A welcome to the new academic year

As Rector of the University of Aberdeen, I write a column in the student newspaper, the Gaudie. Given the recent discussions (!) about immigration and education, I thought I’d post my piece from a couple of weeks ago here.

Image taken during industrial action supported by AUSA and the student body earlier in 2016

Welcome (back) to Aberdeen, and to this wonderful community of learning, living, playing, and laughing. As Rector, it makes me very happy to see you start or return to your studies at the start of a new academic year. I welcome you all, wherever you come from in the world: regardless of what is happening in the media and in UK politics, I want to assure you that you are welcome here.

And I am pleased, too, to be writing this column, reinstating the Rector’s Rambles; my take on issues, events or other ponderings that I hope will be of interest to you, and will challenge you to think a little bit differently about the world.

The position of Rector is an interesting one; one that tells you a great deal about this institution and and Scottish Higher Education more generally. Rectors are directly elected by you, the students, every three years, and they chair the University’s governing body, the Court. They are a clear statement of and commitment to “the democratic intellect”: that universities exist to serve not just themselves, their students, or their staff, but the wider public good, to improve and support our society and make our world better for all.

At the start of the year, we might all take a moment to pause to consider the important role education plays in Aberdeen, in Scotland, and the wider world, fostering the intellectual life of this great city and of the nation. Education is not just for the very rich who can afford it, but for all who can benefit from it. Education is about so much more than obtaining knowledge and skills to become cogs in the machine of the labour market. It is about expanding our minds, our horizons. It is about pushing the boundaries of the possible to create a better future for our people, our communities, our world.

It is most definitely NOT about the market, or about treating students as customers. If we look back to Ancient Greece, which, amongst others, created the foundations of thousands of years of Western thought, we see that education was about the power of curiousness, enquiry, experimentation, not the power of the market or the power of citizens as customers.

Given the political and economic context of Scotland, the UK, Europe – and Aberdeen – today, we have to come together and work together to ensure we do not lose sight of the purpose and value of education, of ourselves as citizens, of this great institution.

I look forward to meeting many of you over the coming year, seeing your minds and hearts grow as you learn, teach, work and play, and working with you to create the changes our world so desperately needs.

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