VC Reflections: January 2023
Posted on behalf of: Internal Communications
Last updated: Thursday, 2 February 2023
At every university, graduation ceremonies are high points of the academic year, and it was a huge pleasure and honour for me to preside, for the first time, at our winter graduation at the Brighton Centre this week.
The six ceremonies, for nearly 1,700 Masters and PhD students, were moving and joyful celebrations. As I met the eyes of, and, shook hands with, each of these graduands, all of whom were beaming as they crossed the stage, I was struck over and over again by their diversity and by their individuality. Many proudly wore clothing, scarves, badges, or draped themselves with flags that proclaimed their identity. Others dressed to mark the occasion in ways that expressed what it meant to them – a formal moment with a degree of weight and gravity, a day to party, or a time to be determinedly their everyday self. Everyone had had a different journey to that ceremony and through their time at Sussex, but coming together at the Brighton Centre to share the rite of passage from student to graduate was a powerful and memorable collective experience.
It was a particular privilege to meet the brilliant and courageous Sussex Chevening Scholars, who came to the UK from around the world to deepen their academic and professional knowledge. They included Naimat Zafary, from Afghanistan, who was interviewed on the BBC about his perilous journey to Sussex. Naimat graduated with a Masters degree in Governance, Development and Public Policy from the Institute of Development Studies, and, in the interview, dedicated his degree to the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now excluded from education and work. Naimat is continuing his studies at Sussex as a PhD candidate, and I look forward, in a few years’ time, to seeing him receive his doctorate.
I would like to thank every member of the University who was involved in graduation, many of whom volunteer to do this. Their energy and commitment delivered a beautifully produced, supremely well-organised, and sparkling set of ceremonies. I can understand why our alumni feel such warmth towards Sussex: in addition to a stimulating and rigorous education, we give them an amazing send-off.
Looking ahead, I would like to invite you, if you haven’t already done so, to register to attend my next VC Forum on 7 February, which will be in-person in the ACCA, and also livestreamed. I will pick up from my last VC Forum, at which I shared my presentation for the job, back when I applied to be Vice-Chancellor a year ago, and my reflections and observations after my first few weeks at Sussex. I will offer a more elaborated analysis of where I think the University is at present, and of our current operating environment, and I will talk about my objectives for the coming year.
As part of this, I will introduce my proposal to formalise our current School ‘clusters'. I will explain why I believe we need to attend to our overarching academic structure in order to deliver our strategic ambitions and meet the challenges that we are facing. In particular, I will set out how moving to a faculty model will enable us to build on our pioneering history of interdisciplinary research and education, and will strengthen academic leadership and ensure greater resilience across the University. I believe that our current academic and administrative structure is holding us back, and that partial academic representation on the University Executive Group (with only 4 of our 10 Schools represented) hinders our ability to make good decisions in which our whole community feels a stake. It is critical that UEG discussions and decisions take the whole University into account, and that the whole University is accountable for those decisions.
Hence, I would like to formalise the existing clusters to create a Faculty of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and a Faculty of Social Science to sit alongside Media, Arts and Humanities and the Business School, which would also formally become Faculties of the University. I have spoken with Heads of School about this, and will soon discuss these ideas with Heads of Departments, as well as at the VC Forum. I will visit every School this term for further discussions more locally and will then take a proposal to Senate.
If you are able to attend the VC Forum, please register to attend in person or if you are not able to attend in person, you can register to attend online. There will be tea and cake and further conversation in the Jane Attenborough Centre after the live session. I look forward to our discussions over the coming weeks.
With my best wishes,