On Tuesday 27 September, we invited first year and foundation students to a Matriculation Ceremony at De Montfort Hall. This was a great opportunity for me to welcome our new students to the University and outline some of the exciting moments they will face over the next few years.
In the first of their kind, the Matriculation Ceremony was introduced this year as a way to formally induct our new students to the University, and provide the opportunity for me to personally welcome our new starters in the very setting that they will graduate from at the end of their courses.
I was delighted to be joined on stage by Students’ Union President Rachel Holland, and the University’s gospel choir for the occasion and it was great to see so many students excited about the start of their studies with us.
I would like to thank all of our staff who made the ceremonies possible and I am pleased to be able to share with you my speech from the ceremonies in this blog which highlights some of the fantastic new initiatives we have introduced to enhance the student experience this year.
I wish all of our new students every success for their time studying with us at the University of Leicester and I hope you will join me in welcoming our new cohort over the next few weeks as they settle into university life.
Paul Boyle, President and Vice-Chancellor
Welcome to the University of Leicester – you, the class of 2016, have made a fantastic choice. This event is called matriculation – the time when you formally matriculate into the University and become one of the student body. It is our opportunity to welcome you into the fold.
My name is Paul Boyle and I am the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University. The next event that you will see me in this hall will be at the end of your degree, in a number of years from now, at your graduation ceremony. Today graduation will seem like a long way off, but I can assure you that your time here will end before you know it. In between matriculation and graduation you are going to have a wonderful time and if there is one thing you must take away from today, you really must make the most of your time over the next few years.
As President and Vice -Chancellor it is my job, alongside the 4,000 or so academic and professional service staff, to make your experience as excellent as we can. And, in particular, we will do everything we can to make it as personal an experience as possible. We aim to provide a unique student experience – one which you will value and one which we will be constantly improving. And, as a listening university, we will make sure your views and opinions will help shape these changes.
History of the University
From today you become part of the life and the history of Leicester. If we do our jobs right, that won’t be something that lasts just for the next three or four or more years, but with you for the rest of your lives.
You are joining our University at a very special time; and you are part of a very special generation. As some of you may know, the University of Leicester was established in the wake of the First World War as a living memorial to those who had been lost. We were established up by local benefactors who had lost family and friends, and who wanted to turn from loss to something good. They decided to create a city university, and with it opportunities for a generation of people returning from conflict.
Our motto ‘ut vitam habeant’ – ‘so that they may have life’ – is a reminder of that legacy. And it is something we should all be proud of.
It may not seem it, but we are now getting close to our centenary – and the celebrations will begin sometime next year. It will give us the opportunity to commemorate our founding, from the first idea and a single building to the extensive campus that we inhabit today. We want to make sure that your welcome is as special as it was for our first students in 1921.
As the class of 2016, you are joining a university with a reputation for global excellence.
The people who will teach you are the academics who: have discovered and identified the body of Richard III; have invented novel techniques for identifying cancer through simple, non-invasive blood tests; have designed the forensic kits, based on genetic fingerprinting which was invented here, which help to ensure justice for vulnerable refugees who have experienced sexual violence; who have established the country’s first Centre for Hate Studies, focused partly on understanding the growing spectre of extremism; and who have worked with NASA over the last 50 years to build space vehicles – most recently working on the Juno mission to Jupiter.
Indeed, the only reason the National Space Centre is located in Leicester is because of our University’s world-renowned expertise in space science; and the next honorary degree that we award will be to the astronaut Tim Peake who will be visiting the city’s National Space Centre in a few weeks’ time.
It is the synergy between this world-leading research and our teaching that will make your learning experience particular special.
Of course, you are here to learn and I can guarantee that it will be a fantastic experience. However, universities are not just about the classroom. They provide a much broader experience – one that you will value and should make the most of. At university, academic success tends to go hand in hand with getting involved in and enjoying the life of the campus and the opportunities that come from being a student, so we are keen to see you getting involved.
I want to tell you about just a few of the changes that we have introduced for this year as a result of listening to the students who came before you:
- You are the first freshers who have received a book from us on your arrival. Obviously, we hope you will enjoy reading it, but please use it as an opportunity to get together with fellow students to discuss it. There will be various opportunities to meet each other through reading groups if you wish. One of the things we know from working with many cohorts of new students is the importance of you getting to know each other and beginning to participate in the community of students. We think reading a book together is one way of helping you achieve that.
- We have introduced a new student app, which we believe is one of the best in the UK. Do download it if you haven’t already done so. For the first time in 2016, we are bringing together all of the key timetabling and other information that you need in one place. As part of that app is a red button, designed to allow you to tell us how you think your university experience is going. Do use it, and tell us what we could be doing better. Please don’t store up any concerns or anxieties. We will not get everything perfect, but we can only improve on things if we know there is a problem. We are a listening university and we want to improve, so help us do that.
- We have built a single point of contact for student-facing services in the Charles Wilson Building. From student services to counselling support, for the first time students will be able to access all of the support you need in one place.
- We are launching a comprehensive lecture capture system across our lecture theatres. You can revisit your lectures at any time, helping remind you of the bits you missed, or to prepare you for your exams.
- We have transformed our curriculum and with a major/minor suite of modules which allows you to mix and match your degree much more flexibly.
- We have opened some of the best and most environmentally sustainable new learning facilities in Britain – our new Centre for Medicine is the largest Passivhaus building in the UK by some margin.
- And the square in the centre of campus is a new addition that will open fully in the next few days, creating a shared space that will bring the university together. We will be asking all students and staff for ideas of what we should call this area.
- We’ve recently become the first university in Britain to start delivering key university services in genuine partnership with the Student Union. Do download the UpayChilli app which allows you to use your phone to purchase food from any outlet and builds up rewards for you as you do so.
- We have expanded our Peer Mentoring Scheme, so that all new undergraduate students can be supported by a trained 2nd or 3rd year student to act as a mentor during your first semester with us. If you haven’t signed up for a mentor yet, I would encourage you to do so.
I hope this assures you that we have listened to the generation of students who came before you, and we will listen to you, so let us know what more we could be doing, and we will make changes for next year.
As a university we are involved in a range of major initiatives.
Last week I was in New York, at the United Nations General Assembly at the launch of the HeForShe programme for gender equality on University campuses – the campaign that you may have seen being led by Emma Watson. The University of Leicester has been chosen as one of only 10 universities, alongside 10 National Presidents (including Japan and Finland) and 10 company CEOs (including Barclays and Twitter), who are champions for this initiative. This seems particularly apt, given that of the first nine students who were the class of 1921, eight were women.
And there are three areas in particular that we are committed to delivering:
- Increasing the proportion of women in senior roles; in the UK, while 50% of our lecturing staff are women, only 23% of our professors are women (we aim to increase that to 30% by 2020).
- Reducing the gender imbalances among students across different disciplines. Eighty per cent of the students taking Psychology are women, while 80% of our engineers are men and it is interesting that these disciplinary imbalances vary across different countries, so they can be changed. Take medicine, which some years ago was dominated by men, and now 55% of our new medical students are women.
- And we want to grapple with the problem of harassment and violence. We are proud that according to surveys at least, we have a less serious issue of sexual violence on our campus compared to the average for universities in the UK, but one incident is one too many. Alongside the Students’ Union, we are rolling out Standing Together which is a campaign to acknowledge and resist such violence. One particular element is the Bystander Initiative which encourages all staff, students, bar workers and even taxi drivers to determine that they will not stand by if students are getting in difficulty. You will be encouraged to participate in an online training module about gender equality and this will be explained in more detail there. Suffice to say, we take this issue extremely seriously and hope that you will too.
There aren’t many cities better to study in than Leicester, or that offer a warmer welcome to new students. We’re one of the most creative and diverse cities in Britain. And you may have heard – we’re pretty good at sports.
At the University, we recognise that our relationship with the communities around us makes us what we are. Over the next few weeks we will make an exciting announcement about our student volunteering, internship and engagement programmes accordingly. And watch out too for exciting news on our relationships with local schools and social services. We are going to reach out much more boldly than we have done before, and we want you to be involved.
I’d encourage you to get out and to make the most of all of the opportunities that the University and the city have to offer – from the community garden to the basketball stadium. And for everything that you take out, I’d encourage you to try to put just as much back in.
You have chosen to come to university because you are thinking not just of the next few years, but the rest of your life. You will benefit while you are here, and when you leave. It isn’t just that there are now more jobs for graduates than there have ever been, or that over your working lifetime, you will earn a few hundred thousand pounds more because of your hard work here.
Our purpose is to equip you not just with an education, but with something broader. With the spirit of intellectual inquiry; with a deep curiosity, and with the resilience and the resources to one day go out into the world and make a difference.
But for the meantime, I wish you every joy of the next few years; and on behalf of the University of Leicester – and in keeping with the posters – would like to welcome you formally to the student body.
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