Launch of the 600th Anniversary Celebrations

Friday 25 February 2011

Speech by Professor Louise Richardson, University Principal and Vice-Chancellor, at the launch of the 600th Anniversary Appeal on Friday 25 February 2011.

Prince William officially launches the 600th Anniversary

“Your Royal Highness, Lord Lieutenant, Chancellor, Miss Middleton, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Like the Chancellor, I would like to welcome you to the launch of our 600th Anniversary Celebrations and Fundraising Campaign.

Six hundred years is a very long time. How many institutions can you think of that have been around for 600 years? How many companies, governments, organisations? Not many.

Scholars have been coming to St Andrews to study, teachers to teach, and students to learn for six centuries. I hope that, like me, you each feel enormously proud to be part of that history.

Universities have lasted this long because of the enduring value of what we do. As one-time Rector of St Andrews, John Stuart Mill, memorably said: ‘A university exists for the purpose of laying open to each succeeding generation… the accumulated treasures of the thoughts of mankind.’

Today we do this and more. By educating students from families who have never enjoyed third level education we are helping to realise ambitions and elevate aspirations. By training talented chemists, economists and physicists we are providing essential skills to drive the economy. By teaching the humanities we are ensuring that we have citizens who know how to think independently, to argue persuasively, and to empathise with others, all essential hallmarks of a vibrant democracy.

Universities like ours have lasted so long because we serve:

  • As guardians of our culture
  • As drivers of social mobility
  • As engines of our economy and
  • As foundations for our democracy
  • And always: as generators of new ideas.

We will continue to do so for another 600 years.

Some of you may wonder about the precise date of our foundation. Teaching began here after Pentecost in the year 1410. The following year, Bishop Wardlaw granted the charter of foundation to the scholars which is dated ‘the penultimate day of February 1411’.

Two years later, in 1413, Pope Benedict XIII issued the papal bulls conferring the status of university. At the time there were only two other universities in the English-speaking world. So, we were founded before the printing press, before the battle of Agincourt, before the construction of the Forbidden City in Beijing, before the construction of Machu Picchu in Peru, before Columbus arrived in the Americas, and before Joan of Arc waged battle.

The University was founded by three French-educated Scotsmen and ever since that time we have looked outward to the rest of the world from a firm Scottish foundation. Today one third of our students are from Scotland, one third from the rest of the UK and the EU, and one third from outside the EU.

We have students, teachers and researchers from 120 countries here in St Andrews. We delight in our cosmopolitan mix which ensures that our students are constantly engaging with different perspectives and prepared to enter a global workforce. It also means that every year we are dispatching highly educated graduates around the world who retain a deep affection for Scotland.

Coming to St Andrews means seeing in a new light.

The uniqueness of St Andrews University is defined by our history, our location and our scale, as well as by our ambition for the future. We have a rich and redolent history interspersed with names like Knox , Mill, Kipling and Barrie.

Our location in this beautiful medieval town on this magnificent but remote Scottish coastline with its incomparable evening light ensures that we are both at a remove from and yet engaged with the rest of the world. Our scale ensures that we are big enough to be interesting yet small enough to be intimate. Our size ensures that researchers from sciences and the arts can work together to address global problems and fight disease.

We are big enough to compete for the best faculty and students and most competitive research grants, yet small enough that every student is taught by those who write the books, that we can transform the life of every student who comes here; small enough that the physicists can engage with the philosophers, the geographers with the art historians, where students from different backgrounds can meet one another and form lifelong friendships, and more.

Today we are marking our 600th Anniversary by launching a Fundraising Campaign to ensure the future of this great university. In these difficult economic times, when public funding for universities is declining, precisely at a time when the economic strain on poor families is increasing, and at a time when our competitors around the world are investing in universities, we must look to our alumni and our friends to provide the margin of excellence.

We look to you to help us build an endowment so that we can ensure that a St Andrews education is affordable to everyone smart enough to be admitted, and so that future leaders of this university can invest in innovative ideas and attract the best researchers and the best teachers from around the world.

One of the greatest educational philanthropists of all time, Andrew Carnegie, was Rector of this university. He once memorably asked: ‘What is the proper mode of administering wealth after the laws upon which civilisation is founded have thrown it into the hands of a few?’

He dismissed leaving it to one’s heirs as injudicious; paying it in death taxes as the just punishment for selfishness; and concluded that the only sensible thing to do is to give it away while you are still alive. He then had an ordered list of who the beneficiaries should be. At the top of the list was universities.

Today, after 600 years, our endowment stands at £35 million pounds. In 1411, when Bishop Wardlaw signed the charter, had he invested the price of a pint today, say £4, in an endowment for the University, at a 6 per cent compound rate of interest that £4 today would be worth £6,103,502,828,771,390 (6 quadrillion, 103 trillion, 502 billion, 828 million, 771 thousand and 390 pounds). Such is the power of an endowment.

Well, better late than never, even if we are 600 years late. We will use this endowment to ensure that St Andrews University becomes a beacon for ambitious students no matter where they are from and no matter what their personal circumstance. We will use this endowment to ensure that St Andrews University becomes a beacon for creative academics the world over who are looking for a home in which the life of the mind is nurtured and celebrated along with a commitment to educating the next generation.

We are always delighted when two of our alumnae dedicate their lives to one another. We claim that more of our students marry fellow students than any other university. One has only to walk around this town to sense the romance of the place. We were truly delighted to learn of the engagement of HRH Prince William and Catherine Middleton and I know that every member of the University community joins me in wishing them a life of love, health and happiness together.

To mark the occasion the staff and students of the University of St Andrews have established a scholarship for needy students in their honour. Every year a student who might not have been able to afford to attend St Andrews will now be able to do so.

We are honoured and deeply grateful to His Royal Highness Prince William for agreeing to be Patron of our Fundraising Appeal. He knows the University as only an alumnus can. I am told that he enjoyed his time here both inside and outside the classroom. Through his patronage he is demonstrating both his commitment to the value of education generally and his appreciation of the unique education offered by the University of St Andrews.

The University of St Andrews may be 600 years old but we move fast and we invite you to join us on a journey into the future so that in 100 years and in 600 years from now people will come to this place and look back with pride on what we have accomplished together and thank us for acting to secure the future of this great University.”

Louise Richardson
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
Friday 25 February 2011

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