Q&A with Ralph Findlay, Chair of Council at Keele University 2014-2018
As he completes his fourth and final year as Chair of Council, Ralph Findlay shared some thoughts with us about his time at Keele University.
After spending an initial 18 months as a Council member, Ralph took up the role of Chair of Council in August 2014. When he steps down from the role in 2018, he will have been on the Council at Keele for almost six years.
What were your initial thoughts about taking on the role of Chair of Council?
“Initially, I did wonder whether I could do it or not. As a full time CEO of a public company - had I got the time commitment to give this? But the more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. I live not far from here in Wolverhampton, we have a lot of business in and around Staffordshire, and we have a lot to do with the recruitment of young people and graduates. The idea of working with an organisation in the HE sector that was all about helping to bring on and develop and educate young people for the world of work and employment appealed to me.
When I came to visit Keele, I got on well with and liked the people that I met, and I saw a university that had a pretty good idea of where it sat in the sector, and knew where it was trying to go, was ambitious, and had a lot of things that it was going to be managing over the coming years, and I thought - I think I can help with that, I can make a difference, and that’s why I got involved.”
Could you explain what the Chair of Council role involves?
“In my mind there are three main objectives of the role:
Firstly, Governance. As Chair, you are responsible for making sure that the University fulfils all of its requirements to various stakeholders from a governance perspective - whether that’s HEFCE or other regulatory bodies, UK government, etc. This is very important, and what you have to do to meet your Governance obligations is carefully described in the statutes.
Secondly, is to assist the Vice Chancellor and his team; as a guide, as somebody to bounce ideas off, as somebody to have input to the development of the University strategy. The Chair of Council is often described as a ‘Critical Friend’ of the University - you’re there as part of the University, but at the same time you’re non-executive, so you can stand outside of it and you can say ‘actually, I think there’s a better way we can do this’ or ‘we need to be more ambitious’ or ‘we need to be better at this.’
And finally, representing and being a voice for the University, outside of the organisation itself. As somebody in business, when I’m out and about, I will often refer back to the relationship that I have with Keele, and try and make sure that I’m promoting the University, and making sure that it can be seen in a positive light.”
Several large projects are now coming to implementation and completion, which have been under development whilst Ralph has been Chair of Council, including the construction of the new Central Science Laboratories, and plans for the new Mercia Centre for Innovation and Leadership.
What have been your highlights during your time at Keele?
“The development of the strategy and ambition for the University is something I am very close to and am very keen to see that continued. We are in a sector which has got lots of challenges, and standing still in that environment is not possible. So the plans that we have developed, and are in the process of implementing, for investment in things like the new science labs, the new management centre, the plans for accommodation, these are all things which I think will be transformational for Keele University.
These are all projects that have really come up in the last three or four years. The University has been more successful in recent years in attracting funding from external sources, whether that’s European funding or UK Government or LEP - and the University's ability to secure that funding has been fundamental to our ability to get some of these projects moving.”
“I think that the university has done incredibly well in its reputation for student satisfaction and academic excellence - for example, getting the TEF Gold award this year - those kind of things are really important and they are crucial for our reputation in the wider sector.”
What makes it special to be part of Keele?
“It’s brilliant being associated with Keele. Why is it brilliant? For me, it comes down to the people. The staff here are fantastic. I will miss the sheer range of things that happen in university life, and the range of things that Keele University is involved with all over the world - it is a unique organisation - for a number of reasons.
Part of it is in the environment of where it is - as a campus university it couldn’t be in a more beautiful spot. Also its reputation, as a place which is different and special. But I think it's also the fact that Keele has prioritised the right things over the years. Ever since I’ve been involved, and also before that, the University has focused on the quality of the student experience - and this is something that the government has really only just started to focus on as a means of measuring how universities are doing, by getting the quality of teaching and the quality of the environment that the students are in; and at Keele we score really highly on all of these measures.”
How would you like to see Keele move forward in the future?
“I’d like to see the University’s reputation and position in the sector continue to improve, to see it move up the various league tables; we have set targets for where we want to be both in the UK and worldwide, and I’d really like to see that happen. I’d also like to come back here and see these buildings up, and the campus looking fantastic, well-invested in and attractive.”
“One of the other things that I’ve learned about Keele compared to other universities, is that it pays attention to the ‘whole person’- not just whether they come out of university with a degree, but their confidence, the way they relate to the world - and I think those things are really important.”
Finally, for anyone considering the role of Chair of Council, Ralph offers this advice:
“It’s a fantastic opportunity. Keele is a unique place, and you’ve got the chance to be involved in an organisation which has many facets; it’s a business, it’s in education, in science, it’s in every aspect of things that touch what we do, and it has a global reach. The opportunity to get involved at this level in an organisation like Keele, is just unbeatable.”