A global community
This is my seventh and final address to the University.
It does not seem that long ago that I stood here and confessed to being both excited and awed by the responsibility that came with being elected to the office of Vice-Chancellor.
The excitement has not abated –if anything, it has increased as I have come to understand more fully the vital role that our University plays in contributing to society locally, nationally and globally.
As for the awe in the face of the responsibility –this has not diminished either.
And although six years ought to be enough time to get to grips with the challenges of any job, the role has continued to test and to motivate me.
The four pillars
Allow me to refer back to that first address to the University, where I singled out four elements that, in my view, would determine our continuing success as a University:
The collegiate nature of the University… Our ability to deliver excellence in education…Our ability to deliver excellence in research… And our commitment to being a truly global university.
Those four elements remain the pillars that make Cambridge successful.
The collegiate nature of the University has been, and remains, one of our greatest strengths.
Bound inextricably by history, and by a joint responsibility for students, today the University and the 31 colleges work in a common endeavour more closely than at any time I can remember.
This has been particularly true since the launch, at the end of last year, of the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the collegiate University’s history –a subject to which I will return.
Working closely with the colleges has allowed us to establish common practices to manage, in a consistent and joined-up way, difficult issues requiring the attention of the full collegiate university.
Whether it is working together to widen participation, to implement safeguarding and welfare policies, or to deal with sexual assault and harassment, there are things that we can only do properly when we do them in concert.
Excellence in education
Excellence in education will always be a priority of the collegiate university.
I was determined when I took up the post not only to maintain (or even improve) the quality of our educational offer, but also to widen its availability to talented applicants, wherever they were from.
There is still much more work to be done in this area, but the increase in the number of graduate scholarships awarded by the University over the past six years is a source of tremendous satisfaction.
Widening access to the University has been a personal priority.
Attracting students based on their abilities rather than their social or educational background is one of the ways in which we fulfil our mission to contribute to society.
And here the results have been promising:
Since 2011, the proportion of students we have admitted who have been educated in the state sector has increased from 58.8% to 62.3% at present.
Our undergraduate student body is more diverse than ever before.
20% of acceptances to Cambridge in the 2015 admissions cycle came from BME backgrounds –the highest it has ever been.
We continue to face obstacles to widening participation due to poor academic attainment in areas of low participation across the country.
We have responded to those difficulties by enhancing our engagement with schools, and by facilitating college links to schools in low participation areas.
Excellence in research
I said in 2010 that research excellence is the defining feature of our institutional landscape, and integral to establishing our international reputation.
Cambridge continues to be a world-leader in research.
Consider some of the developments driven by our researchers in the last year alone:
We are closer to understanding the molecular origins of Alzheimer’s disease, which raises the tantalising prospect of developing a preventative treatment for neurodegenerative conditions.
Cambridge-led research into the prediction of pregnancy outcomes is now being extended to Kampala, and has the potential to transform the health of women who suffer one of the highest pregnancy complication rates in the world.
Researchers in our Department of Chemistry have developed a new generation of batteries with higher capacity, increased energy efficiency and improved stability, making a significant contribution to the problem of energy security.
A multi-disciplinary project led by Cambridge linguists is shedding light on the myriad ways in which multilingualism is vital to individuals and societies.
The Department of Architecture is proposing better ways of living with flooding in order to have cities and towns that are more resilient in the face of extreme weather events.
The Bronze Age settlement of Must Farm, under the careful stewardship of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, has opened up a window on everyday life as it was 3000 years ago, and has already yielded Britain’s largest collections of Bronze Age textiles, beads and domestic artefacts.
Thanks to our astronomers, we are now able to look beneath the surface of planets outside of our own solar system.
From the molecular level, to the human, to the cosmic –it is this kind of research that continues to set us apart, and that continues to underpin our international reputation for excellence.
But success in this area requires investment, and the University’s full commitment to supporting the people who are at the front line of research.
Our postdoctoral community is the engine that powers our research capacity.
Today it comprises nearly 4000 researchers across all fields –the fastest growing staff group.
Providing better conditions for them has been a particular focus of mine over the past few years, and has been the primary role of the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, created three years into my tenure.
Here again, the role of the collegiate University has been paramount, as Cambridge colleges are rising to the challenge of welcoming and accommodating these indispensable members of the University.
In the field of innovation, and for the third consecutive year, we have broken all our previous records for seed fund investment.
This has proved the immense value that the University places on innovation for the benefit of society across a wide range of scientific and technical endeavours.
A global University
As for the aspiration expressed six years ago, that Cambridge should commit to being a truly global university, the concrete progress has been very significant.
I have repeatedly said that I am against immigration policies that will stymie the flow of talented international students and staff to our University.
The fact that Cambridge was one of the four UK institutions chosen to pilot a new streamlined visa scheme for overseas students is a clear indication that we are not only trusted by government in our handling of international students, but that we are one of the UK’s best destinations for them.
It is a modest step, but it is a step in the right direction.
Our instinct for seeking out excellence and setting up enduring and mutually beneficial collaborations has led us to establish strategic partnerships across the globe.
Whether it is the successful Cambridge-Africa Programme involving universities in Ghana, Uganda and elsewhere on the African continent… or the close association with the government of India to pursue new research in crop science … or the creation, with Germany’s Max Planck Institutes, of a Cambridge-based centre for ethics and law –international partnerships are now an inextricable part of the University’s make-up.
And they will be more crucial to our success in the future than ever before.
There are other areas in which we have also come a long way since 2010.
The opening of the Maxwell Centre, in West Cambridge, was one of this year’s highlights.
Also in West Cambridge, the Department of Chemical engineering and Biotechnology will start undergraduate teaching in its new building this Michaelmas term.
The expansion of the biomedical campus and the development of North West Cambridge are the most significant capital investment projects in the history of the University, and they have already had a transformative effect on the city itself.
The first occupants of the North West Cambridge site are expected to arrive in early 2017.
These new developments will allow the University of Cambridge to offer an infrastructure that is commensurate with its standing as a world-leading university.
Crucially, they will allow us to serve our local community in new and creative ways.
The University of Cambridge Primary School, part of the North West Cambridge development, and now embarking upon a second year of successful activities, is a wonderful exemplar of how we do just that.
In other areas, the University’s role as a cornerstone of local development has been emphasised as we have enhanced our regional engagement over the past few years.
It is evident that the future of the University is intimately bound with the economic health of the East of England.
So we have invested in relationships with local businesses, and with neighbouring higher education institutions –and we welcome the arrival of the newly created University of Suffolk.
We have developed closer links with local authorities in the City, the County and the wider region.
We are working together to improve regional infrastructure, and to accelerate rural economic growth.
The intense debate around the City Deal demonstrates the high level of engagement by people in and around Cambridge, and the shared commitment to reducing traffic congestion and improving the environment.
We have demonstrated that the impact of the University reaches far beyond the city and the Cambridge cluster of businesses, driving innovation, jobs and growth across the East of England and beyond.
In light of imminent decisions around regional devolution and local planning that will shape the future of our region for years to come, this is the right time for the University to step up its involvement in the region.
Devolution is likely to bring the region’s first elected mayor, with whom we look forward to working.
A firm financial footing
I took up the reins of the University at a time of great financial uncertainty, and saw it as one of my main duties to secure the University’s financial position.
In this, I hope to have achieved success –from the unprecedented bond issue in 2012, to the more recent confirmation of our AAA credit rating, the University is today on a firm financial footing.
This is due, in no small part, to the steady stewardship of our Registrary, who I am sad to see stepping down at the end of 2016 after nine years in the role, and after 34 years of service to the University sector.
We do not seek financial gain for its own sake.
But financial security is central to guaranteeing our autonomy, and to being able to fulfil our mission to the best of our capacity.
Philanthropic fundraising is a major component of that financial security.
When I last addressed you, the University and the Colleges were about to launch a £2bn fundraising campaign.
This has been the most successful fundraising year in collegiate Cambridge’s history, with more than £210m raised in a single financial year.
This brings the total raised in this fundraising campaign to £743m –a testament to the generosity of our alumni and supporters.
Philanthropy is critical to us.
It underpins our academic autonomy, and allows us to deliver our transformative research.
It brings the best people to study and work with us.
They are the people who will produce ideas that change the world.
Philanthropy is the catalyst for discovery –and it ensures that discoveries continue, even at a time of unparalleled financial challenges.
To all of our benefactors we owe our immense, continued gratitude.
Strength in the face of new challenges
This state of affairs, as I have briefly outlined it, gives me the confidence that Cambridge has the strength to respond to some of the challenges ahead.
And they will be quite formidable challenges.
Domestically, with the introduction of a Teaching Excellence Framework and the enactment of the Higher Education and Research Bill, we are faced with the prospect of a wholesale transformation of the way we deliver and evaluate education.
And while we welcome any measures designed to increase accountability and transparency and to raise standards of teaching, we must remain vigilant and ensure that the proposed solution enables the delivery of excellence, rather than hindering it.
We have actively engaged key government stakeholders to help shape both TEF and the HE Bill, and ensure a good outcome for the University.
In parallel, the creation of a new body replacing the seven UK research councils confronts us with a complete transformation of the research funding landscape as we know it.
All this, of course, while the UK Government decides the best way to uncouple from the European Union following the 23 June referendum.
The outcome of that referendum was not the one I was an advocate for, and certainly not the one that I think would have been best for the University.
And we are no nearer today than we were in June to knowing what the full implications of Brexit will be.
But it is our responsibility, as a community of scholars and researchers, to make sure that Cambridge continues to thrive in spite of the UK’s departure from the EU.
Try as we might –and I tried quite hard—we cannot change the current political weather.
So we must seek the opportunities that arise from it –not least the opportunity to emphasise our vocation as an outward looking institution, engaging more widely with the world.
It has always been a source of pride to me that, among European universities, Cambridge has been the top recipient of EU research grants.
I reject the notion that Brexit will make us less good at what we do so well.
We are already defying that narrative, as proven by the recent award of €4.6m for an EU-funded project led by Cambridge that seeks to discover ways in which an artificial pancreas will help children manage type 1 Diabetes.
But our commitment to Europe runs deeper than our access to research funding, or even the essential issue of student and staff mobility.
It is a commitment to a shared cultural and intellectual heritage, of which we are firmly a part.
On this subject, the University has a duty of leadership that it will not abandon.
And of course, because we are not only a European, but also a global university, we will find ourselves in a global competition for talent.
Cambridge must retain the ability to compete with universities in the U.S. and Asia –as well as Europe— in a worldwide search for the best scholars.
Other challenges are much closer to home, and perhaps more difficult to articulate.
I believe that we must resist the notion that universities are places where the right not to be offended takes precedence over freedom of expression.
The best way to fight bad ideas is by deploying better ideas.
The University of Cambridge is a place where students and staff can expect to be safe from harm, but where they should also expect to be challenged intellectually..
The freedom to express opinions –however distasteful some may find them—is the bedrock upon which we continue to build this community of scholars.
A global community
The trials ahead are many, and monumental, but Cambridge has never been in a better position to tackle them.
We take strength from our strong sense of community.
We take strength from our ability to translate academic influence into global leadership and influence.
And we take strength from our commitment to contributing to society through the pursuit of education, learning and research at the highest international levels of excellence.
A year from now, my successor will be taking the reins of this university.
I am confident that he will be taking over an institution with the resilience and the vigour to withstand any future challenges.
And the one thing I will be able to say to him is this: you will be taking on one of the world’s most stimulating jobs.
But there is much work yet to be done, and (as the past twelve months have shown) a year is a long time in the life of a university.
In the months ahead, I will continue to lead the University as it seeks to adapt to the rather unsettled and unsettling new landscape in higher education.
In this transition, the team of Pro-Vice-Chancellors that I have come to rely on so greatly will play an essential role.
They are the ones who will provide continuity, and ensure that the ship sails steadily even as one captain gives way to another.
A personal reflection
Allow me, if I may, to end on a more personal reflection.
I have been asked a lot recently: what have I most enjoyed about my time as Vice-Chancellor? What will I remember most fondly?
These are difficult questions, not because I can’t find an answer, but because I have too many to choose from.
I will certainly never forget the sight of one of our national treasures, Sir David Attenborough, dangling dangerously from a rope at the opening of the magnificent new building named after him.
Because I like sport, and because I am competitive, I confess that I derived tremendous satisfaction from watching the men’s boat finally win the boat race this year.
It was a thrill to be following behind them, even in those inclement weather conditions, navigating those choppy waters around the Surrey Bend…
But if pressed further about what I have most enjoyed about my tenure, it would probably be this: the people.
For anyone with an inquiring mind and an appetite for new knowledge, to be offered the job of Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge is like offering the proverbial child the sweetshop.
I have enjoyed the daily company of some of the finest minds in the world.
I have cherished being part of a global community of inquisitive and creative men and women –from freshers, to professors, to our enthusiastic and committed alumni across the world.
I have felt grateful for the kindness and support you have shown me.
And I have felt privileged to be entrusted, by this very community, with the leadership of one of the world’s greatest institutions.
I hope to have repaid that trust.
And though in a year’s time I will be handing that responsibility over to my excellent successor, I will never cease to feel that Cambridge is where I belong.