On 9 November, three weeks ago, I was making one of the visits I have been undertaking during this semester to each of our 18 academic schools. That morning it was the turn of the School of Philosophical, Anthropological and Film Studies. For the last 40 minutes of the visit the head of School had arranged for me to meet with young academics in those three subject areas. We sat together and talked about their research work. I heard about projects on – for example – child displacement in Italy in the 1950s; ancient notions of time; representations of the Ku Klux Klan in film and media. These young scholars had come to St Andrews from the UK, Europe, and further afield. They were engaged, resourceful, outward looking and optimistic. And they were these things despite the current convulsions in our political arenas, the most recent of which, the US election result, had only just occurred. Hearing those scholars speak, and hearing about the research, teaching, and activity of all the other staff and students that I have met in the past three months, has given me immense hope and belief in this university, and the contributions it can and must make to today’s world.
A week ago today I was at a reception for St Andrews alumni in the garden of the British embassy in Abu Dhabi, at the conclusion of a nine-day set of visits to alumni, higher education institutions, and donors in the Far East and the Middle East. The visit had started in Beijing, where we also held a reception at the British embassy, thanks to the generosity of the British ambassador there, Dame Barbara Woodward, who is a St Andrews alumna. Our alumni in Beijing are dominantly very recent graduates. I think I may have set some kind of record for selfie participation during the course of the evening. Those splendid alumni, like the alumni we also met in Hong Kong, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi, unfailingly expressed an extraordinary warmth and affection for what St Andrews is. They spoke of St Salvator’s quad, they spoke of the four streets, of the library, of their tutors, of the sea, the pier walk, Raisin Sunday, and Monday, of golf and golf courses, and of fudge doughnuts.
My message to our alumni, and our friends and supporters was this: St Andrews is, and will remain, a very Scottish university. It is Scotland’s first university, and its history, culture, student and staff bodies have been entwined with that of the nation since its inception. But it is also, and will continue to be, a highly international university, with at present count over 120 countries represented in its nearly 9000 students and nearly 3000 staff. We are not remote, neither geographically (despite the ardours some of my friends from England and elsewhere have endured in getting here for this ceremony), nor intellectually.
As I take on the custodianship of this great university for the next phase of its history I am enthused and sustained by the remarkable loyalty and commitment which members of the University past and present show to it, and the respect for and interest in the University of St Andrews shown in our local communities here in Fife, on the national stage, and, emphatically, internationally. I and we owe it to our university to ensure that our views, and our voices, are heard and valued. As your Principal I will promote St Andrews as a place where vibrant debate and dialogue take place, and where those who come to engage with us will be listened to with courtesy and engaged with ardently. Our own voices should be heard because of the quality of what we have to say, and the quality of what we do here.
But there needs also to be dynamism and inventiveness to the ways in which we communicate, so I will be encouraging our staff and students to use new and creative ways of engaging meaningfully with a sceptical world. We are experiencing the post-truth climate in which expertise is derided. We need to reclaim expertise by the value of our research, teaching, and outreach, and by the compelling nature of their communication. And that approach should also be taken over into how we teach and how our students experience learning. The avalanche that was predicted when online learning at scale took off a few years ago has not arrived, something that has not surprised me as I do not think there is anything to surpass the small group teaching that we deliver so superlatively here in St Andrews, as witness our recent ranking from the Times and Sunday Times as first in the UK for teaching quality. But we need to integrate an online experience more creatively still into the student experience at St Andrews, and as we communicate our university’s offerings to the world. I will be giving this my focus in the next year.
The University of St Andrews stands for quality: quality of research; quality of teaching; quality of students; quality of staff – of all sorts, academic and professional; and the quality of what it contributes to our locality, our nation, and our world. It also stands for quality of outlook and values. Quality, openness, and diversity are key themes of this address.
‘The whole of Scotland drinks at the waters of this stream’ – that line translates one of the earliest statements made about the University of St Andrews in the majestic mid-fifteenth century Scotichronicon, a 16 book Latin chronicle of Scotland compiled by an early graduate of this university, Walter Bower, abbot of the Augustinian abbey at Inchcolm. It occurs within a poem in which Bower is commemorating the achievements of bishop Henry Wardlaw, including the founding of our university. Bower celebrates St Andrews’ national centrality, its identity as Scotland’s first university, drawing students and scholars to it, and its replenishing, creative nature. He sees a university as a national asset, of value to ‘totius Scocia’, the whole of Scotland.
Six hundred years later the stream that Bower celebrates has become an ocean and its influence is worldwide. Now this is more than a metaphorical statement about the role and reputation of this great university. The Scottish Oceans Institute on the East Sands here at the University of St Andrews undertakes world-class and highly interdisciplinary research on marine science under the overall auspices of the School of Biology. It sits at the heart of the east coast of Scotland but depends upon wide-spread international collaboration. The SOI began life as the Gatty Marine Laboratory at the end of the 19th century being funded by the British philanthropist Charles Henry Gatty, who had a special interest in marine biology. Although it has been extended several times it is still housed in part in its original Victorian accommodation. Building the new Scottish Oceans Institute is the University’s top capital priority. Work on the new facility will start in the next calendar year: funding for the project has come to date from the University’s own capital funding provision, from donors, including the Wolfson Foundation, and from our alumni. The Scottish Oceans Institute exemplifies what this University is – outstanding, Scottish, international, and collaborative – and some of the challenges we as a university face. The oceans are not owned by any nation – actions that impede straightforward exchange across borders may also impede fundamental research into our ecological future.
The quality of research that this University undertakes is often outward-looking in a very real sense right across our range of disciplines: a striking recent example is the British Academy’s award of its most valuable prize, the 2016 Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize, for an outstanding contribution to transcultural understanding, to Professor Carole Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic History at St Andrews, singling out her new study of Islam: a New Historical Introduction. This is what universities so essentially enable: new, often historicised, ways of seeing, as politics shift and as cultures meet. This sort of research-intensive but also externally seeking work identifies St Andrews as one of the top universities in the world for international outlook (ranked 22 in the world in the most recent THE rankings). It gives us a terrific platform from which to make ourselves still more visible. In espousing this outward looking approach to research culture I acknowledge that much research is of itself long-term, detailed, and on occasion necessarily insular; sometimes that is how a subject is in the first instance moved on. But we all have a responsibility to communicate. Why did our graduate Walter Bower compose the Scotichronicon? He had a story of national interest to tell. Why have I written several times about the Scotichronicon during my academic career? In part because I have wanted to understand what a grand narrative written within the context of a then independent Scotland could tell us today.
So that is what quality is: high-level, challenging contributions that add value to society at the same time as they may challenge values themselves. Quality is not something unchanging, nor is it a synonym for elitism. Installation addresses generally have an element of the visionary in them that focuses on the future. And many of my comments today will look to that; we all have a duty to ensure that this University flourishes in our lifetimes and beyond. But I do think it is equally important to focus on the now and the next. We – academic and professional staff, students, and alumni – cannot, and must not, displace our responsibility for the present, particularly given the present in which we are currently situated. What St Andrews does in our research and our teaching, for our current staff and our students as well as those that we will recruit, now and over the next few years, and how we relate to the communities we inhabit here and across the world, defines us. Our Homeric university motto, Ever to Excel, acknowledges that we are excellent and demands that we take this further, that we push ourselves to explore, to extend our capabilities. Everyone here has their place in that. Put simply, my role is to enable you to be the best you can be.
In the higher education sector, excellence is frequently defined for us by others, particularly through the REF and the TEF. It is tempting to declare the inauguration of our own framework, the CHEF, the Clear Headed Excellence Framework. But the point I am making here is that excellence is not created for us by others: it is something that we generate. The visits I have been making to our academic schools confirm the excellence in research and teaching that I have already lauded, but they point up other things: that we need to do more ourselves to recognise and reward that excellence in both research and teaching within this institution; that we need to do more to enable and value interdisciplinarity; and that we need to boost and support successful research grant applications. The initiatives that the University will be rolling out over the next few months to clarify our promotions and recognition processes, including the recognition of excellence in teaching at institutional level, and to bring forward new hires in Schools where there is a strong case for doing this ahead of the REF, are indicators of the new structures that we are putting in place to promote excellence across the piece in St Andrews.
I turn now to major areas in which our institutional voice needs to be heard. As I have said, we are a university that remains strongly in touch with its Scottish identity, while being profoundly international. Our European identity is a fundamental part of our history as a University – this is something that colleagues from within the University and outside it have also been exploring this morning in a mini-conference related to my subject area of Older Scots literature. Our founder Henry Wardlaw studied at Paris, Orléans, and Avignon before returning to Scotland to set up the University of St Andrews. James Kennedy, the founder of St Salvator’s college, studied law at the University of Leuven – and it is a particular joy to me that Kurt Deketelaere, Professor of Law at KU Leuven, and secretary-general of the League of European Research Universities, is in the audience today.
When we look at some of the headline figures the extent and importance of our relations with Europe are utterly clear. Twenty-one per cent of St Andrews’ research funding over the last five years has come from the European Union; with funding from European Research Council sources constituting approximately 50 per cent of our current portfolio. Twenty-two per cent of our academic staff, and 31 per cent of our research staff are from European Union countries. Over one-third of all our postgraduate taught course entrants in 2015 were from the European Union. We have 46 Erasmus+ partners, 30 of which involve undergraduate exchanges. Last year, EU or EEA destinations accounted for 43 per cent of our total Study Abroad cohort.
There are three key points here. Firstly, these relationships for research, study, and exchange have not just developed because funding has been available. They have developed because scholars and students in Scotland and Europe value intellectual, cultural, and political contact and collaboration. A diminution in these opportunities is an impoverishment way beyond the financial. Secondly, to expound the value of St Andrews’ relations with Europe is not to downplay the significance of our role as a global university, with contacts across the world. It is rather to say that our European identity has been fundamental to our origins and our ways of doing business, and that it feeds into our contacts with other countries and cultures, through multi-continent research enterprise, and through the European study abroad opportunities that we currently afford to nearly all of our undergraduate students, whatever their nationality. Thirdly, as I speak to you against the dramatic background of a world politics that shifts around us on almost a daily basis, there is still much to argue for within the Brexit negotiations in the key areas of staff and student mobility; research funding; and fee status.
There is also a profound case to be made in relation to international students as a whole: that St Andrews, in Fife, is a beacon for a wonderfully international student body, in which nearly half of our students come from well over 100 different countries, is something that we celebrate. All our students become global ambassadors for this university, and for UK higher education, as a result of their experiences here. When there is good evidence that international students contribute profoundly to our cultural mix and our economy, current suggestions that those numbers could be reduced seem perverse in the extreme. I will work as hard as I can to defend and retain these relationships and opportunities, at Scottish, UK, and European level, and with our international friends and partner institutions. And I will draw on the expertise of a range of colleagues here in doing that.
And let me acknowledge in this particular context, how very much all our students do. They achieve excellence academically. They also excel in so many other areas – musically, as we have heard so strikingly today; on the sports fields, and the golf courses; and in terms of volunteering and outreach. And they are represented in our university governance by outstanding student officers. Getting to know our student body is one of the continuing pleasures of my first academic semester at St Andrews.
As a university, approximately 18 per cent of St Andrews’ funding, outside research funding, is provided from the Scottish Government. We are grateful for that funding, and entirely accept our accountability in terms of it, but that figure, the uncertainties of Brexit, and the ongoing governance changes in higher education across the UK must raise questions about the funding model for this university over the next decades. As your Principal I see it as my responsibility to explore all the credible funding options that are available to us. I also intend to build on the remarkable legacy of my predecessor Professor Louise Richardson, in continuing, with our colleagues in the development office, and with the engagement of our staff, students, and alumni, to fundraise to build the University’s endowment and to secure scholarships, posts, and key capital projects.
These are things that as Principal I and my Vice-Principals will lead on. There are others in which we must all be involved. One of these, which I focus on here, is that we must become more clearly inclusive. This is not something around the edges of what we are as a university; it is central to how we are, and to how we attract the best and the brightest to us at all levels, and how we retain them. And it is central to the message that we are an open and diverse community. So I am really pleased in this context to tell you that we will have our first proper University nursery open from February of next year, with 40 places available to children of staff and student parents; I hope this will be just a start, and that we will also be offering places to children of parents outwith the university when we are in a position to do so. I will also be working with the Dean of Arts, who has assumed responsibility in this area, on our institutional Athena Swan bronze award renewal submission. And I will be taking on the chairing of a workstream reviewing undergraduate admissions policies under the auspices of Universities Scotland as a means of signalling our own willingness as a university to look further at how we tackle widening access. The focus of that particular workstream will be on Scotland; there is also much work to be done on questions of access within an international context. There is also much work to be done, but also to build on, in terms of the University’s approach to race and ethnicity as we review our activity towards attaining the Race Equality Charter Mark.
This is a university that has elected two female Principals in succession. It also now has women in the major roles of Rector and Senior Governor, and a woman as the elected President of the Students’ Association. Of course, I should not need to draw attention to those achievements, but I do so because that is in itself a comment on a sector in which under 25 per cent of Vice-Chancellors are women, and only one is a both a woman and a person of colour. Women have contributed a great deal to this university but they are often obscured within our narratives. I think, for example, of Margaret Fairlie, a graduate in medicine from St Andrews, and the first woman to hold a chair at a Scottish university, indeed this university, when medicine was based at Dundee, then academically part of the University of St Andrews, in the 1940s. I’m very pleased that the University’s second woman professor, Ursula Martin of the School of Computer Science, is in the audience today. The fact that Ursula’s appointment was made a half-century after Margaret Fairlie’s is itself a comment on the legacy of slow progress that we are still addressing. Or let me mention a particular favourite of mine from a slightly later generation than Margaret Fairlie: Annie Dunlop, a DLitt, and honorary LLD from this University, who spent a lifetime working in the Vatican archives, and without what would be regarded as a proper academic job in Scotland, editing the records of St Andrews. She left her books to this university. I mention these women deliberately as a means of contributing to their greater visibility and of signalling how historicisation is vital to much of what we are doing in every subject area. I do not say that because I am a medievalist. Understanding the past helps us engage with the irresistible contrariety of the present. And the past as we explore it with our students should not be bowdlerised or labelled in anticipation of what might offend them – though I should acknowledge here, that Thomas Bowdler, who gave his name to the verb I have just utilised, read medicine at St Andrews in the 1770s. Inclusivity is not, in my view, enabled or enhanced through trigger warnings.
Abbot Walter Bower’s poem on Henry Wardlaw talks about him also as a ‘regula, forma’ – a model, an example. Many, though not all, of the role models in my own life have been women – again I mention two women not here today because I want to record the impact that Mary Moore, the former Principal of St Hilda’s College, Oxford, and the late Elizabeth Fallaize, a former Pro-Vice Chancellor at Oxford, have had on the direction of my own career. Other colleagues from Oxford are in the audience today and I hope they all know how special their support, advice and friendship have been to me. But let me particularly mention three people who are here today and who have been, in very different ways, hugely influential upon me: Andrew Hamilton, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford and now President of New York University – I have enormously benefitted from Andy’s example and guidance and I look forward to finding ways in which we can continue to work together. Secondly, the inimitable Ruth Hunt, a former pupil of mine at St Hilda’s, and now the CEO of Stonewall, from whom you will be hearing a little later on. Ruth was an exemplary undergraduate as far as I was concerned: argumentative, ambassadorial (she was President of both the college Junior Common Room and of the University Student Union) and unfailingly both savvy and honest. I treasure an email from her that begins, ‘Dear Dr Mapstone [as I then was], one should not write to one’s tutor after a glass of wine’. Students, that is quite correct, but if you must do so, it does make sense to admit it, as Ruth did, in the first line. Over the years I have learnt a great deal, beyond that particular perception, from Ruth, and I continue to do so. Lastly, let me acknowledge how much I owe to Martin Griffiths, my husband, who has accompanied me on the road that has brought me to St Andrews with love, encouragement, and a very respectable golf handicap. We both want to thank St Andrews for the wonderful welcome you continue to give us.
So as I go forward as St Andrews’ 11th Principal and Vice-Chancellor I build on what I have learnt directly from Louise Richardson and what I can learn from the careers and legacy of other great figures in the history of St Andrews. Walter Bower in the Scotichronicon also tells us of our founder Bishop Wardlaw that he ‘built the Guardbridge at great expense’. I was rather surprised when I read that, as I thought that that was what we were at risk of doing. So to rephrase Bower; we will build Guardbridge, but not at great expense, not least because we will be seeking to work with business, industry, government, and investors to create a place where green energy, innovation, academia, and entrepreneurship come powerfully together, and where the university staff who work there can flourish in an agreeable and attractive environment. And in a break with history, but one which also carries continuities, we will be renaming that part of our estate as ‘The Eden Campus’. I will continue to gain from the wisdom and support of our incomparable Chancellor, Lord Campbell, and from the combined knowledge and insight of our University Court. I will try but probably fail to imitate the example of Principal Knox whose obituarist wrote that he was a ‘master of formidable silences’. But I have learned much already from my study of the ambition and vision of Knox, Sir James Irvine, Steven Watson, Struther Arnott, and Brian Lang (who is here with us today), the results of whose custodianship of this wonderful university are all around us. Thank you for entrusting it to me for the next few years. I will work without ceasing to make this a university to whose creative streams and oceans the whole of Scotland, of Europe, and of the wider world are constantly drawn.
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