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Solent University, Southampton has today announced the appointment of Richard Smith as the incoming Chair of the Board of Governors.

3rd June 2024
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With extensive leadership experience, most recently as the Chief Executive of Unite Students, Richard’s appointment signals the University’s continued optimism, ambition, and confidence in its ability to deliver transformational education and opportunities in a fast-changing higher education landscape.

As Chair of the Board of Governors, Richard will lead the Board in setting the strategic direction of the University, whilst also having oversight of the University’s performance and compliance with the wider regulatory framework. He will also act as a representative of the University externally, forwarding its interests and ensuring it has a voice nationally on the Committee of University Chairs.

Vice-Chancellor of Solent University, Professor James Knowles, said:

“Richard’s appointment is a great sign for the future of Solent University. His knowledge of higher education, and particularly his passion for the development of young people, will be a fantastic asset to our Board and the University.

“As we continue the development of our Solent 2035 strategy, it is imperative that we ensure that the University is ready for the demands of the future. Richard will play a key part in that process, ensuring the leadership of the University is taking the right steps to advance our education interests, making sure that the delivery of our practice-based curriculum responds to industry and regional skills needs.”

Incoming Chair of the Board of Governors at Solent University, Richard Smith, said:

"Solent University has a promising future, and I am thrilled to collaborate with James, with the Board, and with the wider University community to ensure that every student has the opportunity to reach their full potential.

“Having closely engaged with the higher education sector, I’ve witnessed the challenges faced by students and universities. I wholeheartedly embrace Solent’s values and commitment to equality of opportunity. I am dedicated to the University’s mission of preparing students to be work-ready, world-ready, and future-ready, and recognise the value of the real-world learning that the University offers.

“As the demands of employers and society evolve, it is crucial for students and staff to be well-prepared. Solent is already taking positive steps in this direction, and I look forward to contributing to the University’s continued success following the recent TEF Gold rating. Above all, I am committed to making a meaningful difference for students, staff, and the broader communities we serve."

Headshot of Richard Smith.

In his former role, Richard helped Unite Students to grow significantly, increasing their portfolio to 157 properties across 23 university towns and cities and accommodation to more than 70,000 students. He joined the business in 2010 as Deputy Chief Financial Officer, before progressing to Chief Executive in 2016 and leading them to join the FTSE 100 Index in 2022.

Following confirmation of the appointment last week, Richard will take up the role formally on Thursday 1 August after the existing Chair, Phil Cotton, has finished the end of his term in the role. Over the last seven years, Phil’s expertise and commitment to the role have been invaluable, seeing him representing the University’s interests locally and nationally. He has driven forward the Board’s oversight of the development of both Strategy 2020 and 2025, whilst also serving on the University’s Governance and Remuneration Committees and leading the recruitment of both Professor James Knowles, and his predecessor as Vice-Chancellor.

The appointment of the Chair of the Board comes a little over a year since the appointment of Professor Knowles as Vice-Chancellor. During that time the University has begun to establish itself as an organisation that offers its students a unique combination of experiences and expertise, whilst helping them to gain the contacts and skills they need for the world of work.