February 2014

Monday 24 February - The Future of HE Computing

Whether as individuals or academics as part of a wider community of scholars, we live in a globally connected world.  Technology has transformed all aspects of our lives and has grown the need for ever more powerful computing resource and networking capability.

A large part of the UK university computing infrastructure is provided by Jisc, a unique organisation that addressed the computing and IT needs of UK universities and colleges.  As well as securing cost-effective electronic resources for use in our libraries, Jisc also provides JANET – the Joint Academic NETwork.  JANET is the means by which Royal Holloway is connected electronically to the outside world within the UK and beyond.

The JANET network first went live in April 1983, operating at 9.6 Kilobytes per second.  Today it operates at around 9 Terabits per second, following a £30 million project to overhaul the network. The result, JANET 6, aims to satisfy the information and technology demands of UK universities and scientific institutions until 2022. 

At Royal Holloway, there is clear evidence of the growth in demand from both research staff and the student body. Over the last three years, we have seen a 6-fold increase in JANET usage, driven by groups such as our High Energy Physics researchers who use the system to both download data from research sites like the Large Hadron Collider, as well as join international meetings held by video-conference.   For students, we have been able to improve the network service with additional links from the internal campus network to JANET through a connection left as legacy from when we hosted part of the Olympic Village in the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Following successful lobbying on the part of the College and other institutions in the area, a new fibre connection chain between Reading and west London will enable us to receive greater bandwidth from JANET as our activities and network use grow.

Making the most of the opportunities that new technology presents, as well as putting in place sufficient infrastructure to keep up with new developments, will ensure that we remain at the cutting-edge of the sector.

Monday 14 February - Graduate Employability Uplift

Recently the Association of Graduate Recruiters has predicted a 10% rise in the number of graduate vacancies in 2014.  This is good news for our students and we can see evidence of the upturn with around 1,900 jobs advertised by our Careers Service on JobOnline in January 2014, an increase of 62% on last year.  

Choosing a post-university career is a major decision and many of our students delay their job hunting because they are uncertain about which career direction to pursue, possibly reducing their chances for the best opportunities.  For this reason, our Careers Service plays an important role in this decision-making process from the moment each student arrives at Royal Holloway.

For the past few years, our Passport Award Scheme has been helping to improve student employability by encouraging involvement in extra-curricular activities and coaching students to showcase those experiences to employers. Having achieved 2,000 student participants and 100 activities registered on the Passport scheme, this year we have launched Passport Gold which develops higher level leadership and innovation skills.  Find out more here.

To learn more about a particular career and employer we are offering an increasing number of placements.   With an improving job market, the Careers Service is working with 11 academic departments to build placement schemes into the curriculum and so give students practical work experience and a competitive edge in the job market.  A complete package of support services is in place to ensure the best experience for students and employers alike.

Our own graduates also play an important role in advising current students by returning to campus and providing practical advice about careers and employers.  Shortly, the Careers Service will be welcoming back 21 former students to talk about careers in marketing and the creative industries.

Many of our undergraduate students continue their studies at postgraduate level, often on courses that lead to PhD study or provide practical skills for work (such as our new Project Management course).  With greater emphasis being placed on postgraduate qualifications by employers, it is pleasing that after two years of lobbying by Royal Holloway and other universities in the former ‘1994 Group’, the government has at last recognised the need to provide better financial support for postgraduate study and will be publishing plans later this year.

And finally, I am sure we are all thinking about the devastating floods that have hit our local communities and the disruption caused to daily lives and property.  Many staff and our student volunteers have been helping with the relief effort, handing out sandbags and visiting vulnerable people in the community and I am proud of the response made to help those in need.  Some of our own students have been affected and Simon Higman and his team continue to support them with practical help.  Regular updates on the position can be found on the web site and Twitter.

Monday 7 February - The Royal Visit

I am delighted to be able to announce that Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh will be visiting the College next month to celebrate the award of the Diamond Jubilee Regius Professorship of Music.

As the only Diamond Jubilee Regius Professorship to be awarded in the arts and humanities, and the first to be bestowed upon a department of music, this achievement confirms our Music Department’s reputation as the best in the country.

The title itself has been awarded, after a competitive search, to Professor Julian Johnson.  Julian is internationally recognised for his contribution to research in the field of Viennese modernism and is a strong advocate for broader public engagement with music, regularly giving talks at public institutions, on the radio and TV.  He was head of the Department of Music from 2010 to 2013.

The Queen’s visit to College is the latest in a long history of royal connections, from Queen Victoria presiding over the opening of Royal Holloway College and graciously permitting the usage of the word ‘Royal’ in our name, to Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal Anne visiting the College to commemorate the silver jubilee of the merger and 125 year anniversary.

And finally, thanks to feedback I have received from my recent visits to academic departments, I have asked that the long-standing problems with lighting and water leakage in the Arts Lecture Theatre are being urgently addressed.  Whilst the condition of all our teaching spaces is regularly monitored, any faults should be reported to the Campus Services help desk via campus-services@rhul.ac.uk

Monday 3 February - The Varied Role of our Academics

Over the past few weeks, a number of our academic staff have been working hard reading large numbers of journal papers, monographs and books.  Each of these members of staff belong to a REF panel – the committees that have been set up to assess the quality of research across all UK universities.  For many panel members, the role will require reading anything up to 1,000 articles over the coming months.  As a College, we are putting in place measures to help our staff participate in this important work and to ensure that their other responsibilities are properly covered.

The College supports participation in REF panels for a number of reasons.  First, it is a mark of esteem that some of our staff have been selected by their peers to undertake such a responsible task; and second, by participating in assessment panels, our colleagues will be able to advise fellow members of staff on how to best present their research in future.

This work for the REF process is just one example where our staff contribute to the wider education community.    Others are actively engaged as external examiners, ensuring that universities across the UK (and in some cases, overseas), maintain academic standards appropriate for their discipline and to ensure that the results of exams and other forms of assessment are fair to students.

Other staff – from both the academy and professional services – are members of professional bodies and hold roles on committees or governing bodies that help spread best practice, educate and inform members and promote the interests of their academic discipline or profession.

The vast majority of these roles are unpaid and the whole educational system depends upon individuals prepared to undertake the work – a fact that is often overlooked when politicians or journalists offer simple measures of workload.  However, as a College, we have sought to develop promotion and reward criteria that recognises this work, particularly when it has involved the judgement and support of peers, thus understanding the vital role that our staff play in support of UK higher education. 

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