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Making Wales a 21st Century Success

04 November 2010

The Vice-Chancellor's vision for Cardiff's future
Vice-Chancellor Dr David GrantVice-Chancellor Dr David Grant

There are place names which make you think "University".

Harvard. Berkeley. Heidelberg. Oxford. Cambridge.

Other internationally leading Universities may not have such instantly recognisable locations. But think of any major economic centre, and I guarantee you will find a world top 100 University at its heart.

Chicago. Hong Kong. Tokyo. Zurich.

Leading universities are major contributors to their city-regions, acting as magnets for the best minds, the best facilities, and the best academic and business connections. In tough economic times, the best universities are catalysts for regeneration and growth. They are members of the world's best networks, and are local sources of creativity and innovation for the advancement of society and the economy.

Cardiff University takes pride in its world-leading achievements and knows it can continue to deliver success for Wales.

Why are we so confident that we can help? Perhaps it’s because we’re home to some of the best minds in the UK if not the world. (I could mention a couple of Nobel Laureates.) Perhaps it’s also because of our excellent international reputation, our effectiveness and our responsiveness. Whether responding to change or leading change.

We’re a big university with more than 6,000 members of staff. Over 30,000 students engage annually with us and we meet their expectations across a wide range of disciplines. Music to medicine, mathematics to midwifery. We help students develop; encouraging them to enquire, to explore, to think, to argue, and to develop skills for the contributions they are going to make in society.

Our students are local contributors too. Whether it’s the 10,000 hours of volunteering they contribute every year or the £200 million they spend on goods and services, our local region would be much poorer without their presence.

We generate more than half a billion pounds of output every year, some three-quarters of that in Wales. We’re also big on ideas - holding around 500 licences on new patents, while products from our research have generated more than £350 million of sales. That’s the conservative estimate. In addition there are 34 active and successful spin-out companies employing staff and growing the Welsh economy as a direct result of research and ideas from Cardiff University.

Over the past year, Cardiff staff won competitively a record £150 million in new research contracts - a sign of confidence in our researchers and in the creativity of what we do. Those new awards count towards a portfolio of around 1,750 current research projects worth in total more than £400 million – with 80 per cent of that funding coming from outside Wales.

One important source of innovation for the University is the use of the most advanced Information Technology systems. Information Technology is fundamental to our teaching and research. We hold some 1.3 PetaBytes of data – roughly equivalent to books on 500 miles of library shelves – and last year this helped the University save £800,000. The digital world is important, but we also take great pride in our book and manuscript collections. A university creates new knowledge, and has a duty to preserve and access knowledge gained over periods far longer than the digital age.

At a time when university spending is being scrutinised more closely than ever, we are always conscious of keeping down costs and operating to the greatest efficiency possible. We’ve been leading the field in higher education in embedding lean processes and thinking throughout our operations, and are now sharing the lessons we’ve learnt with other Welsh universities. We were delighted in May this year to be awarded the Carbon Trust Standard as recognition of our ongoing commitment to reducing our carbon footprint (our Carbon Reduction Plan will cut our carbon emissions by 14 per cent in just four years).

But to define a University in purely economic terms is to take too narrow a view. A world-leading University needs to inspire. We want the most able minds, of students or staff, to engage in Cardiff's world leading scholarship and help make Wales a 21st Century success.

Wales needs that list to read Harvard. Berkeley. Heidelberg. Oxford. Cambridge. Cardiff.

Dr David Grant

Vice Chancellor, Cardiff University

This article also appeared in the Western Mail’s ‘University View’ column November 4 2010