As his time as vice-chancellor of the University of Lincoln comes to an end, Professor David Chiddick (61) reflected on his experience at the university and talked about future plans, in an interview with The Linc, on Wednesday October 21st.
He praised the university, its “fantastic” staff, and said he was “enormously proud of the success of the students”. Lincoln, he said, is “in a really strong position”.
On November 1st, Professor Chiddick will officially hand over to his successor as vice-chancellor, Professor Mary Stuart. He praised Professor Stuart as “very experienced, very able”.
When asked how he felt about departing the university, Professor Chiddick said: “Obviously I feel sad to some extent, because this has been my life for the last nine years, often days and nights as well.”
“On the other hand, the university’s in a really strong position, and that is the time to go. I always knew I was going to leave in 2008 or 2009, when the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was published, because we’d then know whether the university was flying or failing. And, of course, it’s flying.”
Professor Chiddick said that it is “difficult to say” what he is most proud of, looking back over his time as vice-chancellor.
“I am enormously proud of the success of the students. The staff send me all the successes of students that they have… I see them regularly, I see the awards they get, I see the jobs they get, and that is really terrific to see that.
“The fact that the university has settled into community of the city as easily as it has — there are still tensions, I’m aware of that — but the fact that the city, the people in the city, the local authorities, and others, think positively of the university, is a testament not just to the staff but to the students.”
Looking to the future, he said that “financially, the university is now stable, very stable,” in contrast to some other institutions, and that “we have a fantastic platform from which to go forward”.
Professor Chiddick joined the university in 2000, when it was still known as the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. Previously, he was a pro vice-chanceller at De Montfort University, which then had sites in Lincoln.
“In those early days, the [university] was mainly in Hull. Most of the [students] were there, all the administration was there. There was literally an office [in Lincoln], with a secretary that came down once a week.”
The story of Professor Chiddick’s career as vice-chancellor is the story of the university’s radical transformation.
“It was perfectly obvious to me, and to one or two other people around the country, that if you could pull off the trick of moving it all down to Lincoln, and changing the name to the University of Lincoln, you could create something rather special here.”
He described the change from the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside to the University of Lincoln as essentially “developing a university from scratch”.
“Nearly half of the workforce didn’t come with us to Lincoln [from Hull], so it was a case of recruiting new staff, and lots of wonderful staff came to the university — academic and support staff — because this was exciting. This was the first real new university to establish itself for about 40 or 50 years.”
When asked about the criticism that the university has focused too much on construction, rather than employing more teaching staff, Professor Chiddick said “we needed to put the buildings up, otherwise we wouldn’t have anywhere to put the staff”.
He also pointed out that the university still makes use of several temporary buildings, “so we haven’t completed the development of the university”.
However, he accepted that “the issue around staff-student ratios is correct, to a large extent,” but said that a lack of RAE money (awarded for quality of research) had hindered the university.
“We had no RAE cash in the early days. And what the  RAE has helped is to do… is, in the future, begin to recruit more staff.
“But what it also tells us is, to get the [National Student Survey] scores, to get the research outputs that we’ve had, we’ve had some fantastic staff to be able to do that with the [ratios] we’ve had in the past, to get us to that position.”
The university’s RAE funding increased by over 600% after the 2008 Exercise, growing to about £1.6 million. The average increase was just 7.9%.
As for Professor Chiddick himself, he said that while he is retiring, he won’t be idle.
“People have been asking me ‘what am I going to do?’ There is a temptation to say ‘nothing’, because I am retiring. On the other hand, I think most people who know me would know that that is unlikely.
“I do climb mountains, believe it or not, so there have been mountains that my friends have climbed that I’ve not been able to over the past few years, so I’m going to catch up there.”
He also said that he would be returning to his specialist area of urban renewal.
“I’m working in one or two cities at the moment, in particular in Derry, in Northern Ireland, with some people who want to regenerate their city and grow their university at the same time. So that’s basically the sort of thing I’ll probably be doing around the country, probably in one or two parts of the world as well, but no permanent jobs as vice-chancellor — or anything like it — in the future.”
— You can listen to the whole interview with Professor David Chiddick on our podcast feed.Tweet