INTERVIEW: Your New Vice-Chancellor, Professor Iwan Davies


Tell us about your academic past before you became Vice-Chancellor

Well, I’m an academic lawyer, although I also practiced at the Bar. Essentially, my whole life has really centered around finance law, with a particular emphasis on asset finance. I was, for a number of years, an advisor to various UK government bodies and also internationally. One body in particular, was a body based in Rome called UNIDROIT, and that was a very exciting project because it involved really looking at ways in which you could codify international commercial law. 

So that was interesting. Part of my work also was dealing with this kind of issue: how do you have a legal interest in space satellites? Because a space satellite, of course, is in space, it doesn’t have a physical presence on Earth, so from the point of view of conventional legal theory this really blew out all of the kind of disciplines that you had in mind. So that was one of the areas that I had a particular interest in, and of course part of that was how the financing of space satellites has moved from government to private finance, and of course very significant sums of money were involved in that, and as part of that process, really reviewing new legal financing techniques. 

So that’s been my interest. I’ve also had a huge amount of interest, as well, in the development of Wales as a jurisdiction and as a jurisdiction within the family of a common law: What is distinctive about the common law as it applies in Wales? I advised the devolved government as to different mechanisms that could actually be employed. And one of my greatest enjoyments was actually being the legal advisor to the Wales and Whitehall inquiry, which was several years ago now.

What made you choose Bangor?

I think Bangor has huge potential and, for me, I knew Bangor well, I understood the ethos of Bangor, and I wanted to come to Bangor, I was committed to Welsh higher education and Bangor is one of the jewels in Welsh higher education.

What is, simply put, your vision for this university?

I think it’s doing more, better. But, for me, the centrality of the student experience is the key- how do we ensure that students have the very best experience in Bangor? And that means that students can benefit from brilliant teaching, research-led teaching. Because that, for me, is what differentiates universities which have real resonance: research-led teaching, because it means that you’re not being taught by people who are dealing with yesterday’s problems- you are taught by visionaries, and people who are actually involved in dynamic research, and that’s the benefit that students can appreciate. So I am about really, in simple terms, developing the student experience, and the centrality of the student experience within the context of a research-led meilleur. That’s what I’m about.

How will you address the current financial situation?

Well I think that’s an issue that we have to have transparency with, in terms of approach. I think we have to take the opportunities that we are given and I think that, through careful management, through the delivery of new strategic thinking, refreshed strategic thinking, I think we can grow out of our current financial challenges. But one thing about Bangor which is really important- the basic essentials of Bangor University give me huge confidence that these are temporary problems and we will overcome them.

How will you address the student concerns that cuts could damage quality of education?

For me, as I’ve said to you, the centrality of the student experience is key. And essentially, I think that we can ensure that everything we do will be tested against impact. And I want to cherish, particularly, the student community as well as ensuring that, as we move forward, we move forward collectively, as a team. The student community, the academic, the personal services community- what I want to see in Bangor is what I call common purpose. We can only really make big progress with common purpose.

What are your more immediate goals for this year?

Well I made it very clear to a number on the student body already, in terms of the Student Union Exec. I’ve also made it clear to colleagues on the Exec team in the university, that for me, employability is key. I think that we need to improve our employability outcomes and that for me is a priority- engaging with the business community, engaging with the wider community, providing opportunities for students. And what I have in mind here is not simply where students are job-seekers, looking for jobs, that’s very important, but also ensuring that we provide the opportunity through our curriculum, through various experience, for students to become job-creators. That will be a very big transformative change for students here in Bangor, but also on the local community as well. So I’m very keen that the university really engages seriously with big employers, with employers in the public services, such as hospitals, police, local government and so on, as well as small and medium size enterprises. I am passionate about that, and I am passionate to provide students with the opportunity of when they leave Bangor of really engaging, in a fully prepared way, for the opportunities of the world. I’d like to see Bangor University students as global graduates as well, and Bangor has such a fine tradition of international engagement that there are huge horizons for Bangor University in terms of opportunities for students. 

How will the Welsh language curriculum be prioritised?

We live in a bilingual environment. The really great thing about Bangor is that, in European terms, we reflect more the European ideal in terms of living in a bilingual environment than any other university in Wales. I’m hugely proud of that, because what bilingualism does, it opens up the mind and it provides opportunities for people to learn, to have insights into culture, and that’s one of the great attractions of Bangor, whether you’re an international student, whether you’re a UK student, or whether you’re a Welsh domicile student. So I think we provide a complete package. So as part of that process, the Welsh language curriculum is important, and it’s important because I’d like to see Bangor as the university in Wales where you prepare for the professions and for professional engagement through the medium of Welsh. That’s something which I’m keen to develop and again, that’s something which you will see emerging over the coming months and years.

Brexit uncertainty has caused concerns for EU and UK students. What is the university doing for its students in the outcome of an orderly Brexit, and what is it doing in the outcome of a disorderly Brexit?

This is a very challenging time. As a university we are taking very responsible actions around all of the possible connotations of a Brexit resolution. In large measure, this is a dilemma for all universities, it’s also a dilemma for a number of industries and sectors within the UK. Whether that extends to data security, whether it extends to the challenges that will come from a disorderly Brexit, we are having to reflect as a university and respond as the issue relating to Brexit becomes clearer. The reality is that, at this point in time, it’s difficult to really see where we are going, and we’re talking here on Tuesday at the time when parliament is closing for a period now until the Queen’s speech. We will be monitoring the situation carefully, we are reporting to Welsh government in terms of preparations, we are being advised by Welsh government in terms of how we deal with Brexit, but what I’d like to say to you as well is this: look, Brexit is an event. We must look beyond it. And for me, I have huge optimism that whatever, however Brexit turns out, there’s a world beyond Brexit, and what we mustn’t do is be dominated by a sense of doom and gloom with Brexit. Life will go on, and we’ve got to ensure that we are in the best possible position to progress post-Brexit. And what I’m absolutely determined to do, is that Bangor responds to those opportunities in as timely a way as possible.

The university declared a climate emergency over the summer. What preparations are being made to combat climate change?

I’m massively proud of the sustainability credentials of this great university. This university is showing the way in the UK. The research that this university is engaged in in terms of sustainability is genuinely world class. We have sustainability as part of the way in which we are engaging in our new strategic planning process. That’s important, and no doubt we will engage with the student body in ways in which we can actually promote sustainability, and it’s great to know that the Students’ Union is now up for an award, the Green Gown award, around the sustainability agenda. We will work with students, but what I can say to you is that that’s a natural part of what Bangor is, it’s one of the most prestigious universities in terms of the sustainability credentials, in terms of the Times lead tables on sustainability. We lead and others follow we’re going to ensure that that is maintained as we go forward.

You have a podcast, ‘Universities: an antidote to darkness.’ You talked at one point of the importance of having a 400-year perspective. How do you see Bangor in 400 years?

I think that’s a really important question. I think it’s really important, in terms of the short term, to begin with, to have at least an 18-year perspective. For this reason: because what we have to be sure of is that whatever decisions we take now must stand the test of being relevant to young people who are born now- who in 18 years’ time will be coming to university. So, we need to be dynamic enough to appreciate the up-and-coming generation. That needs to inform the way in which we look at the world. 

Now in terms of looking a century and beyond, what I can say to you is, we have to have vivid imaginations. And what I know is that the world will look completely different in the next 50 years. Just think about how artificial intelligence is going to impact upon all of our industries and experience. Just think about how the threats to our existence around cyber and so on will change the way in which we behave. Just think about the way in which clean technologies are going to absolutely transform the way in which we look at consumerism. 

So what I’m saying to you about the 400-year future, is I’m confident that Bangor has very much a long-term vision, and I want to be able to ensure that that vision is owned by the community, is finessed over a period of time, is refreshed over a period of time.  400 years is not literally 400 years- it’s just that we need to look beyond any headlights. There is something there about the future, and I’m optimistic about the future because I believe in the student community now. You own the future, and what I want to do is ensure that we can support you in owning the future. So the 400 years is really telling you as well that there’ll be students. There’s a current student population and there’ll be a student population in 100 years. What I want to be sure of, is that Bangor is utterly relevant at all times- utterly contemporary.


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