University says farewell to inspirational VC as institution prepares for new era
31 March 2016
When Professor Graham Upton steps down as interim Vice-Chancellor of Wrexham Glyndŵr University he can look back with pride on a job well done.
A respected Professor of Special Educational Needs and Educational Psychology, he arrived in north east Wales 15 months ago tasked with steering the institution to a position of financial stability following an academic and operational restructure and the reinstatement of its licence to sponsor international students.
Fast forward to March 2016, and the university is in a far healthier position, with a five-year plan that aims to deliver a turnover of up to £75m by 2019/20, as well as doubling the number of full-time UK/EU undergraduates to 5,400.
There are still challenges ahead for incoming Vice-Chancellor, Professor Maria Hinfelaar – as there are for all higher education institutions - but at least Wrexham Glyndŵr is now “back in the race” and on a level playing field, according to Professor Upton.
“It has been a challenging period but also one I have greatly enjoyed,” he said.
“There were financial and political issues to resolve when I arrived and we have worked through them since day one, but all along I was confident we could reach the point we are at now because there is a very strong team here, one that deserves to be successful.
“Together we have laid solid foundations for Professor Hinfelaar and built on existing relationships with our partners locally and nationally in business, education and at the Welsh Government and HEFCW, so I’m sure she will be able to take the university on to the next level.”
Born in Birmingham, Professor Upton was educated in Australia and went on to teach in secondary and special education schools before returning to the UK in 1972.
After a brief spell at Chester College, he worked for the University of Wales, Leeds Polytechnic and the University of Birmingham where he was Pro Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Special Educational Needs and Educational Psychology.
Professor Upton was appointed Vice-Chancellor at Oxford Brookes University in 1997, where he spent 10 years at the helm before retiring.
From May 2010 until July 2011 he joined the University of Cumbria as interim Vice-Chancellor, taking them from a £30million deficit to a position of financial sustainability.
The task has not been of such magnitude at Wrexham Glyndŵr, though Professor Upton admits bringing about its stability was among his toughest tests.
“As it stands the University is in a better position financially, is independent and has a strong management team supported by a new Board of Governors which is fully behind the strategy we have in place,” he said.
“We have forged stronger links with Grwp Llandrillo Menai, South Cheshire College, Grwp Neath Port Talbot, Coleg Cambria and the universities of Bangor and Chester, among others, and made strides on the international stage.
“Moves are also being made to bring research degree-awarding powers to the institution and we have created a sustainable capacity for leadership and management, as well as initiating processes which will result in the enhancement of the student experience and improved recruitment and retention – we have been very busy.”
Professor Upton added: “All in all the future looks bright; I’m immensely proud to have joined the University, to have played a part in helping turn things around and to have worked with some great people during my time here.
“I shall miss North Wales and Wrexham in particular, and would like to wish everyone involved with the University good luck with the journey.
“If everyone continues to work hard to recruit students, produce top-class research and further improve the academic offering then I have no fears that Wrexham Glyndŵr will be around for many, many years as the university of and for north east Wales.”
Paying tribute to Professor Upton, chair of the Board of Governors Maxine Penlington, said: “Wrexham Glyndŵr University is hugely indebted to Professor Graham Upton for his service as interim Vice-Chancellor.
“Graham's task, which he has accomplished with such great success, was to lay the foundations for future prosperity: a sound financial base, reinvigorated partnerships, regionally and nationally, and the launch of a strategic framework to guide the direction of the University over the next five years.
“As we look forward with excitement to the further development of the University under our new Vice-Chancellor, Professor Maria Hinfelaar, we must also express our deepest gratitude to Graham for his contribution to Wrexham Glyndŵr 's future. He will be remembered with affection and we wish him well.”
Professor Hinfelaar takes up the position of Vice-Chancellor tomorrow (Friday) and is relishing the prospect of continuing the good work of Professor Upton and the new-look management team.
She will be joined in the summer by Dr Claire Taylor, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, with David Elcock already in place as Director of Finance.
“I can see huge potential for Wrexham Glyndŵr through deeper collaboration with industry in the region and partnerships with other educational providers,” said Professor Hinfelaar.
“One of my first priorities will be to get to know staff and students and experience the facilities at the university across all of its campuses. That will give me a better insight into what the university can achieve in the future – I’m looking forward to getting started.”