Vice-Chancellor's Blog

Sir David Bell with Dr Derek Watson, at the food safety conference

Vice-Chancellor's Blog: week ending 6 September 2019

1 September is defined as the beginning of meteorological autumn. I also think of that date as the beginning of educational autumn and that is certainly the case here at the University. So to mark the start of the new academic year, I met the recently-elected Presidents of USSU – our students’ union – on Monday.

I initiated such meetings on a monthly basis last year – indeed they started on my very first day in Sunderland. For me, they have been a great way of keeping in touch with student-related issues. At the sessions the Presidents can raise anything they like which, hopefully, allows us to seek early resolution of their concerns.

In so much of what we do, strong partnership working is what makes us stand out as a university. That should be the same internally with our students, as it is with those with whom we work outside.

Early autumn is also a time when colleagues attend academic conferences to update and share knowledge. On Wednesday, Dr Derek Watson from the Faculty of Business, Law and Tourism organised such a conference here at the University on the subject of food safety culture which I was honoured to open.

Involving food businesses, regulators, consultants and academics, the event considered current and emerging thinking on building and sustaining a culture of food safety which goes beyond management processes and systems.

Through this work, Derek and his partners – both internally and externally – are seeking to develop a centre of excellence in food safety culture here in the north of England. Given the significance and cost of maintaining food safety for businesses, and the importance of the subject to consumers, this is a really important area of work.

After another momentous week in Parliament, it is probably worth me saying something about where we are in relation to Brexit.

From an institution-wide perspective, I have wanted to ensure that we maintain our position as a place in which all strands of opinion, within the law, can be safely held and debated.

I know, as a matter of fact, that there are a range of views within the University community on the subject of Brexit, and everything else that is happening nationally at the moment. So it would be wrong for me to seek to represent a single institutional position on these matters. I know that this is an approach supported by the governing body. 

In terms of the practical impact of Brexit, Steve Knight, our Chief Operating Officer, is leading our work in this area. We are exploring what additional preparations need to be made, should a no-deal Brexit happen at the end of October. 

I should say though that the University’s room for independent action is limited, given that we are largely dependent on the decisions of others. Rightly though, we have a responsibility to communicate so that staff and students are kept abreast of developments. Watch out for more on this front in the weeks ahead.