New Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan talks to gair rhydd

I was the first of all the elected officers to talk to our new VC. It was an odd experience, but I put to him some of the questions that were raised by gair rhydd over the past year and tested him on some of the hot topics gair rhydd reported on over the past year.

How is the new house?

A house has value which will increase, the building becomes a capital asset. Keeping money in a bank and you can earn very little. Let’s be clear, it’s not money to be spent on salaries – we’re not spending money which would have been spent on something else.

It is a domestic space for entertaining – part of the job that University Council wanted me to do. It is very useful, a benefit to the university.

What are your priorities this year?

Aiming to be a top 100 University in the world; we’ve managed it before, but we need to be consistently in the top 100.

Cardiff needs to become a global university and that means more students should be studying, interning or doing placements abroad. It will help make students more employable and research has proven that the experience of working or studying abroad helps people to do better and helps you develop personally.

We [also] need to protect our research excellence. It’s a precious asset.

The next one is student experience: we need to invest in teaching and learning facilities that make people choose Cardiff.

We also need to focus on engaging with Cardiff and Wales. There’s a danger that Cardiff University can seem rather remote and of a perception that Cardiff doesn’t do much for Wales.

The perception from some of this year’s intake of students could be that, as they’re paying three times more than other students, they should be getting three times more for their money – how will you manage this expectation?

Students need to know that universities are not getting three times more money – students will be responsible for the money which was previously received from the Funding Council. For Welsh students, the Welsh Government will pay the difference.

There will be some increases in some subjects for funding. But, for example, science subjects will get less – we won’t end up with more money we’ll probably end up with less. The University won’t necessarily gain an advantage from this.

What’s important is that students have a way of making their grievances known and acted on.

What do you think of the Students’ Union?

I understand that there’s a good and close relationship with senior University management and senior Union staff. What we need is good and open channels of communication. We have a joint responsibility to students.

What do you think of the nightclub in the University?

I don’t know – I’ve not been there yet!

What was university like for you and how will this affect how you are as VC of Cardiff? 

I went to Manchester in 1977 and some things don’t change: the lecturers were varying in quality, but I had a wonderful time there. Manchester is a great place to study and I largely had the freedom to study what I wanted to study.

I did German so I spent a lot of time in Germany – by the time I graduated, I had studied in three universities [one in England and two in Germany].

I think language is important; going back to this idea of international students, I think all students should have the opportunity to learn language.

What did you least enjoy about your own University experience? 

I least enjoyed at University when lecturers didn’t seem very committed. In those days, there wasn’t much oversight on what lecturers did. The other thing was a lack of information – not being told what was going on, I really wanted to learn.

When students go to university, they come here because they want a degree – we have a responsibility to give them a top-quality education, but we have to have expectations of students as well, which is why a Student Charter is such a good idea.

Do you mind if students never know who you are? 

It’s not like being a headmaster, you have a rather different role. I don’t mind students not knowing who I am and I don’t exist, but if they want to know about me they should be able to know – there shouldn’t be any barrier to that. I think what’s most important is that I work hard with students, staff and for Cardiff University.

What do you think of Dr. David Grant’s portrait, which cost almost £30,000? 

There needs to be a sense of proportion about these things. If you talk millions of pounds, you can go into the intricacies. The university does, however, need to decide its priorities, being the kind of University it is. Essex started doing photographs instead of portraits, but I’m not about to leave any time soon.

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