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My Cardiff

Professor Sir Brian Smith

Sir Brian Smith, Vice-Chancellor of the University 1993-2001, recalls becoming Vice-Chancellor and the challenges and excitement of his leadership years

Professor Sir Brian Smith

Former Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Brian Smith led Cardiff to new heights

My Cardiff story started in 1992 at a dinner in Oxford when I was seated next to Sir Philip Jones, then chairman of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, who told me the saga of Cardiff University. The University had been near bankruptcy, he related, but was recovering. I listened to what he had to say with interest but did not feel the story had any direct relevance to my own life. I little thought that only a few days later I would be approached about the position of Vice-Chancellor. (I was to find out much later that this approach had nothing to do with Philip Jones and was entirely coincidence.) At first, I was reluctant to pursue the matter. In the North Wales of my childhood we had a curious view of the South and regarded it as packed with aggressive, rugby-playing buccaneers with a culture very different from our sleepy rural lifestyle. The city of Cardiff, I had understood, was a large desolate black city with streets filled with men carrying sacks of coal to the docks. I had never visited Cardiff to correct this belief. However, my wife suggested we ought to investigate and so we arrived in the city on a beautiful May day with the magnolia trees in full bloom. I had to admit that this sparkling city was not what I had expected to see. There was a lively buzz in the city as the barrage was nearing completion and the bay was being revitalised. The University also greatly exceeded my expectations. Far from being down and out, it was starting a vigorous revival. Its magnificent white, late-Edwardian buildings symbolised the love and concern of the people of Wales who contributed to its founding so many years ago. It didn't take me long to realise that to join this university offered a most exciting challenge and a wonderful opportunity. It required a bold decision to leave Oxford and St Catherine's College, to which I was greatly attached after spending thirty-four fulfilling years there. That decision led to a new, quite unexpected, and greatly rewarding time in my life. Cardiff University was starting a magnificent journey to success. To be part of that great adventure was an enormous privilege. At the heart of that adventure was the strong determination of the staff to move the University to new heights.

There was much to be done when I arrived. The next research assessment exercise, which would take place in two years, would provide a measure of the University's success. New research grants were to be sought and new academic staff appointed. The task of persuading many distinguished scholars to join us was both exciting and rewarding. Each day seemed to bring progress in the University: new buildings and new appointments. One very special milestone was when the University was invited to join the Russell Group - the UK's leading research-led universities. It was equally exciting to see Cardiff become one of the most popular universities in the United Kingdom amongst applicants for undergraduate places. My time in Cardiff was enriched by the strong sense of community within the University and by the warm friendships I made. Even now as I see its dramatic progress and watch the University go from strength to strength, I get the same feeling of pleasure and enormous pride in the University as I did I when I was Vice-Chancellor. I thank Cardiff University for those wonderful years.

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