Laureation address – Sir Peter Lampl

Friday 24 June 2011

Sir Peter Lampl
Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science

Laureation by Dr Lucy Hadfield
School of Physics and Astronomy
Friday 24 June 2011

Sir Peter Lampl

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present Sir Peter Lampl for the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

Sir Peter Lampl is an education visionary and a crusader for social justice. His remarkable commitment to invest in the education of young people from non-privileged backgrounds has set an example for the entire sector.

Growing up on a West Yorkshire Council estate, Sir Peter’s start in life seems a million miles away from where he is today. The son of an Austrian refugee who was educated to become an engineer at night school, Sir Peter was one of only a handful of students at his school to pass the 11 Plus. Fortunately, his father’s improving prospects enabled him to move to better and more academic schools and leave behind his Yorkshire roots. Peter first transferred to Reigate Grammar, and then Cheltenham Boys’ Grammar, where he was encouraged to set his sights on Oxford or Cambridge. Needless to say, he ended up winning a place at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and went on to read Physical Chemistry.

Teaching him to think on his feet and filling him with confidence, Sir Peter’s Oxford experience was the launch pad of his career success. Becoming a management trainee at Beechams, before going on to complete an MBA at the London Business School, Sir Peter became a successful businessman. After joining the Boston Consulting Group and later having been appointed president of International Paper Realty, he honed his business skills over the next ten years in the USA, Germany and France. In 1983, he established the Sutton Company, a private equity firm, and thereby made his fortune becoming one of the 200 richest people in Britain.

With plans of becoming less active in business and dreams of playing more golf, Sir Peter returned to the UK in the mid-1990s. Unusually for him, things didn’t quite go to plan as a visit to his old grammar school was to mark the start of a new career of giving back to education. Returning to find that Reigate Grammar, where all places were free when he was there, had become a fee-paying independent school, he realized that the opportunities from which he had benefited as a child were no longer on offer to people with his background. A similar story was true at his old Oxford college as the miners’ sons from South Wales who were his peers at university were all gone. Reflecting on just how much the student demographic had changed, Sir Peter decided to make a difference. In 1997, he founded the Sutton Trust, an educational charity whose aim was to encourage and help the non-privileged young reclaim their proper share of Britain’s higher education.

Starting by engaging his old university, the Sutton Trust designed and financed a residential summer school scheme aimed at dispelling myths about elite universities. The project was a great success, convincing bright non-privileged students that actually, Oxford isn’t that bad. Independent of their background, they can succeed there and more importantly they are worthy of a place. The Sutton Trust Summer schools became one of the Trust’s flagship projects and more than 700 students benefited every year from events held at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Nottingham, and here in St Andrews.

One of the key things about the Sutton Trust is its approach. The Trust addresses real problems by first asking the right questions and then funding innovative and bold projects that get the job done. Investing more than 35 million pounds of his own money and reaching out to tens of thousands of students, Sir Peter has shown his desire for educational reform and demonstrated his ability make a difference. In recognition of this wonderful and important work, he was knighted in 2003 and is now acknowledged to be Britain’s leading educational philanthropist. Earlier this year the Sutton Trust was awarded, in competition with 14 other charities, £125 m of government money to help poor pupils in the lowest performing schools. This, in many ways, is the culmination of Sir Peter’s work.

Let me end by explaining why the Sutton Trust is important to me. I can see many similarities between my own background and those of the students helped by the Sutton Trust. I am the only member of my family to have gone to university, and so to be delivering a laureation as a member of staff of a university like St Andrews is a dream come true. Working hard to succeed has made me want to give something back and given me a passion for helping those who are trying to unlock their potential against the odds.

Following Sir Peter’s lead, I help to run a pilot widening access project in the School of Physics and Astronomy. Currently funded by the University, it builds on our association with the Sutton Trust, whose alumni helped design it and offer mentoring to its students to this day. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I hope this illustrates the enormous esteem in which Sir Peter is held by this University.

Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to education I invite you to confer on Sir Peter Lampl the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.

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