Principal’s opening graduation address
Given by Dr Brian Lang, Principal & Vice-Chancellor at the opening Graduation ceremony, 22nd June 2004.
Chancellor, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honour to see you all here today, especially those of you for whom this rite of passage represents a culmination of several
years’ hard work and application. Within this welcome I include parents, other relatives, friends and of course our distinguished honorary graduates with whom we are very proud to be associated. I am glad to be able to welcome visitors from so many places around the world signifying this relatively small university’s heavily international presence. The world may have become a small place, but today much of the world seems to be represented in St Andrews.
This afternoon we have awarded degrees to a new kind of student for St Andrews, and I refer to our students who have achieved degrees for which they have worked on a part time basis. Now everyone graduating today has had to work hard. You have all come through a period of intense slog. I am sure, though, that those of you of who have graduated after coming to university literally straight from school, in your late teens, well accustomed to the rhythm of library, essay and exam, will accept that to achieve a degree later in life, while juggling the demands of families, jobs, and anything but a settled study routine, requires a particular blend of determination, organised application and true grit. The ability to handle competing priorities has particular meaning when I can also let you know that the group of part time graduates before you, during their period of study produced seven babies!
I was telling a recent visitor to St Andrews about our part time degree, and she told me about she had studied for a part-time Economics degree at the London School of Economics. What she found difficult was the availability of basic text books, especially overnight and for weekends, but she was fortunate because her husband was a member of parliament and he was able to order economics books through the House of Commons library. Her husband happily began to order books with titles like Elementary Economics, International Finance Made Easy, and The Theory of Economic Growth. However, this became public after a newspaper reporter became interested because the MP husband happened to be best known as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Every year for some time now, the number of well-qualified people wanting to study at St Andrews has been growing. While we ought not to be surprised by this, because the University is performing well, we have been surprised by just how substantially the numbers of application have been growing. As a place to study, St Andrews is highly congenial. But people do seem to take notice of all those university league tables in newspapers. It is very difficult not to sound a bit boastful when talking about league tables, because St Andrews does so well in them. It is a tribute to my colleagues, whether they are academics or support staff, that we do so well. Of course it is also a tribute to our students who get good degrees and go on to good jobs. All of that means St Andrews is consistently placed as the top university in Scotland for both research and teaching, and we are the only Scottish university to be consistently placed in the United Kingdom top ten. Such strong performance can only contribute to our popularity. And the East Fife weather helps, of course, as well.
We have been doing well, but can we sustain such performance into the future? The media have been full of comment on higher education funding, and one of the themes is the contrast between the approach in Scotland to university funding, compared with that south of the border. In Scotland, not having access to additional funds from the increased tuition fees that will be charged in England, public funding for universities becomes all the more important. Next year, 34% of our expenditure in St Andrews will be provided by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. It is absolutely right and proper that we are able to demonstrate to taxpayers that their money is well spent, and that we are making an effective contribution to the Scottish Executive’s objectives for higher education. We are happy to be accountable for the way that money is spent, through our acceptance of quite stringent conditions on Funding Council money. While one of the strengths of universities in Scotland is that we are an autonomous, self-governing institution, if we are to accept significant amounts of public money, then we have to be realistic about public accountability.
We certainly cannot claim to be poverty stricken, given all of the new developments that are going on here. We are completely rebuilding David Russell Hall. A new Computer Science building is going up on the North Haugh. We have bought the large new building on the edge of town, the Gateway, which had been standing empty for some years, and where we will house our newly expanded School of Management. There will be a new arts building in the centre of town, to house the School of International Relations. And I hope you will be pleased to know that St Andrews has just hired its first ever Professor of Film Studies, and we are appointing three more academics specialising in film. After nearly 600 years’ existence, St Andrews has accepted that cinema is here to stay. We have admitted that if we are to have any claim to a critical understanding of the modern world, then we had better take Indiana Jones seriously.
So, as I have said, the University of St Andrews is doing well. We can be confident that we are bringing students to St Andrews, no matter their backgrounds, to an excellent university. Excellence must come first, because we want to offer equality of opportunity , but to nothing less than excellence.
Let me return to our primary reason for being here today, which is to congratulate all of you who are graduating, and to wish you good fortune in whatever careers you follow. Having spent some years in St Andrews, you are surely leaving us as different people, compared with who you were when you arrived. You will always remember your time at St Andrews. You will have made lifelong friends. You may have met your husband or wife.
We will try to stay in touch with you and I hope you will let us know where you are as you move on through life. You will always remember your time here – the nail- biting effort to finish an essay, sitting up all night revising, before an exam. You will always be able to taste those great bacon rolls from the Old Union Diner. You will remember Ma Bell’s and the West Sands, you will remember the exquisite comforts of our ultra modern lecture theatres. You will probably not remember the Monday morning after Raisin Weekend. But remember, please, your lecturers and tutors and all the staff here. We will never forget you. And please come back to visit us. St Andrews is very special, and you will always be a part of us. It has been our great pleasure to enjoy your company. Remember St Andrews always with affection, and with very great pride.