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Congregation of the Regent House on 2 October 2000

A Congregation of the Regent House was held at 9.30 a.m. Professor Sir ALEC BROERS delivered the following address to the Regent House:

As we enter the new century the University is immersed in more new ventures than at any other time in its recent history. The West Cambridge Site is finally becoming a reality with the East Forum and three major new buildings either under construction or at an advanced stage of planning. The Addenbrooke's 2020 plan, which embraces a vast University-led expansion in clinical research, is firmly launched. The framework for the Cambridge-MIT Institute is complete and its four programmes ready to run. We shall shortly be launching the Gates Cambridge Scholarships which, thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will match in number and quality Oxford's long-admired Rhodes Scholarships. At the same time we are about to open the new Divinity School, the finance has been found for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Research Centre, and the vast mathematics project and the library for science and technology at Clarkson Road are on track for completion next year. Pursuing all of these ventures simultaneously is stretching the University's organizational abilities to the limit, but with long hours and extraordinary dedication the University's staff are keeping up. This is a time of excitement and change.

The general financial environment for universities in the UK remains unfavourable but we have won major funding in the recent Joint Infrastructure Fund round and this will enable us to bring many of our laboratories and buildings up to modern standards. The announcements following the recent Comprehensive Spending Review have been more favourable than in the recent past. For the next financial year there will be no efficiency cut in our general income for the first time in more than a decade. However, there is much to be done to bring our organizational capabilities up to standard and our new financial and management information system, CAPSA, is proving expensive and exceptionally difficult to install. Regrettably, this is often the case with large and complex software systems. Every effort is being made to identify intermediate solutions but the major priority is to fix the system as soon as possible. The supplier is giving us the highest priority. Nonetheless, the patience of everyone with financial responsibility is being tested beyond acceptable limits and my thanks and sympathy go to all involved in this frustrating task.

Over the last year there has been the sadness that accompanies the loss of friends and colleagues. We have lost several much-loved figures in the University's recent history. Each of them appeared, in different capacities, in this Senate-House and it is appropriate for us to remember them here. All of us were deeply shocked by the early death of David Crighton after an heroic battle against cancer. In his own professional field, but also in his College and in his vigorously effective fund-raising for mathematics, his work and achievements stretched far beyond these walls and our University is greatly in his debt.

Robert Runcie added long devotion to his College, the Faculty of Divinity, and the University to great distinction in other spheres, notably of course as Archbishop of Canterbury in difficult times, but also as a distinguished soldier. As High Steward since 1991, he was not only a dignified and loyal participant in our state occasions, but also worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the University's interest. The opening next month of the new Divinity Faculty building, in whose funding he played a great part, will inaugurate a most fitting memorial to his life's work.

John Butterfield was Master of Downing and for two years our Vice-Chancellor under the old arrangements, having already been an 'executive' Vice-Chancellor in Nottingham. He brought to the foundation of our Clinical Medical School, as he did to all of his activities, the humanity, the humour, and the energy that it needed to succeed.

We have also lost other distinguished and long-serving members of the University. Angus Macpherson was Bursar of Kings, Treasurer, and then Registrary of the University for fourteen years at a challenging time in its history. Leslie Martin was amongst the most distinguished of Great Britain's post-war architects, and as our first Professor of Architecture, from 1956, he played a crucial part in the establishment of our course in the subject. Leon Radzinowicz, for fourteen years Wolfson Professor of Criminology, initiated our Institute of Criminology which has taken its place as one of the leading institutions in its field. And finally, Noel Annan, for ten years Provost of King's and then Provost of University College London and Vice-Chancellor of London University, was amongst the most respected figures in higher education in the post-war years.

Each of these colleagues in their individual way contributed to the greatness of Cambridge, and to their families we extend our sincerest condolences.

Whenever I have met the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford in recent months it has too often been under the shadow of some media storm threatening to engulf us both. The term 'Oxbridge' ensures that in the public mind the procedures and policies of our two universities are synthesized. It was for this reason that I thought it important to step into the controversy on access issues earlier in the year, and to write to all secondary school head-teachers to make our position clear. If there is a single benefit to be derived from this lamentable controversy, it is that it gave us and Oxford a platform from which to proclaim the facts. I made a point of issuing detailed statements listing the statistics of our admissions procedures although I realized that the press were little interested in data.

I am in no doubt that there have been times in the past when lack of knowledge of our procedures, and especially of our attempts to reach out to prospective applicants, has resulted in misinformation and baseless rumour. The problem has not just been one of information, but of persuading those who have the talent, but lack the confidence, that they should consider applying to Cambridge. Thanks to many College initiatives, the summer school programme, and the admirable Target Schools and GEEMA projects run by students, there is much less reason now why schools, parents, and pupils should be unaware of what we do. But it is clear from the events of May and June that ignorance remains widespread and we must continue and enlarge our efforts to combat it. We have had effective talks with ministers and have participated enthusiastically in the projects run by Peter Lampl, whose appointment last month as the Government's advisor on access issues I warmly welcome. I have also, as a small part of this process, taken time to speak at maintained schools, as did David Williams, and like him have been impressed with the abilities and enthusiasm of the students that I have met.

The process of motivating students to aspire to the best in higher education must begin early and I am sure that instilling and maintaining motivation is the greatest challenge faced by our schools. From small beginnings, ably led by what is now the University's Press and Publications Office, the University's contribution to National Science Week has grown hugely. The Cambridge Science Week has become one of the most popular in the country and offers to hundreds of families and tens of schools new and exciting insights into the wonders and importance of science. Nothing could be more important to our national future and to the vitality in the years to come of our science and technology departments. I congratulate the organizers and the many willing participants at all levels in the University who have made our Science Week such a success.

In June and September I joined senior representatives of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as Cambridge colleagues and external members, for the first Board meetings of the new Cambridge-MIT Institute. The Board has ratified the Institute's mission to establish joint programmes of undergraduate teaching, professional practice courses, and research. CMI will also set up a national competitiveness network which will communicate the fruits of its efforts to other universities in the UK. In brief we are to work together to help to improve entrepreneurship, productivity, and competitiveness in the UK. With the strong backing of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I believe that this initiative has the potential to do no less than bring about the cultural change that we need in our intellectually based industry.

Throughout its eight centuries Cambridge has always been, in a real sense, an international University. To Cambridge have come from the earliest years the students of many lands. It was the decision of a previous government, however, to raise substantially the fees payable by foreign students and this inspired the great enterprises of the Cambridge Commonwealth Overseas, and European Trusts, which now support some 2,000 students each year, from 100 countries. The Trusts have been the means of opening the doors of Cambridge to many who could never previously have found the means to support themselves here.

These funds have been stretched thinly and for many years there has been an aspiration to found a scheme of fully-funded scholarships similar to the century-old Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford, and with all the direct and indirect benefits they surely produce. As members of the Regent House will know, good fortune, in the form of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has at last smiled on this project and we hope shortly to complete negotiations for a major scheme of fully-funded scholarships for overseas students. The programme is funded to support 225 Gates Cambridge Scholars at one time from all over the world. It is hoped that the first such scholars will arrive in exactly a year's time. I pay warm tribute to the Foundation itself, and especially to Mr William Gates Senior, as well as to the officers of the University Development Office in the United States, in particular the Director, John McCaffery, for the long, patient, and thorough negotiations which led to this new project. This must be not only one of the largest, but also amongst the most far-reaching single benefactions the University has ever received and we, and still more, those young people the programme will directly benefit, are profoundly grateful.

Last year I reported to the Regent House the initial discussions of a project which sought to provide for the arts, humanities, and social sciences some of the support functions which are regarded as commonplace in the sciences. I am very glad to be able to announce today that these explorations seem likely to bear fruit and that a Report of the General Board on the establishment of an Arts and Humanities Institute is expected later this term. With the support of the relevant Councils of Schools, Trinity and St John's Colleges, and with significant funding from the University, this is another long-standing aspiration which it seems likely will be realized sooner rather than later. The details must await the Report, but I am confident that, when fully operational, this new project will greatly improve the opportunities for our own researchers as well as providing a focus for those coming to us from overseas, and will amply meet a long-felt need in this field. I am glad to acknowledge the tireless negotiating skills of Hugh Mellor, who has carried the project forward, building on the initial work of Quentin Skinner.

In the midst of these new initiatives I want to refer to an earlier venture of great significance launched when the University was only 675 years old. The Department of Engineering began with the establishment, on 28 October 1875, of the Professorship of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics. A syndicate was appointed to consider the new subject on 29 April 1875, reported a week later, the necessary Grace was approved when term began in October, and the post was filled in November. It is depressing to reflect that the sclerotic means we use to accomplish change today, in an age when communications can be instantaneous, make the Victorians look almost fleet-of-foot.

When the first candidates for what was called the Mechanical Sciences Tripos passed Part I in 1894 there were seven students. In the current year, if we include Manufacturing Engineering and Electrical and Information Sciences, there were over 800. So greatly has that little acorn grown.

The world, and above all its technologies, have changed out of recognition in the years between, and it is a proud fact that Cambridge has contributed more than its fair share to that revolution. Discoveries and inventions made in the Department's century and a quarter are the foundation stones of much that we take for granted today. To take a just a few examples, Charles Oatley developed the scanning electron microscope which has become the indispensable tool to every branch of science and technology from medicine to microelectronics. Frank Whittle's groundwork on jet propulsion made possible the end of the tyranny of distance. Today, the Department's expertise is used in the design of the highest performance jet engines and its engineers have been world-wide pioneers in micro and nano mechanics and science. The Head of Department's advice was even sought when the Millennium Bridge wobbled. In the information and computer field, the speech recognition group have repeatedly won the USA competition in this technology and progress in three-dimensional imaging offers the chance to revolutionize ultra-sound imaging. Behind these and innumerable other contributions have been a succession of close collaborations with leading industrial companies.

Planning matters and their implications have been of increasing importance over the past year. One thinks of the ever-present problem of affordable housing within reasonable distance of the University, and the growing gap between house prices and the purchasing power of university salaries. These are national issues which must be addressed. We are fortunate indeed, as an institution, that our existing and recent planning permissions give us the space and time gradually to develop the facilities we need, especially in West Cambridge. But without the means to house and transport our people, and to give them an appropriate living environment, we shall be building engines without fuel, and we must continue to strive for a solution.

Early this year I sensed the feeling of power enjoyed by construction workers when I operated (under appropriate guidance and wearing a hard hat) the mechanical digger which began the foundations of the new Computer Laboratory on the West Cambridge Site. This 60-hectare site is certainly the largest single building project ever undertaken in Cambridge and will be one of the largest civil building sites in Europe. There will be much more to hear of it in the years to come, and I am delighted that the planning discussions continue to emphasize the need for an interesting and humane environment, in contrast to what Nicolas Pevsner called 'the extraordinary slums' of the central science sites, which so clearly failed to reflect the care and clarity of thought which produced the great discoveries taking place there. We in this generation have a heavy responsibility for the future and I am confident that we shall rise to it.

Another of the major projects announced in the course of the year both exemplifies the interdisciplinary links on which the future of university science must increasingly be based and the technique of communication, which is one of the things that universities are all about. The Marconi Communications Centre will be established on the West Cambridge Site as part of an outstanding commitment from the company, involving some £40 million. Of this some £18 million will fund a research programme in communications technologies, and there will be an embedded laboratory within the new building. This wide-reaching collaboration already involves computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and economists and it has been pointed out that it should also involve psychologists and physiologists. It is a prime example of how the traditional subject boundaries established in the eighteenth century are breaking down. Through the new Centre, Cambridge will help to shape the future of advanced communication, rather as in past centuries it helped to change the world through the craft of printing. Those changes will not be without social cost and disruption to settled ways: there too I hope that we can help to ease the passage to a much-altered society.

The third building to be built in this first phase at West Cambridge is the 'embedded' Microsoft Research Laboratory. This Microsoft venture has been so successful in drawing the world's top computer science researchers, that Microsoft took up their option to build a separate building rather than housing the laboratory in the smaller space set aside for them within the new Computer Laboratory.

Turning from the west of Cambridge to the south-east, the Regius Professor of Physic's plans to bring the Clinical School's research facilities up to world standards received a tremendous boost when Hutchinson Whampoa committed another £16.5 million to the collaboration with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. This adds to the generous private donation of £12 million received last year to bring the total for this new project to well over £30 million.

In last year's speech I undertook a serious commitment to increase the representation of women at the highest levels in the University. As a step towards this, I have worked together with an external consultancy to undertake a comprehensive equality audit of University staff. This audit has both enabled us better to understand equal opportunities issues at Cambridge and also identified a number of recommendations to take us forward. A steering group has been established to oversee the change we need to implement.

Key to making progress is improving the way we manage ourselves. We are not doing justice to the talent we have at Cambridge if we take a 'sink or swim' attitude to career development. It is fundamental to the success of a university that it provides an environment that allows every student and member of staff to fulfil their intellectual potential. The equality audit identified that many of us with organizational responsibilities currently lack the necessary skills to achieve this aim. We need to invest more time to ensure that those who influence the careers of others are properly trained to do so with complete fairness. Comprehensive training should be a requirement, not a voluntary activity for the few who are far-sighted enough to see the need. I am committed to providing the necessary resources needed to effectively implement the recommendations in the audit report. I see it as vital that we establish a more friendly and supportive environment for everyone.

As I have outlined, this has been a year of major achievements for the University. There is much to be done to implement the new initiatives but when this is done, the University's ability to provide leadership at an international level will be significantly enhanced. From a personal point of view, the creative achievements of our academic staff sustain my optimism and more than balance day to day activities where the Vice-Chancellor's Office seems often to resemble a complaints department. I prefer to think of the presentation of the Pilkington Prizes to ten members of the academic staff in recognition of their teaching excellence, and of the intellectually stimulating inaugural lectures that I preside over where newly-elected Professors so lucidly provide a glimpse of their achievements and the challenges of their subjects.

Of retirements I have time to mention only two. David Harrison retired on Saturday as Master of Selwyn. In this reincarnation, since 1994, he has added immeasurably to the distinction of his earlier long period in Cambridge before he went to be Vice-Chancellor at, successively, Keele and Exeter. As a Deputy Vice-Chancellor, his guidance and counsel has been invaluable, calling upon his unrivalled knowledge of the educational structure of the country and his understanding of the intricacies of the Cambridge system. I am deeply grateful to him and relieved that he and Sheila will continue to live in Cambridge. And I would like to mention David Foreman who retired this summer as an Old Schools Messenger, invariably cheerful and endlessly helpful as he brought me each morning an ever increasing postbag often filled with gloom and complexity.

To the very many other Heads of Houses and senior members who have served as my deputies on innumerable Committees and Syndicates, I extend my heartfelt thanks. To all those who retire today, I wish a long and happy future.

Finally, I must express my gratitude to all the staff of the University, especially the assistant staff who contribute so much, often with little overt acknowledgement. I warmly thank my Deputy Vice-Chancellors, and particularly the Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Anne Lonsdale and Hugh Mellor, for their vigorous activity in furtherance of the University's objectives. The staff of the Old Schools, and particularly the principal officers and the three overworked members of my own office, and above all my wife, have been supportive and considerate.

Now that we are well into the year 2000, it is worth reflecting that in barely eight years we shall be celebrating the University's eight-hundredth birthday. The account I have given of the last year shows how undiminished is the vigour and inventiveness of this ancient institution and how many shining prospects there are for the future. Much remains to be done to improve our ability to attract students from deprived backgrounds, and our financial strength is no match for our international rivals, but we are making progress on these issues and we will surely enter our ninth century as well placed as at any other time in our history.

CAROLINE ANN TUKE MALONE, of New Hall, and SIMON ANTHONY TURNER REDFERN, of Jesus College, retired from the office of Proctor, and delivered the insignia of their office to the Vice-Chancellor.

FRANK HAYDON KING, of Magdalene College, and RICHARD JAMES STIBBS, of Downing College, were elected to the office of Proctor for the year 2000-01, and were admitted to that office by the Vice-Chancellor.

DAVID JOHN CHIVERS, of Selwyn College, and VEDIA EMEL IZZET, of Christ's College, were admitted to the office of Pro-Proctor for the year 2000-01.

CAROLINE ANN TUKE MALONE, of New Hall, and SIMON ANTHONY TURNER REDFERN, of Jesus College, were elected to the office of Deputy Proctor for the year 2000-01, and made their public declaration in accordance with Statute D, VI, 5.

T. J. MEAD, Registrary


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Cambridge University Reporter, 11 October 2000