In April 2019 we welcomed our new Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Ian H White FREng. Here's an extract from Professor White's first interview with BA2 - read the full interview here.
Welcome, Vice-Chancellor! Or welcome back, we should say. Some alumni might recognise you from your time as Professor of Physics in the 1990s. How does the institution it was then compare with the one it is now?
Thank you for your welcome. It is kind of you to say that some alumni might recognise me, since the photos at the welcome event demonstrated how much I have changed since those days! It is, more seriously, a great privilege to be back at the University of Bath, recognising that it has grown so much since my arrival as a Professor in the Physics Department almost 30 years ago. When I joined the University then, there were 3,742 undergraduate students, and a much smaller group of campus buildings, some of which I still recognise. To have grown from that level to a student population which now exceeds 18,000, while maintaining – and indeed improving – on quality, is a very great achievement for which the members of the University deserve much credit.
The first 50 years of Bath saw great growth in STEM education, Sports and Arts provision and the positioning of ourselves as a leading UK university. What are the strengths of the University that has allowed that to be the case?
I am acutely aware of three factors that have been at the heart of the University’s success. Firstly, both the staff and students have demonstrated such commitment and excellence. The international prizes and other achievements being won by University members, often benefitting from the involvement of alumni, are testament to how special they are. Secondly, I have been very impressed by the professionalism of the University. The quality of activities and the agility of the organisation have allowed it to position itself very carefully over the years for maximum benefit. Finally, Bath's pioneering spirit is distinctive. It has an outward-looking style and forward-facing approach that reflect its goals and values.
What was your experience at university like?
I feel very privileged to have had a university education, and enjoyed my years as an undergraduate and graduate student very much. Like most students, I recognised the challenges of living away from home – and at quite a distance, having come over from Northern Ireland to study in England. I was grateful for the strong and happy family values with which I was brought up, and which stood me in good stead as I started out away from home.
I enjoyed my field of study greatly, specialising in Electrical Sciences (within Engineering) for my primary degree and carrying on in my PhD by researching semiconductor lasers. My student years have had a huge impact on the rest of my life and, as I think is true for many students today, the friendships I made as well as the academic side of life have been highly significant. As well as meeting my wife Margaret at university, my fellow engineers and academics with whom I studied remain life-long friends, and that is very special.
What role can alumni play in the future of the University?
It has been an honour to meet a number of alumni recently, and I have learnt much from them. Their role, and indeed that of many alumni, is crucial to the success of the University, and I regard alumni as core members of the community. By actively engaging in activities, by providing advice and guidance, and by contributing financially, alumni allow the University to do things that we simply could not do otherwise. In particular, they allow the University to reach out in new ways to bring benefit, to explore new fields, to bring about partnerships which simply would not be otherwise possible, and they bring immense opportunities to students such as through mentoring and work experience. We are so grateful to you. I hope to meet many more of you and look forward to hearing your views about how we can take our University forward together.