President and Vice-Chancellor's address – January 2018

Distinguished guests, parents, families, friends – and most importantly postgraduates – good morning/afternoon.

We are here on a special day – perhaps, one of the most memorable of your lives; the culmination of years of education at a higher level and the beginning of new challenges perhaps in further study and in new careers.

You have worked and studied hard and you have succeeded. You have done your job, and now – as President and Vice-Chancellor – it is my job to welcome you to this postgraduate degree congregation, where we formally recognise your outstanding achievement.

You graduate today from a leading UK university committed to international excellence through the creation of world changing research and high quality, inspirational teaching. Leicester is consistently one of the most socially inclusive of the UK’s leading universities with a long-standing commitment to providing fairer and equal access to higher education.

Because of your time at Leicester, you have a better chance of finding the career that you would like to have. Three-quarters of the new jobs created between now and 2020 will be in occupations with a high concentration of graduates, while the unemployment rate for graduates is less than half of that for people who have not been able to complete tertiary study.

Your employability is a testament to the skills that you will have acquired in your time here. And they are endless. You can write dissertations, master languages, solve simultaneous equations, work in teams, and take on particularly testing exam questions.

But at the University of Leicester, our purpose is to equip you not just with an education, but with something broader.  With the spirit of intellectual inquiry; with a deep curiosity. Most of all, we hope that we have shown you the joy of intellectual discovery.

The research conducted here at the University of Leicester spans all the way from the discovery of lost kings and microscopic DNA strands to the telescopes and space vehicles that explore the furthest stretches of the Universe.

This past year has seen a number of significant milestones and achievements for the University:

  • Many of you will have seen the physical changes we have made on our campus. Our new £42m George Davies Centre was opened this year. This is the largest building in the UK built to the Passivhaus standard, which means that the building will use very little additional energy for heating or cooling.  It is named in honour of George Davies  the founder of Next, George at Asda and Per Una for Marks & Spencer, who provided a gift of £5 million to fund a new vascular limb salvage clinic. Indeed, our donations to the University have broken new records with gifts of £2.7 million for transformative kidney research and a share of £5 million for mesothelioma research
  • An ambitious project to replace the roof of our world-famous Engineering Building, which saw all the 2,500 glass panels of the diamond-shaped roof reconstructed and replaced to exacting standards, was completed.  The Daily Telegraph has included the Engineering Building in a national list of the fifty most famous structures in the UK, including Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge. Among its many other plaudits, it was listed top in Historic England’s list of best post-war buildings and was listed as one of the 'world's best unsung buildings' by The Guardian.
  • This year saw the opening of our new Dalian Campus in China in September, with the first intake of 168 students. This will continue to develop and expand and we expect that Dalian will begin to supply a steady stream of students to the University, studying a Leicester degree in China. This will also offer opportunities for students in the UK to potentially take part of their degree in China.  And watch this space over the next few years as we expand our operations globally.
  • Suzie Imber from our Physics & Astronomy Department won the BBC show  Astronauts: Do You Have What it Takes. She received training and a personal recommendation from International Space Station astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield.
  • The University is home to the only formal UK science lead for the Juno mission, to study our solar system's largest planet, Jupiter. Described by NASA as their most difficult project ever, the space craft has travelled 2.8billion kms and will orbit Jupiter 37 times.
  • Some of our most impressive research findings this year relate to discoveries that reshaped our understanding of the past:
    • We discovered a new 430 million-year-old fossil and named it in honour of Sir David Attenborough – who grew up on the University campus.
    • Our archaeologists found a striking and apparently unique square monument beneath the world famous Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, cared for by the National Trust
    • The first evidence for Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain was discovered by archaeologists from this University.  The team suggests that Julius Caesar’s fleet first landed in Britain in 54BC at Pegwell Bay on the Isle of Thanet, the north—east point of Kent

The reputation of our research impact was backed up in November when we received the Times Higher Education Datapoints Merit Award at the Higher Education ‘Oscars’, the THE Awards. The Times Higher said:  “The University of Leicester has shown time and again that it produces world-beating research and groundbreaking discoveries. Our data now show that it also punches well above its weight in terms of bang for the buck, too.”

Of course, it is this spirit of discovery that we hope we have instilled in you as you graduate. Discovery is about imaginative new thinking, underpinning fundamental advances in our understanding of the world around us, and applying that expertise to business and community needs, and delivering solutions to the global – and the personal – challenges that we encounter along the way.

We can’t promise that the years ahead of you will always be easy, but if we have done our jobs right and equipped you with the values that sum up what it means to be a University of Leicester student - you will find your way through.  Like the 180,000 University of Leicester students who have gone before you.

Our history and achievements are going to attract particular attention this year. November 11th will be the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI, and the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the endowment fund for the University College of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, the forerunner to the University. We are one of only two universities in the world that was established as a living legacy to WWI and plans are well underway for the celebration of our centenary.   We hope you will be able us to join us in these celebrations which will lead up to the anniversary in 2021 of 100 years since we opened our door to our first students – all 9 of whom were women.

You should remember and reflect on our university’s beginnings and we trust that this will not be the last we see of you as you join our community of alumni around the world, many of whom remain in touch.

Your loved ones should be proud that you are graduating today; and for those family and friends in the audience today, don’t feel shy about clapping and cheering your loved ones as they cross the stage – you won’t get many days like this!

For those of you who are graduating, we hope that you are as proud of the university that has served you, as we are of you.

I congratulate you on the degrees you have obtained, and on behalf of the University of Leicester, I wish you every success.

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