âž¡ Firstly, welcome to your new role at Bristol. You are joining the University as its reputation for research, education, and enterprise continues to rise; how does it feel to be at the helm of such a successful institution?
It is a huge privilege to join this great University. Bristol is world-renowned for academic excellence and for the quality of its teaching, and in addition it is situated in one of the UK’s most beautiful cities. As soon as I started meeting people at the University, I could sense the collegial atmosphere, a shared sense of pride in the institution and ambition for the future. I truly believe there is something special about Bristol University, and I feel honoured to be part of it.
âž¡ You’ve previously said you plan to focus particularly on the student experience, building research scale, and strengthening the relationship between the University and the city, how will you go about doing this?
I have already begun a strategic planning process, which aims to actively involve all our staff, students, alumni, partners and collaborators in a discussion about the future. That Bristol is a great university is without question, however I feel there is more we can do. The culmination of the many discussions and debates that will form the strategic planning process will be a vision and strategy with clear targets, action plans and means of measuring progress.
âž¡ Why are these areas particularly important to the university?
Bristol attracts some of the brightest and most able students from the UK and all over the world, and we absolutely must offer them the very best that we can. Bristol students already have an academic experience that rivals any in the world, and I want to work with my colleagues to ensure that the rest of their experience, in and outside the classroom, is equally world-leading.
We already work closely with the city and I can see what a close, symbiotic relationship that is. Projects such as Bristol is Open, the establishment of the National Composites Centre and our work around the creative technologies demonstrates what is possible when partners around the city work together. Working with the city I think we can build on these solid foundations, deepen and extend the partnerships that are working well and perhaps tell the story of Bristol a little more persuasively.
For all universities, building critical mass in areas will be absolutely key to competitiveness in the future. I am interested in not only what we can do on our own to build research scale, but also how we can work with partners, for example across GW4 (a strategic alliance between the universities of Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Cardiff) to increase our competitiveness in certain areas.
âž¡ We have just begun a new academic year, thinking about the UK HE sector as a whole, what will be the biggest challenge for universities over the next 12 months?
Undoubtedly the turbulent economic environment is our single biggest challenge. The economic recovery is fragile, and as a sector we are expecting more cuts from government. Bristol is well placed to steer through the uncertainty but across the sector we are expecting the next few years to be quite tough.
âž¡ And what will be the biggest challenge for the University of Bristol over the coming months?
I have sensed across the University great ambition and a desire to step forward. However change of any sort, particularly when change has been the norm for so many years, is not without challenge. With my colleagues, I need to manage that tension between seizing the opportunity to take the University forward whilst minimising the impact of change on our wonderful staff and students.
âž¡ You’ve spent many years living in Dublin, how do you think Bristol will compare?
I have been lucky to grow up and live for much of my life in one lovely city, only to leave it for another. Dublin and Bristol to me have some similar charms and challenges: beauty, vibrancy, desirability as a place to live and slight eccentricity, coupled with a need to make their place in the world. So yes, Bristol compares very well – and it seems to rain here almost as much as it does in Ireland as well!
âž¡ The south-west is home to some of the UK’s leading universities, particularly for research and student satisfaction – why do you think the region has been so successful?
I think success results from a number of factors. The key strengths of universities in the region are complementary, and there is also a clear and genuine commitment to partnership working. I think size and location helps as well – most of the local institutions are relatively small, which enables them to be nimble, and they are also geographically close which means that if we have a new initiative to work on it is easy to get together to develop ideas.
âž¡ Finally, how’s your Bristolian accent coming along, and what’s your favourite West Country saying?
(Ours is ‘gert lush’ of course!)
I think my Irish accent still prevails!