirely justifiable and will provide greater reassurance on the final outcomes to the professoriate and Council.

Significant Awards


The Arts and Humanities Research Council recently announced the award of its Fellowships which support replacement teaching costs in order for academics to undertake extended periods of research.

Royal Holloway was awarded four fellowships which total more than £300K to support academics in Classics and Philosophy, Modern Languages, Media Arts and Music. The College gained the largest number of fellowships nationally after Oxford, and colleagues in the Faculty of Arts should be congratulated on their success.

Comment column: Public spending and the Brown Review

Browne-report Two questions have been uppermost in my mind since arriving at Royal Holloway: how will the College respond to the likely cuts in public funding and what will be the impact of Lord Browne’s review into higher education funding and student finance? Many staff, students and their families have asked me the same questions.

Although we can expect announcements on both issues soon, it will take some time for the detail and implications to become clear. Lord Browne’s recommendations are likely to require primary legislation, whilst HEFCE, our funding body, will take some time to work out how it will pass on funding reductions to institutions. Thus, there will continue to be a period of uncertainty for some time stretching into 2011.

One thing that is certain however is the likely scale of public funding reduction. There is every indication that reductions will be significant and higher education will be no exception. The impact on our sector will be severe, even with the possibility of increased student contribution to the cost of their education. Traditional approaches to managing financial pressures, such as post freezes, trimming expenditure, delaying major projects and seeking early retirements, are unlikely to be sufficient. We will need to give very careful consideration as to how we respond.

Our starting point is one of strength. Through prudent use of resources, good management and high quality staff, the College achieved a modest surplus in 2009-2010. The Times Higher places the College amongst the top 100 institutions in the world. The estate and College infrastructure is broadly in good shape, with plans to tackle a number of problem areas. These factors are underpinned by excellent staff and some of the best students from the UK and overseas. The best way to face an uncertain future is to start from a position of strength such as ours. But the clock is ticking and we need to start work on options for the future so that we are well positioned to respond when the full implications of the spending review and Lord Browne’s recommendations become clear.

The planning of our response is being overseen by Council, our governing body, and will involve consultation with staff and students, trade unions and the Students’ Union. To develop our response, I have asked our Vice-Principals to lead four work streams.

Professor Geoff Ward will lead a work stream on academic priorities and planning, whilst Professor Adam Tickell will lead a work stream on the professional services (central and faculty administration, IT services, Library and trading activities). Many of the issues these work streams address will require action in the short-term if our financial position is not to rapidly deteriorate.

The remaining two work streams will deal with longer-term issues. Professor Rob Kemp will lead a work stream on how we conduct teaching and learning in the future, including also the overall student experience. Professor Adam Tickell will lead a work stream on preparation for the REF (Research Excellence Framework).

Whilst the work streams will have to manage the uncertainty surrounding funding and government policy, three issues are clear.

First, the scale of the financial challenge means that we cannot consider cost-cutting alone; we must address ways in which we can quickly expand income from our core activities, and find ways to generate new sources of income.

Second, if the fee cap and student number controls are lifted, as seems likely in the Browne report, we will be in a highly competitive environment for the best students. In such a situation, we must continue to improve our National Student Survey (NSS) performance; create a clearer message as to the value of a Royal Holloway, University of London degree; and ensure there are clearer routes to graduate employability for all. This is not about changing the fundamental nature of the type of education we offer, but rather helping students better understand and benefit from the link between our programmes and their future employment.

Third, our response cannot simply be to ask staff to do more. We must fundamentally review our activities to ensure that they are at the core of our academic mission or directly support that mission.

The challenge ahead is significant and we should not underestimate the likely impact of the announcements to be made. However Royal Holloway is in good shape and we are well positioned to respond.

Paul Layzell
11 October 2010

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