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A Year Of Listening

Professor Stephen J Toope (Trinity 1983) is the University’s Vice-Chancellor.

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    Kate Copeland
- 4 minute read
Professor Stephen J Toope

Over the past 12 months, I have had the great pleasure of travelling across the Collegiate University, meeting with the exceptional people who make Cambridge the world-leading institution that it is.

I have confirmed first-hand what I could only speculate about a year ago: that the excellence on which our reputation rests is genuine, and widespread.

As part of getting to know and understand the University, I have also spent much time listening to staff and students through a formal consultation process – mycambridge. A report summarising the feedback to the consultation has just been published.

The consultation, alongside my various formal and informal meetings with staff and students, has offered a unique opportunity to understand where our greatest strengths lie – as well as a frank assessment of what challenges and risks we face.

The questions raised through the consultation go to the heart of our work. How do we maintain and enhance the infrastructure needed for our research at a time when traditional sources of public funding are diminishing? How do we give our students the best experience we can – from offering appropriate financial support, to ensuring their academic and personal wellbeing needs are fully met? How do we put in place the right incentives and supports to sustain and expand our excellence in teaching? How do we ensure that all our staff – in academic, administrative and assistant roles – are fairly rewarded, and appropriately encouraged in their professional development? How do we nurture a truly welcoming, diverse and inclusive environment for students and staff? How do we remain a global university, open to talent and to partnerships around the world, even as we grapple with the uncertainties of Brexit?

Few of the issues that emerged from the consultation are entirely surprising. But the consistency with which some of them were raised gives me a clear indication of where our priorities must lie – not only in the year ahead, but in the years to come.

How do we remain a global university, open to talent and to partnerships around the world, even as we grapple with the uncertainties of Brexit?

I am pleased to note that, across the University, work is already under way to address many of those priorities. From our engagement with local authorities over housing and transport, to our initiatives for widening participation in admissions; from our efforts to enhance the University’s global presence, to our initiatives promoting equality and dignity in the workplace – I have witnessed teams across the University intensely engaged in serious efforts to make Cambridge the university we all want it to be.

The end of the consultation is not the end of the conversation. I am confident, however, that what I have heard over the past 12 months allows me to sketch out some widely shared objectives and common goals.

The first of these must be to safeguard those unique elements that have made our university an exemplar of learning and scholarship globally: a fundamental commitment to critical thinking and academic freedom; a tightly knit community of colleges that fosters interdisciplinary dialogue; a democratic system of governance that includes, and benefits from, diverse viewpoints; a robust system of deliberation that ensures our university’s values are maintained in all our partnerships – whether in research, education, or philanthropy; and a common recognition that Cambridge must be a local good citizen, a regional champion, a national asset and a global leader.

I said a year ago that I wanted our University to be “an unstoppable, unapologetic force for knowledge and understanding, for more inclusive community, and for the betterment of our shared world”.

Today I am more ambitious than ever for our University. I also recognise that, in order to deliver on our ambitions, it is essential that we adopt a stance of modesty, of listening to others, and of learning from their concerns and experiences.

We have to be better at listening to our society – locally, nationally, globally. We have to be better at sharing the knowledge we create. And we have to be better at telling the story of what we do, how we do it and why.

Read the Vice-Chancellor’s message in full.