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We can forge our existing strengths into a stronger institution: Robert

Robert Van de Noort

Following the announcement of his appointment, the University's new Vice-Chancellor Robert Van de Noort has written to all colleagues and students: 

Dear colleagues, 

I am honoured to become the University of Reading’s tenth Vice-Chancellor.

I applied for the role because I believe that Reading is a great university with much to offer the world. I am lucky to have already served four years as Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and recently as Acting Vice-Chancellor. The more I know the University – which is to say, our staff and students – the more committed I am to helping us succeed. There is much to do, and we face challenges along the way and I feel prepared to get straight to work. So what next?

My first priority is you. Without people, working together and for a common purpose, we are nothing. Universities forget this at their peril. We are a complex organisation, with many changes and moving parts, but I will always put people first.

Towards a new strategy

To help us all refocus on our direction, we must consider our vision and our strategy. The 2026 Vision and the ‘Limitless’ concept have served us well, helping us to expand and meet the demands of an increasingly competitive sector. But the environment in which we find ourselves now has changed enormously. In some areas, we have lost sight of what is possible. We need to adapt.

In recent months, I have tried to visit every part of the University. During 29 meetings with colleagues, I have shared my view that our new strategy must be based on core values of quality and partnership. I have learnt a lot, and thank everyone who has participated. You have shown me that we have a genuine desire for renewal based on quality, and not just on numbers. You have also shown me that change is needed, not just in what we do, but in what we value.

The development of knowledge is built on inquiry, debate and challenge. No academic would assert that his or her findings are the last word on any subject. I believe the same principles apply to university governance. My approach relies on best harnessing the huge amount of talent and the variety of viewpoints that we have in our University community. My entire career – as an academic leading an archaeological team, as a head of department, and in university leadership – has shown me that the best solutions come from helping others speak up, rather than assuming I have all the answers. Clear decisions must be made, and there will rarely, if ever, be full agreement with every decision. But I believe that shared investment in the process leads to a greater sense of joint ownership in our future.

What does that mean for Reading?

We need to be open to challenge and dialogue. Not only does that principle lie at the heart of academic freedom and endeavour, and so forms the very basis of our existence, but my instinct is that the best decisions are also made through collaboration, partnership and constructive challenge.

A University for Reading

Furthermore, I believe we need to focus as much on our local community as we do on our national and global ambitions. Much of the criticism aimed at major institutions in recent years, including universities, comes from a perceived and genuine lack of understanding and responsiveness. There is a widely held sense that Brexit, for example, can be at least partly explained by the loss of relevance and legitimacy of political and social institutions. So while our global aspirations remain, I want us to be more embedded in our local community.

We were established more than a century ago by the people of Reading. We are the University of Reading; we must be clear that we are also the university for Reading.

We need to develop a better understanding of what is needed by our neighbours and partners, and a clear sense of the role we play in delivering a stronger region for all who live here. This requires listening and facilitation, as well as leadership. I look forward to making significant strides forward in this endeavour in the coming weeks.

Renewal from within

In developing our refreshed strategy, I am committed to a process of consultation. We will not be looking to external advisors to guide us in this. The answers need to come from us, from our University community and our Reading community. Collectively, I believe we can forge our existing strengths into a stronger institution, ready to meet the future with confidence.

I will be discussing initial plans for this process with colleagues at University Executive Board and the wider Leadership Group in the coming weeks. More importantly, I need to hear from you about what you want for the future of this University.

I intend to hold a series of talks for all staff in April and to work closely with key partners, such as the Students’ Union, UCU branch and Staff Forum. But to engage as many people as possible, I will also launch a period of consultation in the Summer term, to provide the principles that will underpin our vision. These discussions with you will come first, not as an afterthought. From this I will propose a revised University-wide strategy, which we will put to our governing Council by the end of the summer.

Global and inclusive

I feel confident that we can make the most of these opportunities together, using the strength of our diversity. I am the tenth person to hold the office of Vice-Chancellor at Reading, but the first who was born outside the United Kingdom. While my background is largely irrelevant to how I will fulfil my duties, it is reflective of our very international community. While the UK’s political leaders try to change the country’s relationship with the rest of the world, our commitment to being an open, welcoming and inclusive place becomes ever more important.

I’m a keen sailor, so you’ll have to forgive me for ending with a sailing story. Two years ago, I helped crew a Brixham trawler across the English Channel to France, on the tail end of Storm Aileen. The weather was pretty wild and there were more than a few touch-and-go moments. It was frightening and exhilarating in equal measure.

I learnt a lot from that trip – and not just that I have a stronger stomach than I thought. It reminded me of the principles that every sailor knows. You do not reach your destination by trying to fight against your environment. You work together with your crew to understand the currents, the wind and the weather, and you plot your course accordingly.

Our vessel is much larger and more complicated than that little trawler, and our mission far more important. But the same principles will hold us in good stead. We have an exciting voyage ahead.

Kind regards,

Robert

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