Speech: Surrey Agent Conference Opening Address, 15 January 2019

Good morning! I would like to welcome you all very warmly to Surrey. Your work as our overseas representatives is very important to us, and we are looking forward to telling you more about this special university. We are very proud of our amazing research, award-winning teaching and employability, and talented students.

You may be wondering how I fit into the picture. My name is Max Lu, and I have been Vice Chancellor of Surrey for nearly 3 years.

I grew up in rural China, during the Cultural Revolution, when Chinese universities were closed. Back then, it was unimaginable to me that I would go on to have an international academic career that would take me to the forefront of knowledge and innovation. It makes me feel particularly fortunate to be at a place like Surrey.

Through my personal experience I know just how universities can change people’s lives for the better. More importantly, they can give people the opportunity to help change the lives of others, through education and research.

And that’s what all of us do at Surrey. We change lives.

Two years ago, we celebrated 50 years in Guildford with a memorable ‘Festival of Wonder’, attended by some 6,000 people from all over the county. It was a day of hands-on experiences, demonstrations, talks, shows and music, as we brought our research to life. But we don’t just do this one day in 50 years. IMPACT is our goal every day – making a difference to people’s lives, right here, right now.

To achieve this, we need smart, inspired, and determined students who are going to change the world. This is where your work is of so much help, bringing us the best and brightest young people who want to make a difference.

Here at Surrey, we are taking a fresh look at how we can become a fully student-centred organisation, treating our students as partners in our mission. We want to do even more to create the best education and student experience.

Surrey already has a great atmosphere for study, collaboration and camaraderie. It’s fascinating, and it’s fun! Why? Because of the spectacular range of studies, research and events that makes living here probably the most interesting few years of our students’ lives.

We have a long tradition of research and innovation that changes lives for the better, all across the world. It’s always an exciting time to be part of Surrey. Recently, for example, our Sleep Research Centre has developed a blood test to measure for sleep deprivation, which could help keep our roads and skies safer. The world’s first machine that turns British Sign Language into written English will be built by Surrey’s renowned Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing.

Engineering at Surrey

We’re one of the best places to study engineering in the UK; the rankings speak for themselves. I myself am an engineer, and it takes a lot to impress me!

One of the areas in which Surrey is having global impact is in our Surrey Space Centre and our work on removing space debris. Some of you may have seen the success of the mission which was widely reported across news channels. For mechanical engineers — and indeed for everyone — the RemoveDEBRIS mission is very exciting.

Did you know that there are approximately 7,000 tonnes of junk in space? They range from flecks of paint and used rockets, to dead satellites and debris from past collisions. Space debris travels around the Earth at several thousands of miles an hour, meaning even small fragments of litter could cause catastrophic damage to vital GPS satellites and space stations. University of Surrey scientists led a mission to test debris removal technology using a harpoon and net in orbit – the first demonstration in human history of active debris removal technology.

Our Electronic Engineering expertise is producing the next generation of computers, satellites and mobile phones at the 5G Innovation Centre. The Centre recently announced that its testbed can now support more than one million users – the largest capacity 5G test network in the world for research, innovation and development.  Companies can now test their advanced applications and their readiness for 5G usage. The testbed focuses on delivering real-world benefits from 5G technology in important sectors of the UK economy.

An innovative learning environment

A new initiative developed by the Library & Learning Support Services and the Department of Higher Education, “ESCAPE THE ROOM”, is proving very popular with students. In this ‘escape game’ learning model, students work in teams to break out of a room or solve other real-world problems by completing a series of puzzles and tasks.

Another teaching innovation is Virtual Reality industrial chemical processing simulation – bringing computer games into the classroom for realistic and engaging learning. The response from students has been very enthusiastic.

We have also just completed 165 new library study spaces.

We are always investing in infrastructure and new capital projects that will benefit students, teaching and research. For example, new £79m Manor Park student residences have 479 bedrooms now complete, and a further 674 bedrooms due for completion in September 2019. Good progress is being made on a new student building on the Manor Park campus costing more than £21m, which will provide a high quality space for teaching, learning and social activities.  The Quiet Centre is newly refurbished for reflection and worship. Finally, the FAIR-SPACE ‘national hub’ robotics facility will be an international centre of excellence in space robotics and autonomous systems. Target date for completion is May 2019.

Plans are also progressing for our new Learning Hotel. This will be a 4 star hotel built on campus and designed as a ‘living lab’ with facilities for research and training in a hotel environment. This will further strengthen our already highly-ranked hospitality and tourism management programme. A construction partner has now been selected for this project and it is moving to the next stage.  We aim to open the doors to the hotel in 2022 and we’ll be conducting a range of research on-site: imagine arriving at reception and checking in with a robot!

The world, and beyond

The University’s Department of Physics hosted their Dark Matter Day event late last year. It was a great evening, with talks, demonstrations and experiences including a planetarium show, a visit to the University’s telescope facilities and lectures given by world leading experts.

Events like these at Surrey are the rule, not the exception. Students and staff alike have access to fascinating talks, events and ideas every day. We are committed to breaking down boundaries and joining up people and ideas.

This is what some of our international students say:

  • “Nowhere could be better than Surrey. I receive help and support from everyone. The school gives me knowledge and gets me closer to my future career.” Oanh, international student
  • “The reasons I chose Surrey included the course, campus, location, friendliness and the professional placement year. I have also had the opportunity to travel further abroad.” Sushma, international student
  • “One of the major highlights of the University was that it has students from various countries; the campus atmosphere is so friendly that I have made a large number of friends from across the world.” Arati, international student

My own academic career has taken me from China to Australia, and after many years making a home and a career in Queensland, now to the UK. These are three very different cultures and places. Each transition took quite an adjustment. I can appreciate the challenges facing international students today.

For me, it was the shared love of learning that created bonds with my new peers, and broke down cultural barriers. Education is a kind of universal language, and it is universally important.

Whether this is your first visit to Surrey or you are returning, I hope you are getting a sense of ‘place’, of how Surrey fits into both the landscape of Higher Education, and the physical landscape of Guildford and beyond. When you speak to prospective students about Surrey, I hope that you will tell them about the beauty, safety and security that are such a big part of the student experience here.

Our beautiful surroundings are very important to us. Here, we are at the forefront of knowledge and innovation to underpin solutions for a sustainable planet, and safeguard its precious resources for future generations. We need supporters and partners to help us do the research, accelerate the ideas into practice, and make a difference.

You, our representatives, are among our most important allies in this effort. By promoting and communicating our vital work here – our great and inspiring ‘impact stories’ — and recruiting the smart and dedicated students who are going to help us continue that work, you are changing lives for the better, all over the world.

Surrey, above all things, is a very inclusive place. Speaking personally, this has meant a great deal to me. From the very moment I arrived here, I felt very welcomed. I am proud to have joined a diverse, vibrant and forward-thinking community in which every individual is respected and their contribution is valued. I believe that the University of Surrey gives its students the tools and education experience they need to make the most of their dreams and opportunities, and to make their own unique impact.

What does the future hold for Surrey?

Our ambition is to be a leading global university renowned for the outstanding quality and impact of its graduates and research, together making great contributions to society. Our students are an important part of this: pushing back the frontiers of knowledge, and tackling the grand challenges of our time. Surrey inspires us all to work together to shape a better world tomorrow.

I hope you have come to understand and appreciate more about our vibrant Surrey community, and indeed to feel a part of it. Together we form a great partnership – for Surrey and for society!

Thank you.