About Professor Simon Haslett

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Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Professor of Physical Geography and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Speech delivered by Professor Simon Haslett at the 'Study in Wales' reception on Wednesday 3rd February 2016 at the residence of the Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Washington DC, USA.

Noswaith dda, diolch I chi am y croeso.

Good evening, and thank you for your welcome.

I am delighted to welcome you on behalf of the Welsh universities and to also thank the Welsh Government and British Embassy for hosting this reception, and also to thank the GREAT Britain campaign for their support of Study in Wales through the GREAT UK Challenge Fund.

Spanning the length of the country, Welsh universities offer a diverse range of locations and learning experiences – from world-class cities to breath-taking coastal locations. As part of the world-renowned UK higher education system, Welsh universities offer quality higher education qualifications that are respected by employers and academics worldwide. 92% of graduates from Welsh universities find employment within the first six months of leaving one of our universities.

Wales, the learning nation, has a long and distinguished heritage in higher education from the oldest Royal Chartered higher education institution in England and Wales after Oxford and Cambridge, to new universities only established within the past few years.

Wales, the learning nation, offers many advantages:
Wales is part of the UK’s world class higher education system, and offers a distinct experience with a diverse range of universities.
Wales offers a safe and welcoming university community, with a supportive and highly rated student experience.
Wales offers internationally recognised research, excellent learning and teaching, complemented with high class facilities.
Wales offers an affordable and more cost effective standard of living that enables students to experience a more varied lifestyle, and become immersed in the culture and landscape of our country.
And Wales’ universities are situated within easy reach of the UK’s main transport hubs, in a country that boasts outstanding natural beauty and heritage.

Wales is also justly proud of its high proportion of ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ research, which makes our universities such exciting and dynamic places to study. We know that the HE sector in Wales is part of a world-leading UK science base which is second only to the US for its share of global citations. But, did you know that no other country’s HE system has shown the ability to deliver more for its level of investment in research and development over the past 10 years? Or that the overall quality and international standing of Welsh research has increased at a faster rate than the rest of the UK?

The results of the recent Research Excellence Framework exercise in the UK has cemented Wales’ position as a leading academic destination for world class research. But what does this mean for the people of Wales? Well, the results showed that Welsh universities have the highest percentage of ‘world leading’ research in terms of its impact of any part of the UK, with almost half of it considered to be having a transformational effect on all walks of life beyond academia.

Higher education in Wales offers opportunities to individuals to fulfil their potential and maximise their earnings that not only allows them to benefit personally but also to contribute effectively to society and the communities within which they live. This personal transformation is crucial on many levels and universities in Wales are fundamental in this positive force for change. Challenging paradigms by exposing students to different cultures, belief systems and ways of thinking, is how we nurture and encourage the leaders of tomorrow. 

That is why we as a Welsh higher education sector value our international partners and none more so than our friends in the US. We take great pride in the achievements of our alumni, a number of who are here this evening, and encourage student exchange with partner institutions, some of who are also here this evening, and seize the opportunity whenever we can to learn from one another and to collaborate on ground-breaking research projects.

Students who study in Wales become ambassadors for Wales, the learning nation, building relationships and taking Wales with them across the World.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the Study in Wales brochures that are on display and to highlight that the Study in Wales website contains more detailed information about all of the Welsh universities.

It’s a real pleasure being with you here in Washington this evening.

Mae’n bleser bod gyda chi yma yn Washington.

I would now like to introduce the next speaker, Paul Smith, Director of the British Council in the US.

Thank you very much!

Diolch yn fawr!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Visit to the International University of Malaya-Wales

IUMW Block A with KL CBD in distance
I am visiting the International University of Malaya-Wales (IUMW) and the University of Malaya (UM) this week in Kuala Lumpur. Over the past 2 years or so I have been working with colleagues at UM to establish IUMW as a new private university in Malaysia. Things have gone well and IUMW has been granted its own degree awarding powers and admitted its first students in August 2013 to follow its own degrees. The second intake of students to its degrees arrive this week and I will be talking to them in their induction tomorrow afternoon.

IUMW is situated in the City Campus (Kampus Kota) near to the central business district of Kuala Lumpur; in fact, the Petronas Towers can be clearly seen from the campus. The main commuter train-line (Putra Station) is within walking distance and main highways pass close by too, making it a very accessible campus.

View Larger Map

IUMW Block A
Although Kuala Lumpur is a built up and densely populated city the local authorities have done a good job at maintaining corridors of green spaces (forest, woodland and parkland) and IUMW is situated in one of these green belts (Bukit Tunku), so it's a very pleasant setting and, as a geographer, I can see that it offers local opportunities for studying the environment. The River Gombak (Sungai Gombak) is also within walking distance of the campus with interesting examples of river management approaches in a tropical city setting.

Courtyard in Block C at IUMW
IUMW shares the City Campus with UM and also the Open University of Malaysia. There are three blocks to the campus with IUMW and UM occupying Blocks A and C, and the Open University in Block B. The cafeteria and the IUMW Student Centre is located in a courtyard in the middle of Block C, and there are some recreational facilities also.

For the rest of the week, as well as addressing the new students tomorrow, I have meetings with colleagues about developing collaborative research projects. It's been a very enjoyable and interesting week.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Coastal flooding in Wales

Over Christmas and New Year the British Isles have been battered by a series of storms that has created scenes of coastal erosion and flooding. The coast of Wales has been no exception and more are expected. In response, the Welsh Minister for Natural Resources Wales, Alun Davies AM, has announced a review of coastal defences around Wales.

It is within this context that I was invited to be interviewed and provide comments this morning on the BBC Radio Wales programme Morning Call with Oliver Hides between 9-10am at the BBC studios in Llandaff, Cardiff. The programme also featured interviews with Alun Davies AM, Conwy Councillor Mike Priestley, weather updates from Behnaz Akhgar, Aberystwyth Councillor Aled Davies, and phone calls from listeners, all fielded by presenter Oliver Hides.

Much damage was reported from along the North Wales coast where they are concerned about being vulnerable to further flooding, such as at high tide this afternoon. The point was well-made that the series of storms has not allowed time to repair the damage before the next storm arrives, increasing the vulnerability of particular coastal sections. Conwy Council can fund some repairs from reserves but will be looking to the Government for additional support. Three strategies were mentioned: holding the line, advancing defences or retreat.

The Minister said he had visited Aberystwyth yesterday and was shocked by the damage he had seen. Indeed, just afterwards, Ceredigion Council announced the evacuation of the Aberystwyth seafront as a precaution ahead the mid-morning high tide. The Minister indicated that a comprehensive approach to coastal protection was required and that the commissioned review of flood defences would be quickly undertaken by Natural Resources Wales, and would identify priorities.

In Aberystwyth, Victorian sea defences were mentioned, suggesting some coastal defences are old and, indeed, damaged defences should not be replaced like-for-like - they should be updated to suit the current and predicted coastal environment.

Several callers supplied observations and comments from around Wales. It was noted that new coastal defences at Borth seemed to have worked well and limited the amount of damage, another noted that gales seemed to be becoming more frequent and fierce, and one caller from Barry observed that whilst some parts of the coast were eroding other parts were advancing through coastal deposition.

I clarified for listeners the complex interaction of factors that influence coastal flooding, such as tides and their cyclicity, sea-level rise and climate change, surges created by onshore winds and low atmospheric pressure, and heavy storm-related precipitation that can back-up rivers leading to localised flooding near estuary-mouths. I also discussed the history of the coast and that a number of communities are living on land borrowed from the sea, such as drained salt marshes, and that over time a number of villages and towns have had to be abandoned, such as during times of climatic change like the Medieval Warm Period. For those who are interested to learn more, many of these topics I discuss further in my books Coastal Systems and the Basics of British Weather.

The radio programme may be listened to again over the next week from the programme page.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Did a tsunami occur in the midst of Typhoon Haiyan?

A news article from the Philippines is asking whether a tsunami occurred in the midst of the terrible Typhoon Haiyan on 8th November. Haiyan is purported to be the most intense typhoon to make landfall in history, and it was certainly accompanied by a widespread severe storm surge that devastated coastal communities.

However, a series of four waves are reported to have come ashore at a time when the rain had stopped and the wind had died down. The report came from the coastal town of Basey in Samar Province situated in a bay on the east coast of the island.

An eyewitness recounts that the sea receded some distance, leaving fish stranded on the exposed seabed, followed by the approach of a wave about 10ft (c. 3m) high that inundated the town. A further three waves followed and are reported to have washed away people and property.

Storm surges pile water up at the coastline through strong onshore winds and low atmospheric pressure and are unlikely to allow the sea to recede in the same way that a tsunami does. Although large tsunami are associated with high magnitude earthquakes, they may also be caused through submarine slides, or a combination of both. Examples exist where storms have affected ocean loading and apparently contributed to triggering both earthquakes and submarine slides. Indeed, in the Philippine Sea a link between seasonality and earthquakes has been suggested previously. Therefore, the possibility that a tsunami occurred in the midst of the typhoon, however unlikely it may seem, should not be discounted without further investigation.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Webometric Ranking of Welsh Higher Education Institutions

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities July 2013 Edition was published in August and I have now had a chance to look at the performance of Welsh higher education institutions (see table below).

Welsh Rank
Higher Education Institution
World Ranking
Europe Ranking
UK Ranking

The Webometric Ranking is weighted on the number of backlinks from external websites to an institutions web domain (50% weighted), the size (number of pages) of an institutions website (20%), institutional presence on GoogleScholar (15%) (I posted a ranking of UK universities research impact based on Google Scholar results earlier this year), and the number of rich files (pdf, doc, ppt, etc) published online (15%). Rather than being a research indicator, it is suggested the rankings reflect the broader academic activity and visibility of an institution. Over 20,000 institutions are included in the July 2013 Edition with 308 from the UK.

For Wales, there are no surprises in the ranking of the 15 higher education institutions included, except for the University of SouthWales, which is ranked 13th due to its recent establishment through the merger of the University of Glamorgan and the University of Wales, Newport, and the introduction of a new web domain name. Swansea Metropolitan University has recently merged with the University of Wales: Trinity Saint David and should, presumably, not appear in the next edition of the rankings if its domain name is changed.

Monday, 15 April 2013

British Conference of Undergraduate Research 2013

Some photographs from Day 1 of the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) 2013 today at the University of Plymouth.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

A ranking of UK universities research impact based on Google Scholar results

I have been seeking a ranking of the research impact of UK universities for use in a research-teaching nexus project I am undertaking on the relationship between university research impact and student satisfaction. In the past such rankings have been achieved through, for example, the use of citation data from the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) through the Web of Knowledge (Meho and Yang, 2007). However, it is argued that ISI indices are limited in coverage, being restricted to certain journals and excludes a large amount of conference and other potential research impact sources (Harzing and Van der Wal, 2007Franceschet, 2010), which may be important data for smaller institutions.

Google Scholar was launched in 2004 and is now recognised as an alternative to ISI data (Moskovkin, 2009) and, indeed, has wider coverage of data sources (Kousha and Thelwall, 2007). It is not without its limitations and problems with accuracy though, however, some researchers have found good agreement between Google Scholar-based analyses of research impact and formal research audits (e.g. Smith, 2008). Therefore, I have undertaken an exploratory research impact ranking exercise of UK universities based on results from Google Scholar and, although, I haven't as yet compared these data with student satisfaction data, the results are interesting enough to publish here and may be of use to others (see Table 1 below).

The methodology involves entering the institutional name into the search field in Google Scholar (as it appears in Table 1). The names are enclosed within quotation marks, so that the precise name only is returned in the results. All 'any time' results, with 'include citations' and 'include patents', are included in the results. The data collection was performed on 7th January 2013. Table 1 presents the ranked results.

Table 1. Ranking of UK universities based on Google Scholar results.

RankHigher Education InstitutionResults
1University of Manchester2460000
2University of Cambridge1650000
3University of London1630000
4University College London1470000
5University of Oxford1360000
6Open University1240000
7University of Edinburgh906000
8Imperial College London615000
9University of Wales573000
10University of Birmingham529000
11University of Glasgow511000
12University of Bristol473000
13University of Leeds394000
14University of Sheffield381000
15Institute of Education353000
16University of Southampton345000
17University of Liverpool331000
18University of Nottingham294000
19University of York262000
20University of Reading260000
21University of Sussex218000
22University of Warwick196000
23University of Aberdeen151000
24King's College London146000
25University of Leicester144000
26University of Newcastle upon Tyne135000
27University of Durham131000
28University of Bath115000
29University of Surrey113000
30University of East Anglia108000
31University of Essex95600
32University of Exeter95500
33University of St Andrews93800
34Lancaster University93200
35University of Strathclyde92800
36Cardiff University82500
37University of Kent73900
38Loughborough University72200
39University of Dundee65800
40School of Oriental and African Studies63100
41London School of Economics and Political Science61700
42University of Hull61000
43Brunel University53600
44Queen's University Belfast49200
45University of Bradford46100
46University of Ulster45600
47University of Stirling45100
48Royal Holloway44800
49University of Salford44500
50Heriot-Watt University44400
51Queen Mary, University of London38200
52Birkbeck College36300
53Keele University31100
54Manchester Metropolitan University31100
55University of Plymouth30700
56Aston University30300
57City University, London28500
58University of Portsmouth27900
59Middlesex University26700
60University of the West of England25500
61De Montfort University23800
62University of Hertfordshire23800
63Kingston University22700
64University of Westminster22200
65Nottingham Trent University21700
66Sheffield Hallam University21700
67Oxford Brookes University21000
68University of Brighton20600
69University of Greenwich19900
70Liverpool John Moores University19400
71Bournemouth University18200
72Coventry University17900
73St George's Hospital Medical School17900
74University of Huddersfield17700
75Royal Veterinary College17600
76University of Central Lancashire16600
77Swansea University16100
78Goldsmiths College15200
79Glasgow Caledonian University14800
80Leeds Metropolitan University14600
81University of Glamorgan14300
82University of East London13800
83University of Wolverhampton13300
84Bangor University13200
85London Metropolitan University12600
86Staffordshire University12500
87University of Sunderland11000
88Robert Gordon University10500
89University of Northumbria9190
90Courtauld Institute of Art8600
91University of Lincoln8100
92Aberystwyth University7690
93London South Bank University7640
94University of Derby7280
95Royal College of Music7070
96Royal Academy of Music5770
97University of Northampton4710
98Roehampton University4700
99Anglia Ruskin University4560
100Canterbury Christ Church University4370
101University of Gloucestershire4300
102University of Bedfordshire4230
103Queen Margaret University3870
104Edinburgh Napier University3810
105University of Buckingham3760
106University of Abertay Dundee3670
107University of Wales Institute, Cardiff3410
108University of the Arts London3310
109Royal Agricultural College3230
110Liverpool Hope University3080
111University of Chester3060
112Birmingham City University2980
113University of the West of Scotland2900
114Teesside University2570
115University of Worcester2560
116Edge Hill University2510
117Glasgow School of Art2400
118University of Bolton2250
119Bath Spa University2140
120Heythrop College2020
121Brighton and Sussex Medical School1770
122York St John University1660
123University of Winchester1440
124Southampton Solent University1430
125University of Wales, Newport1400
126Buckinghamshire New University1330
128Cardiff Metropolitan University1290
129Glyndwr University1260
130Harper Adams University College1220
131University of Cumbria1190
132University of West London1130
133University of Chichester991
134Central School of Speech and Drama969
135Royal Northern College of Music864
136St Mary's University College666
137Writtle College609
138Newman University College468
139Stranmillis University College418
140University College Falmouth414
141Swansea Metropolitan University404
142University College Birmingham352
143Medway School of Pharmacy341
144University of Wales: Trinity Saint David338
145Rose Bruford College305
146Guildhall School of Music & Drama235
147Bishop Grosseteste University College217
148University for the Creative Arts213
149Leeds College of Art202
150Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts153
151Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama118
152Leeds Trinity University College103
153Hull and York Medical School80
154University College Plymouth St Mark & St John67
155Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance64
156Arts University College at Bournemouth56
157Norwich University College of the Arts53
158St Mary's University College Belfast47
159Conservatoire for Dance and Drama41

Although this ranking is preliminary, a number of issues emerged as the exercise was performed. Some institutions have exactly the same name as other institutions, such as the Open University (see the Open University Malaysia as an example), which returns an artificially higher number of results. Also, results for the University of London and the University of Wales, both appearing in the top ten, benefit from a number of current and previous member institutions who include the name within their own e.g. Queen Mary, University of London. I would welcome any other observations on the use of Google Scholar results as an indicator of institutional research impact.

In terms of the institutions ranked within the top ten, excepting the observations above, there seem to be few surprises as all are well-established internationally-renowned institutions. It is interesting to note England, Scotland and Wales are represented in the top ten, and might be one of the only university rankings to achieve this. There is a wide range of results returned by institution (differences in millions), with a long tail of institutions that might either be newer institutions and/or not research active.


Monday, 26 November 2012

Floods in South Wales

It has been raining fairly constantly in South Wales since last Wednesday 21st November. I ventured out yesterday, whilst the sun was shining briefly, and took a few photographs of the floods over the floodplain of the Olway Brook, near Usk, Monmouthshire, South Wales (UK). Some interesting geomorphological features and processes are clearly seen in the photographs. Unfortunately, a number of buildings have been flooded, but no-one has been hurt in this area. Further details of my research on the Olway Brook floodplain is available in two previous blog posts: http://profsimonhaslett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/river-flooding-in-wales-june-2012.html and http://profsimonhaslett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/flood-history-in-south-wales-valley.html.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Geology and fossils of Usk, Monmouthshire

The rocks of Usk in south-east Wales are famously full of fossils and this month they will be the subject of a public lecture of mine and the publication of a new booklet Usk Fossils that I have written. I grew up in Usk and was inspired to follow my geoscience career partly by the rocks I encountered around this central Monmouthshire town. As a student, I undertook numerous projects on the rocks of Usk and became familiar with the fossils. Since then however, my academic research has focused mainly on coastal landscapes and he has become well-known for his theory that a flood that occurred in the Bristol Channel in 1607 was perhaps due to a tsunami, and featured on numerous BBC programmes.

Cover of new booklet Usk Fossils
This month, I go back to my roots in giving a public lecture for the charity ‘Hope and Homes for Children’ on the Geology of Usk, and also publishing Usk Fossils, an illustrated booklet guide to fossils of Usk. It’s been quite a lot of fun going back to relearn the stuff I’d forgotten about the geology of Usk, but once I got into it I remembered it quite clearly. I hope the audience at the lecture and readers of the booklet will find it interesting too.

Usk geological history includes classic rocks such as from the Silurian Period with its shallow tropical sea teaming with life, the relatively barren Old Red Sandstone and, more recently, deposits laid down by glaciers of the last ice age. When I was in University I remember finding a quote from a Victorian journal, which is included on the cover of the booklet, that made me realise how well-known the rocks of Usk are, it said: "Not for the beauty of its scenery ... nor yet for the romantic history of the castle ... nor yet again for the excellent salmon fishing ... was the visit made. Usk has great attractions of a geological kind, its rocks abound in fossils”!

The fossils from Usk may also have played an important part in scientific theory. Alfred Russell Wallace, alongside Charles Darwin, developed the theory of evolution and Wallace was born in Usk in 1823. The rocks behind his house where he lived are full of fossils and, although his family moved away when he was five years old, it is highly likely that he saw the fossils as a child and it is wonderful to think that Usk fossils may have sowed a seed that influenced his later thoughts on evolution.”

The public lecture the Geology of Usk is in the Sessions House, Usk, on the evening of Thursday 15th November (admission £10), and the booklet Usk Fossils is available to buy directly from Amazon, priced £4.99.

Friday, 29 June 2012

River flooding in Wales: June 2012

As an introduction, you may want to read my article on flooding in Wales that appeared in the Western Mail today: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/06/29/careful-study-needed-if-wales-is-to-make-good-use-of-floodplains-91466-31288255/

My previous blog post on this topic earlier this year contains references to my published academic papers regarding this research: http://profsimonhaslett.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/flood-history-in-south-wales-valley.html

I made the following video to support the public understanding of this scientific research, which is available on YouTube, and below that an interview I gave today to BBC Radio Wales: