Speech: University Global Partnership Network (UGPN) Conference, 9 April 2018

Opening address

Good morning, and welcome to Surrey!

I am delighted to welcome so many distinguished guests who have travelled a long way to join us.

I would like particularly acknowledge Professor Paul Wellings, Vice Chancellor of the University of Wollongong; Professor Vahan Agopyan, Rector of the University of Sao Paolo; Professor Warwick Arden, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of North Carolina State University; Professor Fang Jiancheng, Vice President of Beihang University; Vivienne Stern, Director of Universities UK International; and Professor Vince Emery, Prof Judy Raper, and Prof Bailian Li, and other members of the  UGPN Executive Committee. And our Surrey colleagues who could be candidates for the ‘Shortest Distance Travelled’ prize.

We are very pleased to host this year’s UGPN meeting.  Since UGPN’s inception in 2011, we have been proud to be part of this small but effective global network. As we go from strength to strength here at Surrey, we are also able to develop more productive collaborations with members of the network.

I am told that it’s always good to start with a Top 10 list.

Here are ‘Humanity’s Top 10 Problems for the Next Century’, according to the late professor Rich Smalley at Rice University[1]:

  2. WATER
  3. FOOD

Recognise these? The challenges of the 21st century.

This leads me to a question: What it is a university for? Or, in other words, what is the real mission of a university?

For the German philosopher Humboldt in 1810, a university was to do with the “whole” community of scholars and students engaged in a common search for truth.

For Cardinal Newman in 1852, it was about teaching universal knowledge. For Lord Robbins in 1963, universities are for instructing skills, promoting general powers of the mind, advancement of learning, and transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship.

Or perhaps they are also for reminding us to be humble as we come face to face with the vastness of knowledge. As J. Robert Oppenheimer said, ‘No one should escape our universities without knowing how little he knows.’

For me – as echoed by the UGPN mission statement — a university’s real purpose is all about transforming society and changing lives through education and research. In essence, our mission is to help society to meet the top 10 challenges facing our world today and tomorrow. As universities, we make real impact through our graduates and research.

The word ‘impact’, of course, peppers all our conversations now.

But what IS impact anyway?

It is relevance to the quality of people’s lives – right here, right now. And we can only deliver this if we stand in a place of ‘holism’, recognising that no single stakeholder possesses the answers. To quote the author and management expert, Ken Blanchard: “None of us is as smart as all of us.”

The UGPN is an expression of the global and collaborative outlook of the modern University. Through it, we renew our purpose and mission to harness our joint strengths to tackle the urgent global issues and local challenges of our day. There can be no higher aspiration.

In pursuit of this ambition, UGPN has brought together students and staff to exchange ideas, share information, and collaborate on research projects and publications, which are already demonstrating some remarkable outcomes. For example, in 2017 researchers from Surrey launched the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE), to tackle local air pollution problems in India. This is a joint UGPN initiative, to create solutions that will ensure “clean air for all” in both developed and developing countries.

I believe passionately in the impact of universities – both in the present, by contributing to a vibrant local community, employment, and opportunities – and in the future, with our cutting edge research, innovation, thought leadership, and policy. More and more, this progress happens through establishing conversations.

Our mission here at Surrey is to inspire people to make an impact, by ‘connecting people with ideas’, and we can do this most effectively through collaboration and partnership. In this way we achieve greater impact.

In recent decades, academia has truly come out of its ‘ivory tower’, and is now connected to life locally and globally.  Research and innovation are happening in real time, in the real world. We are ALL shifting gears, re-assessing, and re-aligning to keep pace with a Digital Economy.

Universities must always strive to imagine better, to reach beyond our grasp towards a future where we all may realise our true potential. We are the cradle of society’s future – the decisions, commitments, and partnerships that we make NOW will reverberate far beyond our campus. We must continually be turning our collaborations and our research toward this supreme goal.

At this conference, we also look to the future of UGPN, and to building a critical mass to strengthen our partnership. New members bring richness and expertise that accentuates our effectiveness.

By working together, we can deliver a transformational impact to society, shaping a better future for a world that is faced with far more than 10 challenges.

So, I hope that you will make the most of this unique opportunity to network, and exchange ideas and develop new fruitful collaborations.  And finally I wish you all have a stimulating few days and enjoy your stay in Guildford.

Thank you.


[1] Rich Smalley, Rice University 2004