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Honorary Graduate's Speech, Sir Howard Newby, Doctor of Letters (DLitt)

Sir Howard Newby, President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (2001-2002) received his honorary degree on Monday, September 9, 2002 during a University of Leicester degree congregation which formed part of the opening ceremony for the BA Festival of Science. The following is his response after the degree ceremony oration. 

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentleman, like Peter my first task is really to thank the University for this honour that you’ve bestowed on me and through the Vice-Chancellor thank Senate and also to thank the public orator for his not too embarrassing oration for which I am mightily relieved. I was hoping my football affiliation wouldn’t be mentioned today not least because Leicester City play Derby County on Saturday and I am of course, as someone born and brought up just up the A6, only too aware of the certain rivalries of the two East Midland cities, but nevertheless makes the honour that the University has decided to bestow me particularly welcome since they have obviously had to overcome considerable prejudice to do so.

But I must also be honest and say that of course the honour is not something I take being bestowed upon me personally at all, it is very much an honour bestowed on the office of President of the British Association.

As you have already heard, in many respects the Association and this University do share certain important traditions. I really am therefore particularly pleased to be here during the University’s 80th Anniversary, when the University is also coming to the end of its celebrations of that wonderful achievement and we feel all of us at the Association very privileged to share in that. 

I think I would describe the nature of the sharing between the University and the Association as follows. I think both the British Association and the University are classic institutions that follow along, in my mind, a cherished tradition in this country of being civic institutions and in the full meaning of that sense. 

The University has a history as being a civic University. It is one of those great institutions which stands between the state and the individual - there aren’t that many left these days not as many as there used to be certainly in our society - and it is very important that those institutes continue to flourish, as indeed this one does.  It is not perhaps a very fashionable view of the University but I think the Vice-Chancellor summarised many of its elements in his speech - a commitment to excellence, both in research and in teaching and learning and, in particular I think, part of the civic tradition of the universities in this country is a determination to ensure that the benefits of the knowledge that is created in our institutions is passed on as effectively as possible to all those who can make use of it - whether in the business community in the voluntary sector in the health service and  elsewhere, and the University of Leicester is certainly in the full front of that. 

It is a civic University too in the sense that it is very much at the heart of the economic development of the city of Leicester and the county of Leicestershire and indeed the East Midlands more generally, but in doing so never loses sight of the fact that it needs to bring to bear upon everything it does, truly international levels of excellence.  It adds to the social inclusion agenda, as you’ve heard, extending education opportunities to all those students - of whatever age-  local, national and international, who can benefit from higher education in this place.

So I think this evening we are celebrating 80 years of the University of Leicester, but 80 years too, and more than 80 years in the Association’s case, of a shared civic tradition, and I really do thank the University not only for the warmth with which the Association has been received already this week, but also in its commitment, when everyone is so busy these days, to making this festival a success - and it is really on that note I want to end. 

There is gathered behind us here on the platform a group of colleagues whose efforts are so often overlooked.  It is often said of academics that we have long holidays and wouldn’t it be a wonderful job, well their presence here just demonstrates the falsity of that. Everyone in this University is working really hard as you know at this time of the year, preparing not only for the new academic year but continuing to conduct their research and their other activities.  They do this despite the appalling pay of academics in this country because they have a genuine vocation, a vocation to do the best by their students, the best by this University and the best by this city and this region. 

Finally, I do want to say a little bit about the person who is least often thanked on these occasions, and that is the Vice-Chancellor - Vice-Chancellors I know, to my cost, don’t get thanked very often. I do though want to thank this Vice-Chancellor. We have known each other and have a shared academic background for more than 30 years. This Vice-Chancellor is leading this University into a new era of excellence, it is a University on the move on all fronts, it is a University I am sure will continue to develop in the future, so to come back to my scene of the civic tradition it is a University of which this city and this county will be even more proud as we move forward into the future.


September 2002

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Last updated: 26 September 2002 17:00
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