New horizons - exciting times

“My student experience has been excellent. I’ve had wonderful supervisors, who have generously given up their time and have built my confidence that I can achieve my goals.”


Julie Lydon is not your average Glamorgan PhD student. She’s in the final year of her research. She’s getting ready to submit her thesis. Unlike other students, she’s also our new Vice Chancellor. Glamlife talked to Julie Lydon last month as she was getting to grips with her new role.

Julie Lydon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan

Introduction

Julie Lydon became Vice Chancellor on 5th April 2010, taking over from Professor David Halton. Working towards a PhD herself means that the student experience and student empowerment are important to her. She has been working as Pro Vice Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University for several years, and in that time, there have been noticeable changes, not least of which is the massive growth in importance of the Course Reps system, and the introduction of Student Voice Reps. It is not surprising therefore that she closes the interview with special reference and thanks to student representatives and the Students’ Union. However, let us start at the beginning: Here’s what Julie Lydon told us about the future of our University under her leadership.

Partnership

On my very first day, one of the things I took forward was our developments in Merthyr Tydfil. I met with a senior councillor to make sure we continue to have a very good partnership over the Merthyr Learning Quarter Development.

Partnership is going to be one of the key themes of my Vice-Chancellorship. We already have partnerships with Merthyr Tydfil College, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, a number of Further Education Colleges in Wales, and with the other four research universities in Wales through the St. David’s Day Group. We also have partnerships internationally, with institutions in China, India, Malaysia, Singapore. Working collaboratively with other people to improve the quality of the student experience, to provide learning opportunities, to increase income and to support the economy of Wales will be a strong and dominant theme.

International Reputation

We already have an increasing number of international students on campus, so our reputation internationally is obviously growing.

  • This year, we have over 1500 international students on campus. We’re planning for that to be 2000 in two years’ time.
  • In terms of “in country” delivery, we expect to see growth. For example, in Bahrain we’re looking at establishing a partnership there that would mean we would have a campus presence.
  • We’ve also been working with Chinese universities for a number of years. For example, their academic staff now study at Treforest to complete an Academic Practice postgraduate programme.

We’re now developing these connections further through, for example, staff and student exchanges. For students on our campuses, that will manifest itself in the quality of their experience; our staff will reflect upon their experiences in other countries. This will be beneficial because most of our students are operating in a globally competitive environment whatever employment they go on to after they graduate.

Unleashing talent

I believe we’ve got an incredibly talented group of staff and students, but we’ve not yet fully realised this potential. There will be a focus on student achievement, graduate employment and ensuring graduates enter the next phase of their lives with confidence having studied at a University that has a strong reputation. The bottom line is that their University experience must equip them to succeed in life whatever they wish to do.

Renaissance of the valleys

renaissance of the valleys Wales today reflects the enormous economic, social and cultural contributions that the Valleys made during the industrial golden era of coal and steel production. Today however, we’re unfortunately left with an area, particularly the Heads of the Valleys, that has some of the highest levels of social disadvantage – poor health, low economic activity and low educational attainment – in the UK and, indeed, Western Europe.

With the Welsh Assembly Government, we’re part of the “Renaissance of the Heads of the Valleys”, a renewal programme which is multifaceted. It’s about providing learning opportunities to people who would not previously have had those opportunities. It’s about looking at the skills people need to develop. It’s about adding choice and employment prospects in people’s lives. Overall, it’s about empowering people within their communities.

The Universities Heads of the Valleys Institute, which will provide for an additional 4000 students, will be realised through our staff. There is a real opportunity here. It’s an opportunity to develop a new curriculum, to work in new ways, to work with groups of learners who have not previously engaged with Higher Education, to work with employers, who at the moment are very fragmented in Small and Medium Enterprises. We have the potential to do something very different in order to right the “educational ills” of this region which have so often been commentated on, but not acted upon.

We will offer a range of courses that will broadly fall into these major categories:

  • Creative industries
  • Business development
  • Science and technology
  • Sport and health
  • Community regeneration

These courses will be, in some cases, very small bite-sized chunks of learning. Something as simple as a two-day course which might, for example, give people working in a small business web skills so they can build the company’s website. The programmes will range from these small bite-sized courses all the way through to full time undergraduate courses.

Sustainability

Another key theme is sustainability. We know that there will be increasing pressure on the public purse, and therefore we have to ensure our activities are sustainable. We do not want students to join a course and find it isn’t a good experience, so we need to make sure the quality of that experience remains good. Hence our investment strategy. We’re determined to continue to invest in the student experience, and to protect front line support for students.

We will however need to make choices about the curriculum that we offer. Over time, some courses may stop, and new ones will be developed. That is a natural part of higher education curriculum development – it happens all the time in all universities.

Student empowerment

New Students' Union building I believe very strongly in teams. I think the students and the student body are part of this team. The work that we’ve done on Student Voice Representatives (SVRs) and students being a part of University decision making is important. When I arrived here, we funded the Student Representatives Coordinator post to enable us to coordinate the Course Reps more effectively. Out of that, the SVR system was born, and now it is very much part of the University landscape whereby it is automatically built into our decision making processes.

A strong Students’ Union is crucial and the new building is an integral part of that. Whilst the University is funding the majority of it, it will ultimately be your building. It will be important as we go forward to instil a partnership approach between the SU and the University to ensure this building is a success and is a beacon for student empowerment… and also for student enjoyment!

I would like to end by saying thank you to the Students’ Union and particularly the Student Voice Representatives for their contribution. I look forward to a continuing lively and rich contribution by students to the University’s future.

- Julie Lydon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan

Further information

If you’d like to know more about the themes mentioned in the article, you may find the following pages of interest: