Graduation mugs

Dear colleague,

This week will be the last time I shall be on the stage at the Octagon shaking hands with our graduating students. This is an emotional experience and I shall miss seeing the serried ranks of proud supporters surrounding the students in the hall.

I always feel that the University is an important place, but never more than when I see the visible pride, often tinged with relief, of the people who have supported our students in their time at Sheffield.

If you have been to a graduation ceremony, you will know that I take the opportunity to thank all of you for the way you have made their student careers possible. Well, in fact, I only get the chance to thank the members of academic staff on the platform so, before I thank them again, let me make clear that when I think of the University I really think of all of my colleagues here at Sheffield.

I always feel that the University is an important place, but never more than when I see the visible pride, often tinged with relief, of the people who have supported our students in their time at Sheffield.

Professor sir keith burnett

When my very dear friend Bill Phillips won the Nobel Prize, he told me that one of the most important things for him was the pride that everyone at his institution could take in the award. He truly meant this. The fact that the person who kept his office clean took explicit pride in his achievement, and told him so in person, was precious to him.

So I truly hope that all of our staff - each and every one of you, my dear colleagues - will take pride in the achievements of our students and their teachers.

When I think of our University I certainly think of the cleaners who have kept this place spotless for us all. I think of the staff across the residences who run an award-winning show. I think of the security staff, recently given the highest accolade, keeping our students safe on their journeys around the campus and being on the front line during occasional moments of personal crisis.

I think of our award-winning library, which is a key element of so much of their study. I think of the estates department who keep so many aspects of this great place running.

I think of the counsellors and the doctors, the student advisors. I think of CiCS, our learning technologists and the staff that keep our critical infrastructure running.

In fact, there are so many aspects of our University that I have seen working. I suspect I have seen more than many and how much dedication it takes to make our University what it is. I should stop or this will be too long. Whatever role you play at the University of Sheffield, thank you.

But I do come back to thanking our teachers. Forgive an old teacher for giving them an extra dose of gratitude, because this place cannot be what it is without its scholars. Scholars who learn new things about the world and teach our students about them.

Aristotle said that the true test of our need to learn is to teach. That is the truth.

We have heard some strange and distorted views on teaching of late, mostly driven by the view that universities can be organised according to market forces. This is a view of humanity stripped of the real forces that matter.

These are the values that drive the vocation of those who learn and teach. It is the drive to understand the world in all of its exquisite complexity and beauty. To be able to understand it so that the insights can be passed on to future generations. That it can be used in so many ways to make our society - yes, I'm going to say it - a civilisation.

Of late we have had a government that believes that civilisation can be built using a market, or is it a meerkat, approach to almost every aspect of our public realm - from trains to power to water. I have never believed this was anything but an ill-conceived, badly-implemented right-wing ideology. I could not believe it would be
used on our beloved universities, but it was.

It was, therefore, a comfort to read in the House of Lords report on the funding of Higher Education that the opposition to such a view - an opposition this whole University, both staff and students, has steadily put forward - is entirely correct. We were right to think that higher tuition fees would lead to new problems and perverse outcomes. That it will be a great burden on students now and in the future. That it would not lead to a true market in the provision of Higher Education. It never could and never will.

It was an even greater blessing to hear that our own approach to teaching is strongly endorsed by the most rigorous independent and international ranking system available, produced by the Times Higher Education. We are listed in the top ten of UK institutions for teaching, equally placed with one of the other places I have
taught, the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine. Sheffield teachers, be proud!

You should also be confident that Sheffield cannot be fairly accused of dropping its standards in the degrees it awards. I have personally looked at the examination papers from Sheffield over the years and can tell you we have kept the extraordinary standards of a Sheffield degree along with the classifications we award.

So in this Graduation Week, take pleasure in all that you have done to make this the great University it really is. I have never been prouder of the place I have worked in.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett CBE FRS FLSW
President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield