Speaking at the Senate House, Professor Deborah Prentice marked the start of the academic year by delivering her first October address to the University.

Having come into office in July, she used the opportunity to share her evolving understanding of the Collegiate University and how it works. “I have found it useful to think of Cambridge as three separable entities, distinct in their goals, cultures, and modes of conduct and interrelated in their pursuit of Cambridge’s overarching mission.”

The first of these entities is Cambridge as a community of scholars, which she described as a “vibrant ecosystem”, and which she found to be “alive and well – indeed, more alive and more well here than in any other research-intensive university I know”.

The second is Cambridge as a public institution: “This Cambridge contributes around £30 billion a year to the British economy. Only last week it was ranked top in Research England’s Knowledge Exchange Framework, which measures universities’ impact on the economy and society, in terms of the revenue generated by its spinouts. It generates research discoveries that shape policy and practice in every sector.”

“This is the Cambridge that, through its Press and Assessment, reaches over 100 million learners around the globe. This Cambridge welcomed the King immediately after his Coronation to the ground-breaking for the new Whittle Lab. This Cambridge is partnering to build two new hospitals on the biomedical campus and is working to define an innovation strategy for Greater Cambridge.”

The third face of Cambridge, she said, is the University as a modern organisation “that employs staff, manages the estate and the finances, runs the IT systems, staffs the committees, represents the University in professional organisations, raises funds for University endeavours, and communicates on the University’s behalf.”

“Cambridge’s sweet spot,” she concluded, “is where the aims of the scholars, the needs of society, and the capacities of the organisation align. Alignment is the key, and it cannot to be taken for granted.”

Reflecting on the year ahead, Professor Prentice was upbeat. She celebrated the UK’s readmission into the Horizon Europe, the world’s largest collaborative research programme. But much of the work of the University in the next twelve months, she said, would focus on people.  “Our people are the means and the ends of the work of a university… It is people who animate the community of scholars, and people whose imaginations and ambitions fuel the impact of the public institution.”

Acknowledging that the past few years have been challenging, she said: “We are aiming to improve pay and conditions in ways that respond to what we have been hearing from staff and are fair and equitable across the University, competitive with our peers, and financially sustainable. That’s a tall order, and it will take a multi-year plan to get there.”

Another priority in the year ahead, she said, will be “Cambridge’s contribution to the health of the planet”. The University is “aligned around a desire to make a difference in this critical domain. I hope to build on that alignment in the coming year and beyond, with the help of colleagues throughout the University… that have brought us this far. Greater alignment simply means that the University will build capacity to support the community of scholars working in this area, enable their interactions and cross-fertilisation, and position their work for greatest impact.”

In her closing remarks, the Vice-Chancellor reiterated her commitment to creating a forum for public dialogue on difficult topics, enhancing the role of the University as an environment in which free speech is actively fostered. She concluded by expressing an aspiration for the University of Cambridge to take on a leading role as a national institution.

“I’m convinced that Cambridge cannot be a great global university without being a great national and a great regional university too. Our impact on the world starts at home. I want to learn more about Cambridge’s opportunities and obligations in the East of England and the United Kingdom.”

“I look forward to seeing more of this beautiful country – especially the parts to the north and west that I have not seen before. I look forward to visiting areas with many Cambridge applicants and alumni, and areas with very few. I look forward to meeting partners and potential partners throughout the UK. And I look forward to engaging meaningfully with current and future development plans for our city, our county, and the wider region.”

Delivered at the Senate House, the Annual Address followed the ceremony for the election of the Proctors and the swearing-in of the Constables, and was open to all members of the University community.

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