I hope that 2016 has begun well for you all, and that this proves to be an enjoyable and a successful year, whatever your role or the stage you have reached in your studies at Middlesex. As your Chancellor, I look forward to the opportunity to meet and talk with more of you during this academic year and to continue to share in new aspects of the life of the University.
The arrival of Professor Tim Blackman as our Vice-Chancellor has given rise to a number of special events in which, as Chancellor, I have been pleased to take part. These include visits to three schools; learning about how the University is helping prepare its students for the world of work, whether that’s paid employment or setting up in business; participating in the ceremonial inauguration of the Vice-Chancellor and attending events for students, staff and stakeholders at which he outlined his vision for how the University will progress in the next few years. I have learnt so much from all these activities and find myself feeling proud to be associated with such a talented and pro-active community. Let me share a few more details with you.
In early October, at an open meeting the Vice-Chancellor set out his vision for Middlesex and then answered questions from members of staff who had gathered in the Rickett Quadrangle. These were, however, only a fraction of the staff who were able to listen to what was said: the session was also shared with our overseas campuses in Dubai,
Mauritius and Malta. The Strategy Refresh which the Vice-Chancellor launched on his arrival, and which underpinned the messages that morning, was also developed at a Governing Body Away Day later in the month, and at the Staff Conference in January, both of which I was glad to attend.
For me, other highlights from the last six months have included visits to three of the Schools, two of which I undertook jointly with the Vice-Chancellor. The first of these was in September, when we spent an informative afternoon with the staff of the School of Art & Design. This provided the opportunity to visit studios, to talk with students and staff, and the chance to discover how 3D printing is beginning to transform work in these disciplines. In my case, the 3D printed pieces of fruit that we were given have provided a talking point for unsuspecting visitors ever since.
My visit to the School of Media and Performing Arts, one of the most recent of my visits to the University, was also an eye-opener in many ways. The afternoon enabled me to see the facilities now available for the range of disciplines offered by the School and to talk with staff. At the end of the day I attended a colloquium and concert given by one of our PhD students, the Irish harpist, Siobhán Armstrong. Siobhán’s account of her investigations into Irish harp music from the 16th to the 18th centuries was illuminating. To the great pleasure of those present, she brought her remarks to life by illustrating points that she had made, first playing on a replica of a late medieval Irish harp and then on a recent copy of an 18th century instrument.
The morning which the Vice-Chancellor and I spent with staff of the Business School in January also helped me to gain a more complete picture of their work and achievements. Themes from the Strategy Refresh again featured prominently in the discussion, during which views on issues such as student satisfaction, placement opportunities, employability, recruitment, research and curriculum development were exchanged. I was delighted to discover how effectively the School manages to balance its research activities alongside its commitment to students. In this regard I was particularly interested to learn about the support provided by the Enterprise Development Hub (EDH). This University-wide initiative encourages students, staff and alumni who want to become self-employed to develop their ideas and their self-employment aspirations as well as to improve their employability by developing skills that are valuable to businesses. Judging by their success in this, the EDH group mentoring sessions, which are supplemented by workshops and other special events, clearly work.
In January I visited the offices of the University’s Employability Service, led by Kate Douglas. This was a fascinating experience: I not only visited the office on the Hendon campus, but also was able to spend a morning with the team based offsite in Welwyn Garden City. This is the team whose members provide the online support for the Employability Service. Sitting alongside each of the team members in turn, as they responded to messages and requests from students and from employers, I could see why the students who make use of the Service really do have the best possible chance to secure jobs appropriate to their interests and experience. Not only were those students and employers who were contacting the team being helped with enquiries about individual job openings, it was evident that students were also being offered advice specifically tailored to help them to gain the skills and knowledge that would help them to succeed at interview and to function effectively in the workplace. I was most impressed by the quality of the support provided: it really does live up to the aim to make our graduates 100% employable. I hope that everyone across the University is aware of the help available and is making good use of it.
Partnership, a theme that has been emphasised this year, was much in evidence at the annual Scholarship and Awards Ceremony held in the Rickett Quadrangle in late November. This was another evening which I was glad to attend, not least to see students who had achieved success in a range of different areas of University life, meeting and chatting with the sponsors and donors whose support is helping them in fulfilling their ambitions. It was a stimulating evening – one which our guests seemed to enjoy at least as much as the students did.
In certain ways, however, the highlight of this first half of the academic year was the ceremonial Inauguration of the Vice-Chancellor, which took place on the evening of 12 January. Members of the University (including some from our overseas campuses), civic guests from the London Borough of Barnet, other friends, supporters and partners of the University thronged the Quadrangle for a ceremony made memorable on so many counts. Aspects of the evening that will remain long in the memory were the colour and the dignity of the ceremony; the beauty of the new University Medal (created by our School of Art & Design) presented to the Vice-Chancellor during the ceremony; and the atmosphere in the Quadrangle, which had been spectacularly lit for the occasion.
Key to the success of the occasion was undoubtedly the part played by students. Aman Siddiqi, the Students’ Union President took a central role in the ceremony itself. Dancers and musicians gave the first performance of a specially created dance piece called Community, performed on the balconies and staircases of the Quadrangle, which concluded the formal part of the evening. The themes of this work were partnership, inclusion and collaboration – all qualities which the University regards as central to all that it does. They have certainly been qualities that have been much in evidence in the conversations and visits that I have been able to enjoy at Middlesex in the first part of this year. I am sure that they will continue to be much in evidence in the months that remain. I hope that for you and your colleagues they will be among the things that help to enrich and enliven your ongoing experience at Middlesex.
Dame Janet Ritterman