News | 23 January 2023
Professor Cara Aitchison to retire in January 2024 as President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University.
Professor Cara Aitchison has announced that she will retire as President and Vice-Chancellor of Cardiff Metropolitan University in January 2024. Appointed in 2016 to lead a major transformation of the University, Professor Aitchison will depart having overseen the successful completion of a range of ambitious targets and projects that she and the Board of Governors set out in 2017 for delivery by 2023.
Professor Aitchison joined Cardiff Met having been Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive of Plymouth Marjon University. She previously held leadership roles and professorships at Edinburgh University, the University of Bedfordshire, the University of the West of England, Bristol and the University of Gloucestershire, having spent a decade working in higher education in London.
During Professor Aitchison's tenure Cardiff Met has grown its student enrolments from approximately 17,000 in 2016/17 to over 25,000 in 2023. The centrepiece of Professor Aitchison's vision was the development of Cardiff School of Technologies which was launched in 2018 with almost 20 new degree programmes developed in partnership with industry in computing, data science, cyber security and robotics. A further 20 new high quality and high-impact degree programmes in subjects such as architecture, law, policing and primary education have resulted in growth across all of the University's Schools and to Cardiff Met having the best Graduate Outcomes of all universities in Wales last year.
Facing strong pressure to merge only a decade ago because of worries over its financial sustainability, Cardiff Met has increased its turnover from under £100 million in 2016/17 to over £150 million in 2022/23 and, in 2020, it was named Wales' most sustainable university by the Wales Centre for Governance. Significant financial surpluses generated in recent years, largely through international student recruitment, research, consultancy and commercial activity, have enabled the university to commit to funding an ambitious Master Plan that will see the university's Cyncoed Campus redeveloped with Net Zero as a priority.
The University's reputation has also developed strongly under Professor Aitchison's leadership, confirmed by the award, in 2020, of The Sunday Times 'Welsh University of the Year 2021'; in 2021 by the award of the Times Higher Education 'UK and Ireland University of the Year 2022'; and in 2022 by the ranking as the top university in the UK in the People and Planet Green League 2022/23 for ethical and environmental sustainability.
Speaking at the start of her final year in post Professor Aitchison said, "In addition to the transformation in student numbers and finances, I'm proud that over this same period the university has also been deemed to have the highest staff satisfaction of any university in the UK, demonstrating that it's possible to achieve excellence in performance, outcomes and impact while also looking after our most important asset, our people.
"I'm deeply grateful for the support of staff and students who have worked together as a values-driven community during my tenure and who have ensured Cardiff Met is the first university in Wales to achieve the Small Business Charter; become a designated University of Sanctuary; introduce the real living wage; commit to maintaining salaries in advance of the introduction of the Furlough Scheme during the Covid pandemic, establish a multi-faceted relationship with the Council for At-Risk Academics; and twin with Skovoroda University in Ukraine following the outbreak of war last year. I'm also encouraged by our wider work in diversifying and internationalising our staff, reducing the gender pay gap for staff, reducing the Black awarding gap for students, increasing the representation of women in promoted posts, committing to becoming an anti-racist organisation and ensuring all students graduate with the Cardiff Met EDGE, providing much-needed ethical, digital, global and entrepreneurial skills and experiences."
"By the end of 2023, I will be in my 11th year as a Vice-Chancellor and in my 36th year of continuous service spanning the length and breadth of the UK, across eight universities and a college; it's been the privilege of my life to lead Cardiff Met, particularly during a period of great social and economic upheaval, and I'm fortunate to have worked with such dedicated colleagues, students, Board members and partners over the last seven years; it's now time for me to pass the baton on."
Chair of the Board of Governors, John Taylor CBE, said, "Professor Aitchison has led the university with great vision, purpose, dedication and impact during a period of unprecedented social and economic upheaval. Every leader's ambition is to leave their organisation in a markedly improved state relative to that which they took on.
"Our Vice-Chancellor's achievements are nothing short of remarkable and she has done an outstanding job for which we are all very grateful. She will be a hard act to follow."
In addition to her leadership and professorial roles, Professor Aitchison has held a range of positions on external bodies including being Chair of the UN-affiliated World Leisure Commission on Women and Gender, Chair of the UK Leisure Studies Association, Chair of the 2014 Research Excellence Panel for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism and Chair of Universities UK Staff Student Sexual Misconduct Advisory Group. She currently sits on the Council of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Universities Group, CBI Wales Council, Cardiff Capital Regional Economic Growth Panel, Universities of Sanctuary Steering Group and the Association of Commonwealth Universities Europe Group.
Professor Aitchison, who has a background in geography and wider social science, will not be leaving academia altogether and will continue with a portfolio of research, including a fractional Professorial role at Cardiff Met, together with non-executive roles contributing to social and environmental research, economic and cultural policy, and education leadership while also developing a more sustainable work-life balance. Prior to becoming a Vice-Chancellor, she was Professor in Social and Environmental Justice at Edinburgh University and the combination of her research interests, leadership experience and resilience will undoubtedly add value to many other organisations.
The competitive search for a new Vice-Chancellor will commence shortly with the year-long period of notice ensuring a smooth transition to a new Vice-Chancellor now that the university has developed its next major strategic plan, Strategy 2030, which was launched last month.