Major campus redevelopment and rise in student satisfaction form Vice-Chancellor's vision
03 February 2016
A MAJOR campus redevelopment and another increase in student satisfaction are the key targets of Wrexham Glyndwr University’s Vice-Chancellor.
Professor Maria Hinfelaar has revealed her vision for the north east Wales institution and the challenges that lie ahead as the University continues to grow under a five-year strategy up to 2020.
Having accepted the position last winter, Professor Hinfelaar arrived in North Wales from Limerick Institute of Technology to begin her tenure on April 1.
She has relished “totally immersing” herself in the role and cementing relations with community and business organisations, while building the institution’s reputation.
Among the biggest achievements last year was a 5% increase in the National Student Survey – making Wrexham Glyndwr University (WGU) one of the top 10 risers in the UK – and Professor Hinfelaar hopes to see even more positive results this time around.
“I came to Wrexham with relatively little knowledge of the place and the context, but that blank page is filling up fast,” she said.
“I am enjoying being here tremendously, and I totally identify with everything that WGU stands for. Without exception, I have found people very welcoming in their attitudes towards me personally, and in terms of goodwill towards the University itself.”
The immersion process has involved learning Welsh and relocating with her husband, Graham, as Professor Hinfelaar looks to take on the challenges facing the University – and the higher education sector in Wales and the UK – as well as growing its student base over the coming years.
“First and foremost we need to build student numbers because the University is not yet the size it could potentially be,” said Professor Hinfelaar.
“We are running some excellent courses which deliver good results for graduates measured by metrics such as employability, recognition by professional and regulatory bodies and student satisfaction.
“At the moment, though, we are still seeing a large percentage of school leavers from north east Wales leaving our region instead of studying with us.
“We need to work harder to keep more of them here, but the other side of the coin, more positively, is that at least we have something to work on to attract our natural slice of the student market.
“We should, and do, promote what we have to offer to students from outside the region, including international students. This is not just important for us at WGU, but also for Wrexham and the surrounding area – a successful university will help it to thrive.”
She added: “I am confident that we can deliver on this. We are building our reputation, not least because of the vast NSS improvements which are already translating into a stronger interest in the University and much better student retention.
“Happy customers will stay with you – that is true in any walk of life.”
Among the reasons more people are staying with Wrexham Glyndwr is its two major selling points.
The values of the institution – degrees designed with an applied focus and guaranteed work experience, and an award-winning personal touch – are what Professor Hinfelaar regards as areas of core strength.
“Our four Schools offer courses leading to careers in defined sectors, we carry out industry-led research that will help to drive innovation which matters to people such as in aeronautics and health care, we provide work-related learning opportunities to students along the way, and we connect with regional priorities for our economy and wider community,” she said.
“This applied focus is evidenced by the good employability track record of WGU graduates.
“The friendly community feel we offer is another element I am proud of; we guarantee each student a trained personal academic tutor, we are the number one university in Wales for social mobility and our Students’ Union was named NUS Wales Small and Specialist Students' Union of the Year in 2016.
“It is these values which translate into unique selling points from a marketing perspective, which truly set us apart from the vast majority of other universities.”
One area that Professor Hinfelaar recognised is in need of development is the Wrexham campus, which is currently the subject of an estates strategy.
“We are viewing the development of our new campus masterplan primarily through the lens of our students – it is their physical learning environment we must improve,” she said.
“We need more space for students to engage in social, informal and collaborative activity, as distinct from the classroom environment which also needs upgrading.
“On the main campus, we want to invest in a new student hub, a showcase building as part of a new gateway entrance and refurbished student accommodation, and we are currently putting financial plans in place.” But the university's other campuses in Wrexham, Northop and St Asaph will not be forgotten and will be an integral part of the new Estates and Learning Environment Strategy.
Professor Hinfelaar says staff and students have “plenty to look forward to” over the coming years, and says with new partnerships being forged across the region, the time is right for people to join forces with the institution.
“Our ‘triple helix’ concept is timely, because I can definitely see converging agendas when meeting with regional organisations such as the North Wales Economic Ambition Board, North Wales Business Council and the Mersey-Dee Alliance,” she said.
“There is talk of a cross-border skills and innovation summit with WGU as one of the lead partners, with a focus on how universities and colleges on both sides of the border can underpin the ‘growth bid’ for North Wales and more joint-up thinking that will link this bid to the Northern Powerhouse.
“Up to now, much of the debate has been about what infrastructure improvements in road and rail are needed; it is time now to introduce an education and research dimension to this debate. After all, if we really want to create an excellent ecosystem for the region we need brainpower as well as physical connectivity.”