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Issue 511, 31 October 2005
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Leader column

Professor Michael Arthur“Leeds was the making of me,” Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said. “I spent four extremely happy years here, and I owe the University an inestimable debt of gratitude.

“I was struck the very first day by Leeds’ classlessness, by the fact that where you came from, what school you had been to, simply didn’t matter. What mattered instead was who you felt you were.

“I learnt a lot of law, and I learnt even more about life. It was vibrant - intellectually, politically and socially. And the great thing is that Leeds has built on the strengths I enjoyed in the sixties, and is even better today.”

Time and again, Jack Straw’s words are echoed by our graduates in all walks of life, all over the world, and at all levels. I’ve met a number now, recent graduates and some very powerful people at the top of their profession. What they all have in common is the high regard in which they hold the University, and the formative effect it has had on their lives.

Many tell me about their first experience of meeting different kinds of people here, like one major industrialist, who is now advising the United Nations on business policy and strategy. Brought up in Bradford, he had been educated at public school, and when he came to Leeds he met an African person for the first time.

Nearly fifty years later he described this ‘incredible experience’ to me, and how he took this chap all over the country to show him the culture of England. Twenty years after they graduated and lost touch, they met again by chance at a business meeting in Nigeria. It was as if the decades had melted away, and their shared bond in the University of Leeds brought them together again.

Another senior businessman, on being knighted for services to engineering, drove from Manchester to south Wales to pay homage to his former tutor, that great champion of concrete, Professor R H Evans. For him, and many others, Leeds was a life-changing experience and a platform for career and personal success.

So how can we harness all this goodwill and support to ensure that we continue to enrich people’s lives and to fulfil our mission – ‘to create, advance and disseminate knowledge and develop outstanding graduates and scholars to make a major impact on global society?”

Our graduates can help us in three ways - and all the evidence suggests they are waiting to be asked.

First, we want them to spread the word about Leeds - our ambitions and our new momentum. We are in contact with nearly 110,000 addressable alumni all over the world - from city boardrooms to the refugee camps of Aceh, from the British forces in Iraq to the laboratories of America. We will be keeping each of them informed, systematically, about what’s going on at Leeds, about how we value them as lifelong members of the University, and how they can become involved in our plans.

Secondly, this incredible community of alumni can bring us new networks, and offer our students great opportunities - such as the 150 work placements we’ve just secured with the global management company Accenture, where one of the partners is a graduate. Our students will have to compete and prove themselves of course, but we can help find people to help them get a foot in the door.

The potential is there in all walks of life - in the art and museum world alone we have graduates at the Tate, the National Gallery, the Wallace Collection, the V & A, the Natural History Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Science Museum, the National Museums in Liverpool - as well as the Getty in Los Angeles.

The chief curator of painting and sculpture at MoMA in New York - arguably the best modern art museum in the world - is a great supporter. He still recalls studying under Quentin Bell, and has forgiven us for throwing him out of University accommodation for decorating his room and bed with a Gauguin-inspired mural.

Thirdly, we are going to ask alumni to take a stake in the University through financial support. This University was built on the philanthropy of the Clothworkers, of Parkinson and of Brotherton among others. Although it will not replace government funding, external income will be needed to add excellence and quality to our core activities. All the world’s top universities have a significant development and advancement function - we will not be the exception!

Once graduates have told me how happy and important their life was at Leeds, they all ask the same question - is it still like that? Is it still a wonderful experience on this campus? Yes, I tell them, it is still a unique environment in which students thrive and really enjoy their time with us. And with your support and help, we will keep that going.

Professor Michael J P Arthur
University Vice-Chancellor

 

 
Page owner: pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk | Updated: 31/10/05

 

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