Principal’s installation address

Thursday 26 April 2001

Chancellor, Rector, Ladies & Gentlemen, Colleagues

Thank you for accepting me as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of St Andrews. You have done me a great honour. I feel very privileged, but also humbled, to be the latest in a line of Principals of the University which includes Kennedy, Brewster, Irvine and Arnott. I readily admit to being daunted by the prospect which lies before me. My task as Principal and Vice- Chancellor is to ensure that this University remains great, to continue its tradition of excellence, and to maintain but also to enhance the University’s reputation for the highest standards in higher education and research.

Thank you, Chancellor, Chancellor’s Assessor, Rector and Senior Professor for your roles in this ceremony. I undertake to all of you that I will at all times promote the best interests of the staff and students of the University.

I should like to thank the choir for their performance today. I have come greatly to appreciate the choir and they are one of the reasons I have become for the first time in my life a fairly regular attender in Chapel on Sunday mornings. Thank you to all of you who put such great care into the preparations and arrangements for today’s ceremony. Thank you all for coming today, many of you from considerable distances. But most of all, I should like to thank all of my colleagues in the University, staff, students, members of the Court, and the townspeople of St Andrews, for the warmth of their welcome to me, and to Tari, when we came here to join you.

I hope you will also indulge me, by letting me say how pleased I am that so many members of my family are here today. A number of friends are here, too, from various phases of my life and career, stretching right back to my school days in Edinburgh, the period I spent in the Scottish Office looking after Scotland’s historic buildings, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and more recently at the British Library in London.

But today’s ceremony, this Installation – what are we to make of it? As a social anthropologist, I ought to be able to make a few appropriate remarks about the significance of ritual and in particular the rite of passage, the meaning of tradition, the way in which the office of Principal ‘captures’ its holder, and how the conferment of authority is signified. On the other hand, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. A former colleague of mine wrote regretting she was unable to be here today, adding that my being installed made me sound like a piece of kitchen equipment, such as a dishwasher. I hope a better comparison is that I am being installed as St Andrews University’s latest piece of computer software. Not a completely new operating system, but a new leadership programme with fresh ideas about how the University should be run.

I regard tradition as very important indeed. Today’s ceremony contains elements which are centuries old. The gowns, the Latin oath, those mediaeval maces, the finest university maces in the world. This most ancient of the Scottish universities has traditions which still have meaning. Most traditions here are far from ‘old hat’, bearing in mind the Chancellor has just used an old hat to install me. The University’s traditions tell us where we have come from, and knowing where we have come from helps to give us a clear idea of where we want to go next.

To be entrusted with the running of a university with almost six hundred years of history is to be reminded that my words and actions as Principal of the University will be judged by comparison with predecessors of huge eminence who brought the University to its present position. May I pay tribute here to Principal Emeritus Struther Arnott, who has given me the honour of his presence here today. Following Professor Arnott’s departure, Professor Colin Vincent was Acting Principal during the year before my own arrival. Colin was a first rate Acting Principal and I am indebted to him, too, for having handled my induction so skilfully and sensitively. He is now Deputy Principal, and an excellent colleague.

Having spent so many years living and working in London, St Andrews is a delightful contrast. I have become accustomed to describing St Andrews as a series of paradoxes – this picturesque East Fife seaside town which just happens to contain a world class university; a university with a 600 year history which is helping to design the next version of the Internet. The University needs always to remember, though, that the town came first. We in the University value our neighbours in the town, and we are determined to be good neighbours. Tari and I love living here. St Andrews is quite simply exhilarating. No traffic problem, and I can assure those of you who question this statement that relative to any big city, there is no traffic problem here. There are scarcely any traffic lights. There always seems to be time for everyday courtesy in the street. People stop to chat. The air is clean. We can see the sparkling North Sea, and historic but picturesque ruins. There is so much in St Andrews to become fond of. But I hope the townspeople of St Andrews are as proud of their University as we, in the University, are. St Andrews is home to some of the best minds of our generation, and I can think of no better setting within which to let them get on with thinking great ideas.

The Installation of a Principal is a natural point at which to ponder the future of the University. What developments might we seek to bring about? What might the University look like in a few years’ time?

I hope we all want St Andrews University to be generally regarded as one of the world’s best universities. When anyone who knows about these things is asked which are the world’s best universities, we should surely want St Andrews to be among those mentioned in the first breath. We should want our research to have an impact, our staff to be sought out for their advice. Our teaching should be of such a high standard that the best students throughout the world will clamour to come here for a St Andrews degree.

However, we will persuade good researchers to come here only if we give them decent salaries and good facilities – well founded laboratories and proper offices, good Library and information provision and adequate travel budgets. They want to work alongside stimulating colleagues. They will expect financial backing which is appropriate to their research aspirations. They will also want to feel valued by senior management, as well as respected by their colleagues.

As for students, we will only get the best to come here if these excellent researchers have time to teach. Come to that, I hope researchers will have a desire to teach as well as to carry out research. While their research achievements will continue to be of greatest significance when evaluations are made of their contribution to the University, the amount and quality of their teaching ought also to have a bearing.

Teaching facilities can always be enhanced. We would like to invest more in the sort of digital technology which will enhance the way we want to teach. The best students will expect good living accommodation so our halls of residence will need continuous improvement. We would like to improve our cultural and sports facilities.

As far as attracting students is concerned, I can also refer to our commitment to the government’s priority for social inclusion. Part of our vision of the St Andrews future, is that we shall continue to make the University available to those who will most benefit from a degree education here, no matter their economic or social backgrounds. We want a wider social mix. Our task, therefore, is to identify those people who will do well here, and then persuade them to come to St Andrews, by convincing them that St Andrews will provide the educational fulfilment they are seeking. We will never compromise on excellence, but there is no need to compromise on excellence. We can simply do more to tap the pool of good potential St Andrews students in Fife, the rest of Scotland and anywhere in the world we can find really good people. Social background must be no barrier to bright students.

We already offer a part-time degree course to people whose lives do not permit a routine of daily lectures and tutorials. To those who are unfamiliar with, or who feel intimidated by, the higher education regime of lecture notes, essays and tutorials, we offer a summer school at which they can learn such skills before entering their first undergraduate year. We have excellent relations with the further education colleges in Fife and we are taking growing numbers of students from them. Social mix must become as much a feature of the experience of St Andrews as the cosmopolitan mix for which we are well known.

But what is this all for? There is an extent to which debate in this country about higher education and, indeed, the government’s objectives for higher education, are too exclusively about its delivery. There is much more discussion about who should be given access to universities and about quality assurance than about the universities themselves. These are important issues but we also need to discuss what universities are for. What happens in universities? What contributions should universities be making to the modern world?

Certainly, we want to go on contributing to this country’s economic competitiveness. Our research helps business and industry, it contributes to health care. Our graduates are well prepared for jobs in banking, manufacturing and teaching. They may go on to university careers themselves.

The role of a university, though, is more than that. We want to help make a better world, but we want to make it, too, a better understood world. Our laboratory- based scientists and our social scientists, our scholars in the arts and humanities and divinity, all contribute to those goals. We want to produce well educated individuals who are first rate world citizens, who can make sound judgements, who have critical faculties, and who can evaluate evidence. They must also have the confidence to make decisions and judgements even in the absence of as much information as they would like. We want to produce people who trust their own judgement, and whose judgements are trusted because they are humane and unprejudiced. We want to produce research which makes a difference; and people who make a significant difference.

So let us not be led entirely by other peoples’ agendas, or chase for their own sake positions on the university league tables that newspapers love to compile. Let us have the confidence to pursue also what we believe is the appropriate agenda for St Andrews University.

At this stage, I am bound to mention money. As you will all be aware, direct funding of universities by government is in long term decline. The University is suffering from a shortage of funds and if uncorrected this will have a significant impact on our effectiveness. Welcome though next year’s real terms increase in our grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council might be, the overall trend in such support is downward. To pay our staff decent salaries, to provide the facilities I have been describing, to meet the aspirations I have been setting out, needs funds to match. We will have to win more grants from government funded and privately funded research organisations, from charitable trusts and commercial sponsorship. Our inventions, patents and other intellectual property will need to be more assiduously exploited for the revenue they can bring us. The University will be making a very substantial contribution to knowledge and learning, but that contribution will need to bring in a greater return. We need to be more persuasive in getting our alumni and other friends to give more financial recognition to the University. The Principal is inevitably going to be heavily involved in fundraising – doubtless at continuing cost to his waistline.

Now I am conscious of having talked for far too long without yet mentioning the other St Andrews industry, golf. The university and the golfing community in St Andrews get along very well together. There is substantial overlap because there are lots of university golfers. I will even become one myself if the patience of my coach, the University’s Director of Physical Education, Martin Farrally’s, patience does not wear out. Supporters of golf very generously sponsor a significant student exchange programme with Emory University in Atlanta. In addition, the Royal and Ancient supports valued golf bursaries. Here is an excellent example of the way St Andrews joins in common cause and works well together, to the benefit of all of us. And after all, we want the town to be proud of its University.

Let me conclude by returning to my opening theme of tradition. One of the pleasures of St Andrews University, indeed one of the reasons students and staff are attracted here, is that distinctive texture of ancient buildings in a historic town, red gowns and Bishop Kennedy’s mace. Tradition, though, must never inhibit our ability to move forward. We must be ready to consider whether we may be continuing traditions which are no longer appropriate and which could be barriers to the University’s values of excellence, fairness and equality of opportunity on the basis of personal merit.

I am confident that the government recognises the contribution the University of St Andrews is making to Scotland’s, and the United Kingdom’s, reputation for research, education and innovation. There is still a lot to be done, and there is no way in which I can do what I have described this morning, on my own. I can only truly be Principal with the consent and confidence of the student body, the staff, the Senate, and the University Court. The objectives I have outlined can be achieved only if this community of scholars shares my belief that they are desirable. We can enhance our reputation for excellence only if everyone working in the University wishes to play a part in achieving that. So I hope we will be spending a productive, fulfilling and above all enjoyable few years in one another’s company.

As for me, I promise I will serve you with every breath I take, and every step I make. Aien Aristeuein! Ever to be the best!


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