PUBLISHED: 00:01 07 August 2017
Richard Lister OBE, the founding vice-chancellor of the University of Suffolk whose “exceptional leadership” has steered its rapid evolution, has announced he will retire in autumn 2018.
It comes a week after the higher education institution marked its one-year anniversary of independence from the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex.
Mr Lister said it was a “difficult decision” but said it was the “right time”. His time at the university stretches back to its formal conception in 2003.
“It has been a great honour and a privilege to lead the university,” he said.
“It’s been a great journey. Like most stories, it has its ups and downs; setbacks and triumphs. You have an outline plan of how it might go, but the outside world changes and you have got to be incredibly flexible and adaptable. Some days you come in and you think ‘how on Earth are we going to make this happen?’ Other days it seems very smooth. But we achieved the main thing we wanted to.”
He reflected on the “amazing transformation” of Ipswich Waterfront, at which the university’s main campus is based, and highlighted the potential benefits of the Upper Orwell Crossing. The government has earmarked £77m for the Foster + Partners designed project, set to be completed in the early 2020s. It will link the east and west banks of the River Orwell, but is opposed by Ipswich MP Sandy Martin.
“If you look at the designs, it is just a remarkable piece of architecture that will transform the road system in Ipswich, which we all know is one of our problems,” Mr Lister said.
“The opportunity for bringing hi-tech companies into this area when you are 10 minutes from the station with faster trains to London – it will be a much cheaper place for companies to do business. You are close to the university. You have got relationships with BT. I can really see a fast-moving opportunity to develop new jobs in a completely new set of industries for the town.
“Ipswich needs inward investment. It needs more income and more money. But it does seem to me that to open up this area so close to town – it has that Docklands effect in London. I think it is incredibly exciting.”
On the waterfront, he said: “It was just nothing like it is today (in 2003). It didn’t feel vibrant, it didn’t feel like things were happening here, you couldn’t walk around and see the next stage of development. We are still in the middle of that (development).
“But I think the university is the real driving force behind that and I think it will continue to be. You will begin to see more and more spin-off companies developing out of the university and I think we will begin to see student numbers increase, bringing more wealth to the town, so I think it is a real driver.
“These things don’t happen overnight. They take a generation to get right. But you look around the Waterfront and I think people from Ipswich get used to it, whereas people from outside are amazed about the wonderful environment that we have got here. Sometimes you just have to remind yourself that what has happened here is a really amazing transformation and it is something that we will be able to build on for a long time.”
Professor Will Pope, chair of the university’s board of directors, said: “The contribution that Richard has made to this institution cannot be emphasised enough, and on behalf of the board, I would like to offer him our sincere thanks for the significant role he has played in ensuring the University of Suffolk’s bright future.
“The university has undergone considerable transformation under Richard’s exceptional leadership. The project was launched at the beginning of a brutal economic downturn and against a backdrop of extraordinarily difficult times for the higher education sector. Richard has been very clear with the board that he feels the university would now benefit from a planned change of vice-chancellor in 2018 and I very much appreciate him giving the board ample time in which to appoint a successor, ensuring that the University retains strong leadership throughout this very exciting period in its development.
“I am delighted to say that Richard has agreed to continue his association with the university by taking the honorary role of pro-chancellor of the university with immediate effect upon his retirement.”