Cardiff Breakfast Club 14th November – Julie Lydon, VC Glamorgan University

Posted: November 14, 2012 in Cardiff Breakfast Club, Events
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 This morning we were joined by Julie Lydon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Glamorgan, who discussed the vital importance of the Higher Education sector to Wales’ economy, as well as the impact of recent “seismic shifts” in the market on students, employers and institutions.

Having been a graduate, lecturer, and on the senior management team at two previous institutions, Julie is exceptionally experienced on “both sides of the business-university fence”. Higher Education (HE) is a major employer across the UK, and the University of Glamorgan is no exception; encompassing 2500 staff over 6 sites, the institution has a turnover of £150million. Yet the economic impact of the HE sector reaches further than this. Julie stated that for every £1 of funding from the Government, Welsh students contribute £5.60. While Julie was keen to stress that universities are not businesses, with this in mind, they must run “in a businesslike way”.

The University of Glamorgan’s acute understanding of the business world is indeed one of its strongest selling points. Founded in 1913 (and celebrating its centenary next year), combining academic excellence with understanding the needs of employers is “part of its DNA”. Successful universities need to work with employers and provide the courses that they are looking for.

However, a degree is “only part of making an employee”. Work experience was one of the university’s founding principles, and remains “vital”. For students unable to partake in industry placements, the Glam Edge programme and investment in the “student experience” as a whole encourage Glamorgan graduates to develop the skills and awareness to succeed in their chosen industries. And they are succeeding: 93% of Glamorgan graduates are in employment or further study after 6 months, the highest rate of any Welsh university.

However, Julie is aware of the fundamental changes to the sector, and the need for institutions to adapt and grow accordingly. The changes in tuition fees led to an expected reduction in applications, with 54,000 fewer students entering HE across the UK, costing the sector an estimated £1billion. While nobody currently knows if this is a “blip”, Julie is confident that it is at least a trend.

With this in mind, Wales’ HE institutions need to “stop looking inwards”, and consider how they can compete on a national and international stage. Next year Glamorgan takes a bold step towards this by merging with the University of Wales, Newport. Partnering a Russell Group, research-minded university with an employability-focused university is a “powerful pitch”, which will help the new institution “take on the big players” in metropolitan regions across the UK. More than this, it will enable traditionally “underserviced” regions in both the heart of Cardiff and across the Valleys to access HE and the benefits it brings.

In a climate that often asks “what the point of going to university is” these days, Julie’s discussion and inspiring examples underscored that there are always more opportunities for those with degrees than those without. Unlocking this potential benefits not the individual, their future employers, and undoubtedly Wales’ economy too.

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