Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant
Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant, as the 125th and final contributor to My Cardiff, recounts some of his most memorable Cardiff moments and speaks of his pride in the University’s achievements.
Vice-Chancellor, Dr David Grant
My Cardiff experiences are diverse and exhilarating - and they grow every day. Perhaps my most recent, less than an hour ago, will illustrate the point. I spent this evening at a public master-class led by Dame Kiri Te Kanawa for students of the Cardiff International Academy of Voice (CIAV). In front of an audience of more than 300 people, Dame Kiri encouraged and tutored the very highest levels of performance from students who have the potential to be the next generation of international opera stars. The inspiration for CIAV, and now its leadership, is provided by Cardiff’s world-renowned tenor, Dennis O’Neill. Now entering its third year, the Academy is a unique initiative in a UK university which I believe exemplifies Cardiff’s drive for excellence and innovation in all that we do.
Innovation, whether in research or teaching; and whether in chemistry, medicine, history, sociology or operatic performance is at the heart of my Cardiff experience. Take medical imaging for example. Following the merger between UWCM and Cardiff University in 2004 we are establishing state-of-the-art facilities. I must admit that the imaging equipment itself appeals to my lifelong interest in electronics and related technologies; but the application of that equipment to study the functioning human brain is surely one of the most exciting and important research endeavours as we seek to conquer debilitating diseases.
When I took office in 2001, I was keen to encourage greater benefits from our Information Technology systems. This became more of a priority for me at those not-infrequent times when my office PC was ‘down’. I do not know if this was a deliberate ploy to attract my attention to the University’s IT needs, but it certainly helped! For reasons far beyond my own computing needs, I am pleased to say that we have increased our IT investment. Students now have enhanced on-line learning facilities, campus-wide wireless access, on-line enrolment and a host of other benefits. Within the last year, the installation of the ARCCA supercomputing facilities, and the roll-out of the innovative MWE (Modern IT Working Environment) infrastructure, soon to be followed by project Arian e-Business systems, are all moving us towards a world-class infrastructure to support world-leading people.
Dr David Grant at a Graduation ceremony
The University is a vibrant and exciting community, and I feel privileged to be a member. I gain pleasure and pride in seeing the exceptional quality and spectrum of our work; and it is my role, of course, to encourage and support even greater endeavours. The success I see day-to-day is created by the most talented people I have ever had the privilege to work with. As Vice-Chancellor, I see excellence in our teaching and research, and in the huge contribution we make to society and the economy. After this evening’s operatic performances, I must not forget to also mention our cultural contributions.
The breadth and depth of research at Cardiff is astonishing, and it is a pleasure to be with such talented researchers. I can also attest to their excellent teaching skills because they often manage to lift my understanding from initial ignorance to a good level of appreciation; and an ability to share their excitement. All this in diverse fields of study, from plate tectonics to cell biology via the Mabinogion!
It is interesting to consider which of the many Cardiff experiences will endure longest in my mind. On reflection, I think it will be the image of smiling faces of graduands as I shake their hands at the graduation ceremonies; their emotions showing pride in their well-earned achievements, and perhaps some relief! In the seven years after becoming Vice-Chancellor I have had the privilege of conferring degrees and shaking hands with more than 40,000 graduating students. Maybe this ceremonial role might seem like a simple task, but let me tell you that my very first graduation ceremony was rather challenging.
Prior to the merger of UWCM and Cardiff University, it was an annual tradition for Cardiff’s Vice-Chancellor to confer degrees at the annual congregation of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. These ceremonies took place a few days before the University’s, so my first experience of conferring degrees was in St David’s Hall in July 2002 for music and drama students.
My colleagues in Cardiff University prepared me well. For example, a wonderful and very patient tutor, Professor Robert Owen Jones from the School of Welsh spent many hours during my first year helping me to develop some basic language skills, for I am not a natural Welsh speaker. With time I learned to cope in the class-room. But how would I cope on-stage, wearing uncomfortable robes, in the glare of lights and in front of two thousand people? I had never had to do anything like this before, and I was very nervous.
On the day of the first congregation, with quaking knees and quivering voice, I took my position at the centre of the stage. To the side of the stage, a line of graduands awaited each name to be called so that they could walk across the stage towards me, doff their cap, and receive my handshake. Once the ceremony was underway my nervousness reduced as I focussed on my task. By the time I had conferred a degree on each of a hundred music students my stage-fears had waned considerably.
The next group of students had studied drama, and my rhythm was smooth as I doffed my cap and shook their hands. Suddenly, just as I was shaking hands with the tenth drama student to walk across the stage, I had an alarming sensation. I found myself grasping a hand that was no longer connected to an arm. The arm hung by the student’s side with no hand evident because I was holding it. The student, presumably an actor, made sure that my removal of his hand was clear to the audience, and laughter rang out everywhere as I looked down at the plaster hand I was shaking so firmly. There were widespread cheers in the Hall when he received his degree and his hand.
Some eighty ceremonies later I am beginning to relax. Even an “Athro mewn Fferylliaeth” (Master of Pharmacy) rolls off the tongue. Graduation ceremonies encompass the University’s heritage and the student’s future. Six thousand handshakes a year for me is no chore, because it makes me realise the scale of the students’ contribution to tomorrow’s world, and the scale of our contribution to them.