Principal's Speech


AFTERNOON GRADUATION CEREMONY - Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry,
Faculty of Science and Engineering

Chancellor, Lord Provost, ladies and gentlemen

I welcome you all most warmly to the City, the University of Dundee and to this great celebration of success. [N: In a previous life I campaigned very hard for nurse training to be an integral part of the higher education system in this country. I could not be more pleased to be here this morning - the School of Nursing and its students enrich the University and other Universities up and down the land. British nurses are without doubt the most skilled in the world and in a recent visit to Dundee the National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting commended the all round excellence of our School.

On Monday I attended my own daughter’s graduation ceremony - my first experience of graduation as a parent. Today and tomorrow, I take part in four graduation ceremonies for the first time as Principal and Vice Chancellor of the University of Dundee. It is a great honour to be the Principal of such a fine University - like all of you I am very proud to be here. To fill the Caird Hall four times in two days with more than 2,200 graduands and many thousands of parents, family members, partners, children and friends is no mean feat - it is a fitting tribute to the hard work of the staff and students of the University over the past few years of study.

I was looking for tips at my daughter’s graduation ceremony. The Principal spoke eloquently but when I asked Jenny afterwards what she thought, she said:

'Interesting but he did drone on a bit.' Adding that she spent most of the time worrying about the possibility of tripping as she walked across the platform!

I promise that I won’t 'drone on' if you don’t trip!

This is an interesting and fun time of year - it rains at Wimbledon (and occasionally in Dundee), Australia beat England at cricket, no one British can quite win the British Open and newspaper columnists deprived of their daily diet of material from Westminster and Holyrood fill the papers with what have become known as ‘silly season’ stories. It is also a time when many Principals and Vice Chancellors feel compelled to comment publicly (and sometimes at length) about the trials and tribulations of higher education.

Well, I am going to resist that temptation today. It is true that Universities are having to cope with the breathtaking speed of advance in science and technology but they are also driving it. It is true that Universities are not immune from the effects of globalisation but education and knowledge are global currencies. It is true that by widening access we are experiencing unprecedented growth in the student population but we take great pride in our access programmes in Dundee and they consistently provide a launch pad for some of our best performing students. And it is true that we are operating in a very competitive labour market but we can still attract world ranking teachers and researchers to come here.

So Universities including this one are resilient - they have shown over a thousand years of history in Europe that they can change and develop to meet changing circumstances. They are also very complex - indeed one of the things that I have learned here is that there is a paradox at the heart of good Universities: on the one hand they uphold the traditional values of truth, freedom and tolerance, on the other they have a responsibility to challenge the status quo through research and discovery and the creative talents of their staff and students. Universities are the mark of a civilised society - they need to be constantly nurtured and improved. Those of us who are charged with the stewardship of our Universities should not waste time bleating about Government policies for higher education. We are the experts and we should have the self-confidence to determine our own future.

In Dundee we are striving to do four things really well:

-we want to enable learning through expert teaching - providing programmes which are accessible and stimulating

-we aim to foster and deliver world ranking research (and we succeed)

-we do all that we can to contribute to economic development through the commercialisation of our research base, and

-we recognise the importance of contributing to the social and cultural life of our City.

We will hold fast to these objectives over the next few years. For example we are developing a new Centre for Learning and Teaching and our merger with Northern College will help us establish new education and learning technologies as an engine for change in the University. We will continue to build on our research strengths in health and life sciences and in art and design and we will take up new challenges in information sciences, communications and the environmental sciences. We will also continue to support the economic development of the region by stimulating new ventures in biotechnology, microelectronics and the creative industries. We add to the social fabric of the city through the education of professional people (doctors, nurses, dentists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, accountants and engineers) many of whom will continue to work in the local community and in Scotland - and some who will fly the flag across the world. And we add greatly to the cultural life of Scotland through our intense interest in Scottish history and politics, literature, music, the visual arts and our concern for the built environment.

Universities are about people and it is the staff and students of the University who make all of this possible. Today we honour the contribution of our graduands for 2001. In your own way each and every one of you has enriched this University. Your degree is a hugely important milestone and you should celebrate your success. But this is the beginning of a journey, not the end. We live in a society that now demands that we constantly update and refine your knowledge and skills. Don’t stop learning - your career will take twists and turns that cannot be predicted and you will find fulfilment in other parts of your life that are currently unimaginable. I hope that you have enjoyed your time at Dundee, I wish you success in the future and I ask you to find ways of keeping in touch with the University - your University.

Sci/Eng/Med & Dentistry - And savour your graduation - no other student of science, engineering, medicine or dentistry anywhere in the world will graduate in such distinguished company. Present today are:

-Sir James Black, our Chancellor, winner of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discoveries that led to the development of two of the most widely used families of drugs - beta blockers and histamine receptor blocking drugs used in the treatment of ulcers. His research has had a very direct impact on human health worldwide.

-the UK’s three most cited scientists: Professor Salvador Moncada (the world’s leading expert on inflammation and cardiovascular research),

-Professor Sir Philip Cohen (the world leader in protein phosphorylation and winner of the 1997 Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine)

-Professor Sir David Lane (the man who discovered the p.53 gene) and also

-Professor Sir Alfred Cuschieri (a pioneer of keyhole surgery, honoured this year with a prestigious award from the Society of American Gastro-intestinal Endoscopic Surgeons).

-Professor Jim Cairns -(the leading expert on high resolution electronic structures) and

-my predecessor Dr Ian Graham-Bryce, a distinguished scientist in his own right and now a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

Remember this day and be inspired in all that you do in the future.

My final words of thanks are to all staff at the University for their unfailing support and hard work and to the parents, families, friends, partners and children of our graduands. Your support - moral, emotional and financial - and your encouragement through the difficult times have played a crucial role in achieving the successes that we celebrate today. You have every right to be very proud and very happy.

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