A message to all staff
As I think everyone knows, I step down as Vice-Chancellor of the University on 31 August 2020, forty-six years to the day since I started work in the NHS in Edinburgh.
Little did I know that my career interests in public health, biomedical science and education would combine in such a cruel and challenging way in my last five months in post. For many – including me – the coronavirus pandemic and the prolonged period of ‘lockdown’ have prompted new insights and perspectives as we continue the lifelong process of maintaining continuity and accommodating change.
I was asked the other day by Izzy Walter, the excellent new Students’ Union Affairs Officer,what made me proud of Leeds? My mind was drawn immediately to students who are succeeding at the University without family support – by which I mean estranged students, care leavers and young unaccompanied asylum seekers – and staff who have faced tragedy and challenges in their personal lives and yet remain passionate teachers, tutors, researchers and loyal professional or support services staff. It is one of the rare privileges of being Vice-Chancellor that you get to know many of these people.
It is their needs and aspirations that should inspire every part of the University community to address the ambition of providing world leading education and research in a way that captures the imagination and commitment of all students and staff, present and future. To do this we need to maintain a line of sight to all that is good from the past whilst addressing the challenges and opportunities of the future in a positive way.
There can be no doubt that the public health, economic and social challenges facing the country in the next few years are enormous and, if I had the benefit of a crystal ball at this time last year, I would not have chosen this moment to step down. That said, the University has a strong platform for the future and has handled the emergency resulting from the pandemic pretty well, albeit with lessons to learn for the future. In particular, we have held to our principles of ensuring the wellbeing, health and safety of students and staff, and we have protected the integrity of the Leeds degree, both important stakes in the ground for the future.
During the past five years we have invested in people and infrastructure and we have a robust balance sheet. This means that whilst we will have to deal with financial constraints caused by substantial losses in income with determination, we can do so in a considered way. The steps already taken by the University to manage cash and expenditure will provide a buffer against further risk and ensure some flexibility to support investment in the 2020-30 strategy, but they will not remove the need for difficult choices and limits on spending over the next two years.
Looking forward, the energies of the whole community should be focused on rapid recovery and medium and long term success. This means delivering what we have promised – a high quality blended education; a safe and enjoyable student experience; research momentum particularly in support of PhD students and early career researchers; and shrewd investments in our digital infrastructure to support education, research and the effective stewardship of the University. Our returning students who experienced significant disruption to their studies in the last academic year and the new students joining us in September and January will expect us to be at our very best.
I am confident that the University will sustain its strong academic core, continue to express itself as a self-assured international institution with strong civic roots, and support the country in promoting economic recovery and social cohesion. As a leader in environmental education and research, we must also continue to show the way on sustainability and address our commitments to net-zero carbon by 2030, and no direct carbon emissions by 2050.
So … this is the moment to say thank you and to wish you well. It is your commitment, creativity, energy and ambition that makes the University successful and I am sure it will remain so into the future. It has been a pleasure to bring my long career to an end at the University of Leeds and I wish you all good health, happiness and fulfilment in the years ahead. I also wish my successor Professor Simone Buitendijk all the very best for the future. She brings tremendous experience, a new vision and new ideas to the University, and I hope she will enjoy great success and personal happiness in her new life in Yorkshire.
For me, I am going to test Cicero’s infamous assertion (but not the literal translation of his letter to Varro in 46BC!): “If you have a garden [and] a library (both on a very modest scale in my case), you have everything you need. So as my children said in unison last weekend: “well … let’s see how long that lasts!!”
With all good wishes,
Sir Alan Langlands