Incoming UEA vice-chancellor targets top-100 place in global league table

The next vice-chancellor of the UEA, David Richardson, left, with the outgoing vice-chancellor, Edward Acton. Picture: Denise Bradley The next vice-chancellor of the UEA, David Richardson, left, with the outgoing vice-chancellor, Edward Acton. Picture: Denise Bradley

Wednesday, August 6, 2014
10:00 AM

David Richardson joined the University of East Anglia in 1991 on a three-year contract as a lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences. Now, 23 years later, he is preparing to take over as vice-chancellor.

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Under his predecessor, Edward Acton, the UEA broke into the top 20 in national league tables, and celebrated a successful 50th anniversary.

The decision to appoint the new vice-chancellor from within the organisation is seen as a sign of the institution’s confidence about its position and direction.

At a time when university funding is again in the news, with some vice-chancellors arguing for high tuition fees and Labour considering cutting them to £6,000, Prof Richardson said he was not among those pushing for an increase.

But he said any cut in fees would have to be made up for by an increase in government grant.

The father of two and Norwich City season ticket holder, who will take over on September 1, breaks his vision for the UEA into three key areas.

Developing UEA as a campus-based university

In today’s world of tuition fees and the world wide web, why should a student pay more to study at a campus university?

Prof Richardson said: “One of the challenges for a campus university over the next 10 years is making the campus experience a relevant experience that students still want to come to.

“We need to think about what it is that we have to offer for a student who could, in theory, receive an education across their computer through distance learning.”

He is keen to continue updating the campus’s 1960s and 1970s teaching stock so the university has more flexible learning spaces, allowing “flipped lectures”, where tutors email lectures to students before they meet in the lecture theatre, so that once they come together they discuss the content and raise issues.

Preparing students for life after graduation is another selling point, and the UEA already has a new careers centre.

Prof Richardson said: “Our plan over the next few years is to engage much more pro-actively with students, pretty much from when they start the course, so they understand what career options are available for them and to prepare them for applying for jobs.”

The Norwich Research Park plays a key role, allowing students to rub shoulders not only with top researchers, but also businesses.

Research and enterprise

Prof Richardson has high ambitions for the university’s ability to convert what its researchers discover into business opportunities.

The university is famous for its Climate Research Unit, but it is also working on other globally-important issues – food security, water security, challenges of an ageing population – which he is keen to capitalise on.

He said that, historically, the university has let people go and take their ideas elsewhere.

“One of the challenges for this university going forward is to be more effective in developing commercial opportunities from research that we do,” he said.

“Can we be better at generating enterprise out of that research, and new revenue streams?”

The enterprise centre, currently under construction, will provide incubator space where students can develop business ideas on campus.

Prof Richardson said the UEA was currently about 200th in the Times Higher Education’s global standings for research.

He wants it to be in the top 100 in four to five years.

International outlook and reputation

The incoming vice-chancellor sees the UEA having a big international future.

He said: “We want to have an academic offer that is attractive to the world’s best students, so they want to come to Norwich to study.

“They will be attracted here because we have a reputation for high-quality teaching space, and a strong reputation for research-led teaching.

“They would come here and be taught by people who are at the top of their research field.”

Post-graduate research degree students are an important target.

Another strategy is opening more regional offices around the world – a project he was deeply involved in as deputy vice-chancellor.

He is also keen to maintain better contact with the UEA’s international alumni, and use them to help spread the word. And he sees the city of Norwich itself, and the international links provided by Norwich International airport, as a key part of the UEA’s offer.

Do you agree with Prof Richardson’s vision? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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