Words by Sabita Burke, Print News Editor for The Spark.
On Wednesday 27th February, I had the pleasure of meeting our new Vice Chancellor, Professor Robert van de Noort. I asked him a few questions about his new role and what he is most looking forward to.
Why Reading? Why did you choose this university over others?
Well, I’ve already worked here for 4 and a half years, I really have enjoyed working here. I believe in the University of Reading, and I think the people and the body of students are great. I’d much rather be Vice Chancellor here than anywhere else.
What’s your vision for the university in the next five years?
One of the things that I have been talking about to colleagues around the university is the need for us to start rethinking who we are and what we are. We have grown quite quickly over the last five or six years – we have got about 25% more students, and whilst compared to many other universities in the sector that isn’t really an exception, I think what we really need to get right is the quality of achieving and learning. My vision and focus over the next few years will be to ensure that we are of a very high quality, and excel in everything we do.
What aspect of student experience is the most important to you?
I think there’s more than one aspect. I recognise that students’ welfare and safety is critically important. I think where I really want to go is towards the sense that the university is a community, in the sense of academics and students. Professional staff are important too, but I think that intellectual interaction between academics and students – I would like to see much more of that. In a world of mass-higher education where nearly 50% of people come to university, I recognise how important it is that students are given the skills and the experiences so that they are ready for the world of work that comes afterwards.
What do you feel is the most important issue regarding the university as a whole?
The people! I think there is quite a lot of work to be done to share the leadership and ownership of the success of the uni. This includes my colleagues but also students. So, I will work with everyone to try and determine the future of the university and how we are going to deliver that.
How will you build a relationship with students? How do you plan to listen to and respond to their ideas and opinions?
My relationship with the RUSU officers is good; we meet each other regularly. Also, my relationship with the executive board is good as we meet on a regular basis. I do want to debate the curriculum and student experience more widely – to work with those who have already shown a great commitment to what they do, for example the School Reps. I want to start to involve them more in thinking through the challenges that come our way. With them, I want to find out how we can make sure students get the skills and experiences to get good jobs at the end of their degrees. I want to have a curriculum that fully reflects the interests of our students. I will probably start asking these questions from our students, rather than trying to do that with the staff.
What support do you intend to give to international students in light of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit?
I personally feel the uncertainties around Brexit because I am a Dutchman, and this is just fascinating- I think this is a good word to use. I don’t even know what my own status would be with a no-deal Brexit! That doesn’t help others, but I can only say we are trying to understand what is happening. Up until now, we have been trying to reassure everybody that the University will stay open and international. We will continue to support students who study abroad and are on an Erasmus exchange. We are already talking to our partner universities in Europe and they are asking to keep our relationships ongoing. I hope that our students don’t see more of Brexit than they absolutely have to, but it’s difficult to know what is really going to happen.
How do you plan to ensure Reading continues to grow?
I want it to grow, but in the right way. I want us to grow because we are very good at what we do, not because it is a way of dealing with the cost of inflation or any financial challenges that come our way. What we are doing at the moment is saying, we just need to stop growing for a moment and make sure that we are really providing the best quality education and research that we can. We need to make sure this research is properly reflected in the league tables so we can recruit the right quality, both in staff and students.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
I’ve been out and about quite a lot, and I think I’d like to do more of that. I’m going to a lecture tonight, and it really is always great to hear what kind of research takes place at the university. In 10 days, I’m going to a memorial concert. It is great to hear about the brilliant work that both our staff and our students are doing. Just doing more of that brings a smile to one’s face and makes one want to continue the work one does!