Professor Stephen J Toope and colleagues at Peking University

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope stressed the growing importance of collaboration for global research universities in an age of anxiety during a whirlwind visit to China over the past weekend.

Global universities must be places where we are allowed to let our thoughts roam across the cosmos, to collaborate with one another, and to share our findings and our ideas

Vice-Chancellor Professor Stephen J Toope

The Vice-Chancellor joined a panel at the influential China Development Forum alongside leaders of global industry and Chinese academia, delivered a speech at Peking University, met with Tsinghua University and talked to Chinese media.

Professor Toope reminded a packed audience at Peking University of the University of Cambridge's long established ties with China, while reiterating the institution's commitment to seek collaboration wherever it offers the promise of meeting the challenges that face humanity.

“Global universities must be places where we are allowed to let our thoughts roam across the cosmos, to collaborate with one another, and to share our findings and our ideas,” Professor Toope said.

Professor Toope spoke about the challenges that face the planet and how research universities must act internationally to address them.

“We live in what, borrowing from WH Auden, I call an ‘age of anxiety,’” he said.

He said that diminishing resources and the profoundly destructive impact humanity has had on our planet mean that energy efficiency, and a move towards carbon neutrality, is a priority for everyone.

“And none of us can do it alone,” he said. “Collaboration is not optional.”



Collaborations between Cambridge and China discussed during the trip included the development of “smart cities” in Nanjing, and projects on food security, including Professor Martin Jones's work to restore an ancient grain to the 21st century market.

“Challenges on this scale, of this complexity, demand the kind of multi-disciplinary teams of researchers that only global research universities can marshall,” Professor Toope said.

He extolled the virtue of diverse perspectives to help us see a problem from multiple angles and to imagine and design solutions.

“Together we can find the paths through which we can lead each other out of this age of anxiety.”

At the China Development Forum, Professor Toope discussed the demographic challenge of developing human resources. 

Speakers included Lu Xin, Chairman of the Chinese Society of Technical and Vocational Education and Former Vice-Minister of Education, Cai Fang, Vice President, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, founding Director of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, Guo Sheng, CEO of Zhaopin Ltd and Christoph Beier, Managing Director of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the commercial international development partner to the German government.

Afterwards, Professor Toope spoke to assembled media about multilateralism, collaboration and inequality, with his comments on how the University of Cambridge accepts China’s Gaokao as part of its admissions process making headlines across China.

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