Chancellor, Minister, Honourable Friends, My Lords and Ladies, ladies and gentlemen…

Thank you for joining me and my Cambridge colleagues today.

It’s been less than two weeks since the first meeting of this new Parliament, so I hope it is not too late to congratulate those of you here who have recently been returned to Parliament.

To speak here, a stone’s throw away from the Palace of Westminster, is not something one can ever do lightly.

I am aware that words uttered here carry some weight.

And it is quite humbling to think of the work that MPs and Peers do in these buildings day-in and day-out –the relentless grind of politics, policy and Parliamentary activity…

I take some courage from the fact that I’m the head of one of the few institutions in Britain that predates even the original English Parliament…


Long-gone are the days when the University of Cambridge could elect its own two MPs.

One of our most distinguished MPs was Isaac Newton –although I understand he only spoke once in Parliament, and that was to ask for windows to be open.

The last pair of University MPs included the journalist Wilson Harris, who in 1945 stood as an independent candidate for the second seat, closely beating novelist and playwright J.B. Priestley.

Harris also happened to be editor of The Spectator at the time –setting a precedent for multi-tasking that is honoured to this day…

Although it no longer has its own MPs, the University still has a voice.

And I believe very deeply that what the University says –and what is does—matters.

It matters to the City of Cambridge… It matters to the East of England... It matters to the UK… It matters far beyond our national borders.

This was one of the reasons I agreed to take up the post almost seven years ago.


In my inaugural address to the Regent House, the University’s main governing body, I singled out three issues that I considered essential to the University’s capacity to fulfil its mission.

Our ability to deliver excellence in education… Our ability to deliver excellence in research… And our commitment to being a truly global university.

Those three elements remain the pillars that make Cambridge a successful, world-leading institution.

Let me briefly address excellence in education first.

I was determined, when I took up the post, not only to maintain the quality of our educational offer, but also to widen its availability to talented applicants, wherever they were from.

Widening access to the University has been a personal priority.

We have responded to the challenges of widening participation by enhancing our engagement with schools in areas of low participation.

I am glad to say that the proportion of state sector-educated students admitted since 2011 has increased.

Our undergraduate student body is more diverse than ever before.

There is still much work to be done, and we will continue to work closely with MPs and Ministers on these issues.

We have enhanced our educational offer in other ways: the increase in the number of postgraduate scholarships awarded by the University over the past six years is a particular source of satisfaction.

Initiatives like our Gates Cambridge Scholarship scheme, or the Cambridge-Africa PhD Scholarship programme, have ensured that we continue to attract outstanding applicants from around the world, regardless of their financial situation.

The focus on the quality of education provided by universities will only increase in the years to come following the passing of the Higher Education and Research Act.

The Act takes one step further some of the reforms introduced by the Coalition government, more or less around the time that I took up the role of Vice-Chancellor.

We have welcomed the articulation of a more strategic direction from the government.

This is much needed at a time when external issues like Brexit, and increasing competition from universities around the world, are a challenge to our competitiveness.

We hope to work closely with the government to ensure that British universities are funded in a way that is sustainable, and that allows them to continue delivering excellence in teaching and student support.


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 –from the molecular level, to the human, to the cosmic.

Research sets us apart, and underpins our international reputation for excellence.

But success in research requires investment, and the University’s full commitment to supporting the people who are at the front line.

Providing better conditions for our postdoctoral community has been a particular focus of mine over the past few years.

Today it comprises nearly 4000 researchers across all fields –the fastest growing staff group.

Over a quarter of them, it is worth noting, are non-UK EU citizens.

The UK’s departure from the EU has cast significant uncertainty on our ability to deliver excellence in research.

In the months ahead, we will continue to make the case for a Brexit settlement that does not hinder our capacity to attract the men and women who conduct that research –or our capacity to fund that research sustainably.

We will continue to argue for the need to remain part of the institutional frameworks that allow us to shore up the global partnerships that are so essential to successful research.


Which brings me to the final issue I raised when I took over as Vice-Chancellor –the aspiration that Cambridge should commit to being a truly global university.

Our instinct for setting up enduring and mutually beneficial collaborations has led us to establish strategic partnerships across the globe, from Brussels to Bangalore.

International partnerships are today an inextricable part of the University’s make-up. And they will be more crucial to our success in the future than ever before.

We have repeatedly said that we are opposed to immigration policies that will stymie the flow of talented international students and staff to our University.

We have urged, and will continue to urge, the British government to ensure that the rights of EU citizens in the UK are guaranteed in any post-Brexit settlement.

As we are in the Attlee Room, I wonder whether it appropriate to quote Clem, who once proposed to put in the statute book “an act which will make our people citizens of the world before they are citizens of this country.”

I fully subscribe to the spirit of this ideal.


There are other areas in which the University of Cambridge has come a long way since 2010.

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.

The University is today on a firm financial footing.

It is a source of some satisfaction that we are considered more creditworthy even than Her Majesty’s Government…

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.

These new developments 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’s role as a cornerstone of local development has been emphasised as we have enhanced our regional engagement over the past few years.

We know that the University’s future is intimately bound with the economic health of the East of England.

The University’s impact reaches far beyond the city, driving innovation, jobs and growth across the East of England and beyond.

So we have invested in relationships with local businesses and neighbouring higher education institutions, developing new ways to identify skill gaps, promote social mobility and share prosperity across East Anglia.

We have developed closer links with local authorities in the City, the County and the wider region –and we look forward to working with the first Mayor of our new Combined Authority.

Indeed, we are already working with local authorities to improve regional infrastructure, to accelerate rural economic growth, and to address the very modern challenges of housing and transport in our historic city.


I firmly believe that what is good for the University of Cambridge, one of the area’s biggest employers, will also be good for the region.

But if we can take one lesson from the Referendum a year ago it is that the values espoused by the University are not necessarily ones that a majority of voters in the East of England find meaningful, or relevant.

This is worrying, because I take the view that there is an unwritten contract between society and higher education institutions.

Universities like ours are given license to operate, and the space to educate and generate knowledge, because what we do is for the benefit of society.

The public trust placed in us is directly linked to an understanding that what we do –through education, learning and research—is good for everyone.

One of the biggest risks to our legitimacy and reputation is the public feeling that universities’ goals and our societies’ goals are no longer shared –in other words, a breakdown of trust.

We take enormous pride in our contributions to the advancement of science.

Yet when people who live in some of the towns and villages only a few miles outside of Cambridge ask themselves that now classic question –“What has the University of Cambridge done for us?”—I suspect their answer might be: “Not that much”.

If society at large does not believe that we have its interests at heart, then the failure is our own, because serving the interests of society is our only purpose.

If society at large does not believe that what we do is ultimately for the common good, we need to do a better job at engaging with it, and communicating the impact of our work.

If society at large cannot see that the research we carry out helps to save lives and to improve livelihoods, from East Anglia to East Africa, then it is on us to make sure it knows.

So how do we mitigate the risk of losing the public’s trust?

We do it by reaffirming (and demonstrating) that society’s aspirations are also our own.

We regain public trust by being open about what we do, about why we do it, and about how we do it.

We regain public trust by widening access and enhancing levels of participation.

We regain public trust by demonstrating how we contribute to local, regional and national development.

The real challenge of Brexit in years to come might NOT be how to adapt to a world in which our ties with Europe are diminished –those ties will remain strong, even if we lose some of the mechanisms that helped to nurture them…

No –the biggest challenge may be how to ensure that Cambridge is more widely acknowledged as an institution firmly rooted in our region, and actively seeking to benefit communities beyond its very own.


Ladies and gentlemen, friends, I have gone on too long, and we are all thirsty.

Let me finish by reiterating that tonight is, for me, an opportunity to thank you all for the support you have given me, in your various roles and capacities, in the course of my time in office.

You know better than anyone that a week is a long time in politics…

And if seven days is a long time, seven years make me feel like we are living not only in different times but, sometimes, in a different world.

In these “interesting times”, it has been your help and advice –sometimes robust, challenging advice—that has made my role easier, and less lonely.

I must mention the excellent team of Pro-Vice-Chancellors who are with me today –they are the ones who really do all the work in Cambridge!

On issues such as local infrastructure and development we have been able to count on the support of our excellent MPs, Daniel Zeichner –who I thank for hosting us this evening— and Heidi Allen.

As MEPs, Alex Mayer and Vicky Ford have been great champions for the University –Vicky, of course, is now a brand new MP for Chelmsford…

I am grateful to our friends in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who have supported the University in its pursuit of justice following the murder of one of our postgraduate students in Cairo a year and half ago.

We have had the good fortune of working closely and very constructively with Ministers including David Willets and, more recently, Jo Johnson, on issues of great importance to the University.

I’ll finish with another quote from Clement Atlee, in honour of today’s venue:

“I think the British”, he said, “have the distinction above all other nations of being able to put new wine into old bottles without bursting them.”

The University of Cambridge is an old institution, brimming with new, world-changing ideas.

So putting new wine into old bottles without bursting them is something we do very well indeed.

With your support and friendship, we hope it will continue to do so for many years to come.

Thank you.