A New Faculty Vision

When I first arrived in Newcastle just over two years ago, I was struck by the Faculty vision. Why? Because it is so unmemorable! Can you remember what it is? I must confess that I can’t recall it from memory easily. Here it is: 

“To be a faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering with a global reputation  for academic excellence in its areas of strength, that provides leadership to the University and region in Sustainability, and that contributes substantially to all the University’s Societal Challenge themes.”

So what’s wrong with it? First, it uses words such as ‘global reputation’ and ‘academic excellence’. What do these actually mean? What is academic excellence, and how will we know when we’ve got it? Second, it’s not very specific – what does ‘substantially’ mean? Do we really want to provide leadership only to the University and the region in Sustainability, or are our aspirations more global? I’m being deliberately glib but I hope you can see what I mean. Now that we have all hopefully recovered from the exhaustion (literally) of the REF exercise, it seems like a good time to think about refreshing the vision. After all, much water has passed under the bridge since the original vision was formulated – continuously changing student number controls, impact statements and the like.

It’s important to have  a clear and specific vision, because if we are to enjoy more success we need to work as a team. Moreover, we need to work towards a common goal. If 100 people have a different opinion of what ‘excellence’ means, then we will all carve different paths to what we believe is that goal, whereas in fact we will be diluting our efforts.

While I’m on the subject it’s worth mentioning the difference between a vision statement and a mission statement. A vision statement outlines where we want to be, and communicates both our purpose and values. A mission statement talks about how we will get there. It defines  the purpose and primary objectives related to our customer needs and team values. It follows that a mission statement concerns the present and a vision statement concerns the future.

Here’s a good vision statement from Amazon:

“Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online”.

You are left in no doubt that Amazon intends to be the best in the world at what it does – and the vision is memorable!

Over the next few months Faculty Executive Board will be discussing a renewed vision for SAgE, followed by an away-day in March to crystallise our thoughts. I’ll also be visiting each school during that time to hear your own thoughts about where you would like us to be by 2020. It’s very important that we create the vision from the bottom up so that everyone buys in to the direction of travel, so please share your thoughts – innovative ideas particularly welcome!


About stevehomans

Professor Steve Homans is a structural biologist with an international reputation in the study of biomolecular interactions. He obtained his first degree and DPhil in Biochemistry at Oxford University, and secured his first academic position as Lecturer at the University of Dundee. In 1998 he received the Zeneca award from the Biochemical Society and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prior to his current appointment he was Dean of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. Professor Homans brings extensive expertise of academic leadership and management, with a particular emphasis on organisational change.
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