Comment: Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor

Professor Buitendijk writes about the importance of Community here at Leeds in her first Student Education Bulletin column.

Let me start by thanking each and every one of you for the incredible efforts you’re making to ensure we continue to offer our students the best education and experience possible in what are truly exceptional circumstances. 

These are challenging times for us all  professionally and personally  but the sense of community and togetherness I’ve already witnessed during my time at the University, from students and staff alike, is hugely motivating and inspiring.

The ingenuity, dedication and expertise of our entire community is incredibly impressive. 

Indeed, it’s this overriding sense of community that attracted me to this job – it’s something very special. 

While we must never lose sight of the fact covid-19 is a tragedy with a huge human and economic cost, if we continue to work together, in partnership, we can emerge from this crisis stronger and create a better future for the University and our students. 

Please be assured that I’m also acutely aware of the enormous pressure we’re all under as we strive to deliver our core missions.

We all have individual stories about how covid-19 has taken its toll on us, as well as the one we share as a community. I know a lot of you have been working above and beyond the call of duty, but we need to remember to take care of ourselves. 

We are absolutely clear that our number one priority and responsibility is to protect the health and safety of the entire University community

‘Outstanding impact’

Aligned to this, we want to put our students’ education and experience at the heart of our decision making. 

Whilst the circumstances are not as I would have predicted, I’m honoured to have been given the chance to lead the University in this mission, and to help build on our already considerable impact, locally and globally. 

Universities are strong change-makers; I believe we are the only networked community that can truly solve global challenges.

We will do this through cutting-edge research and by training the next generation of global citizens.  

Viewed as an outsider looking in, we have an enviable reputation as a research-intensive university with strong innovation in student education

All it needs is for us to combine our efforts and become more collaborative and inclusive, both within universities but, most importantly, between universities globally. 

We have some real advantages at Leeds, through our culture of harnessing our breadth of expertise for societal benefit, our sense of community and a track record of outstanding impact. 

Transformational

Another strength is the way we help our students make the transition from a local to global context.

An example of this is ensuring we attract students locally as well as from further afield, including those who in the past might not have accessed higher education, as well as supporting those taking on internships or volunteering work in the region. 

Part of this equation involves thinking creatively about education and responding to what our students tell us they want and need. They are very much our partners in all this. 

One example is digital education.

While by necessity we’re delivering teaching via a hybrid model, the potential of online learning to overcome barriers of geography, background and culture, so that our students can benefit from a truly global classroom, is immense and transformational. 

This is why the University Council has agreed to recruit a Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Digital Transformation

Given the need for pace in this area, the Council has endorsed the appointment of Professor Neil Morris, the current Dean of Digital Education, to act as Interim DVC. 

‘Thinking differently about pedagogy’

As those of you with access may have seen, I gave an interview to the Times Higher as I entered this role, setting out my initial thoughts on the future of education

The headline – Lectures’ Days Are Numbered At Leeds As New V-C Takes Charge – may appear a little stark, and I can assure you I have no current plans to abolish lectures at the University, but I’m excited by the potential of new approaches to research-led education. 

I believe it’s clear that the direction of travel, for the whole of higher education, is towards developing pedagogical models that put our students at the very heart of their learning.

This will involve looking at elements such as the duration and format of the traditional lecture, and also at areas including co-creation of educational content with our students.  

What our students need from us is changing as the world is changing, and that will require thinking differently about our pedagogy. 

And the covid-19 response is requiring us to press the accelerator on this a little harder. 

While this may sound daunting, along with Professor Peter Jimack, our Interim Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Student Education, I want to talk to our University community – staff and students – to hear your views about the future of education so that we take this journey together.

We were able to touch on aspects of this through the successful town hall sessions, and I will be saying more about it in the coming weeks. 

Being a leader is not about singlehandedly having all the right answers. The best solutions, whether it’s during a crisis or beyond, stem from harnessing the innate drive and collaborative power of the team and the community. 

My role is to help find a vision and focus that everybody can get excited about, and then pave the way for the innovators, for all the brilliant people out there – staff and students  to go in that direction. 

I look forward to continuing the great work already underway at Leeds right across our disciplines and activities. 

We are one community and together we can contribute to a better world.