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Title: Vice-Chancellor's Oration 2020 | University of Oxford
Description: Professor Louise Richardson has delivered her annual Oration to the University in the Sheldonian Theatre. Here is the full text of the speech:
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Texto: Vice-Chancellor's Oration 2020 | University of Oxford Skip to main content Home Home Admissions Undergraduate Graduate Continuing education Research Divisions Research impact Libraries Innovation and Partnership Support for researchers Research in conversation Public Engagement with Research News & Events Events Science Blog Arts Blog Oxford and coronavirus Oxford and Brexit News releases for journalists Filming in Oxford Find An Expert About Organisation Facts and figures Oxford people Oxford Access International Oxford Building Our Future Jobs 牛津大学 Search News & Events Events Regular events in the University Year Black History Month at Oxford Women Making History: Centenary Events First Animals Online University Events Office Science Blog Arts Blog Oxford and coronavirus Oxford and Brexit News releases for journalists Filming in Oxford Find An Expert Vice-Chancellor's Oration 2020 Image credit: Ian Wallman Published 6 Oct 2020 Share This Tweet Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on Reddit Home News Vice-Chancellor's Oration 2020 Vice-Chancellor's Oration 2020 University Institutional Professor Louise Richardson has delivered her annual Oration to the University in the Sheldonian Theatre. Here is the full text of the speech: Colleagues, thank you for making time to attend this meeting of Congregation to hear my Oration, an address that traditionally reflects on our achievements over the past year and points forward to outline our direction of travel for the future. I am especially grateful to you for convening today in an environment in which we are obliged to spread ourselves across the vast Sheldonian Theatre to minimize risk of spreading infection. There is a certain irony in our having to abandon the usual setting of the Oration, Convocation House, as that was where the London Parliament met during the plagues of the 17th century. In those days, members of the University were also obliged to practice social distancing, and our academics led the national effort against the plagues then, too. COVID-19 This has been a year unlike any other. A year of fire-fighting to contain a global pandemic and to continue our vital research, teaching and administration under new and challenging circumstances. I would like to begin by taking a moment to acknowledge the enormous debt of gratitude the University owes to you, and to all of its staff. Firstly, I’d like to thank our cleaners. They are at the front line of keeping our buildings safe to use. One positive effect of this crisis has been to heighten awareness within all organisations that our daily well-being depends on those whose work is, too often, as invisible as it is invaluable. Today, I want to pay particular tribute to those who have kept the lights on, the computer networks running, the advice to staff and students flowing: our caretakers and caregivers whose support underlies all aspects of the study we engage in and the learning we share. I doubt there is anyone among us who has not felt a sense of loss during the pandemic. Some of you may have lost family or friends to COVID-19: if so, my heart goes out to you. Even if that is not the case, most of you will be feeling the loss of certain freedoms – to travel without restrictions, to use certain libraries or laboratories, to attend conferences, to socialise freely with friends and colleagues. We have missed the subtle ecology of academic life, where chance meetings in the dining hall or the hallway can lead to significant initiatives. Our homes have had to serve in many different roles: sometimes doing duty as nursery, school, library, office, hairdressing salon and gym. Scholarship has been a quick-change act, particularly for those with caring responsibilities. I appreciate how weary you may be feeling after six months of uncertainty and upheaval. Yet I also know that we have learned a great deal and made significant gains during this pandemic: that it has shown the very best this University can be and can do. So, without for a moment downplaying the difficulties this academic year has brought us, I do want to celebrate our achievements and to speak positively, indeed glowingly, of the work Oxford is doing. I would like to recognise the enormous effort that colleagues have made to adapt to new ways of working when COVID hit us, and how rapid and successful our adaptation has been. When asked how Trinity term had gone for them, most departments said the transition to remote teaching had been remarkably – some said surprisingly – smooth, notwithstanding the Herculean efforts in difficult circumstances. In general, a combination of recorded lectures, Canvas tools and online meetings enabled students to undertake all their planned teaching. To give a sense of the scale of the operation: in a single month in Trinity term, 61,000 hours of content was delivered to students via Panopto, and the students were overwhelmingly content with the content. Student evaluations showed satisfaction rates of over 80% for online tutorials and supervisions, and 75% for recorded lectures. That is a tremendous accolade. Running exams remotely was also a major achievement, with over 1,000 exams made available in more than 18,000 exam sittings over 10 weeks. The e-Assessment project will ensure that we have a secure and sustainable digital assessment service throughout the period of disruption, and will offer exam boards a greater range of choices for digital assessments in the future. It is too soon to say what the financial impact of the pandemic will be on the University. Our initial estimates suggested that it would cost us £90 million in the first year. This cost related principally to lost student income, research income and exhibition, conference and trading revenue. It also reflects our necessary investment in preparation for Michaelmas term, with COVID testing for staff and students, adaptations of the learning environment, funding research extensions for postgraduate research students to ensure that they have time to complete their degrees, and an enhanced ‘returning carers’ fund to ease the return to work. We have also made significant additional investment in IT and in our library system. Oxford is fortunate in having unrestricted reserves to draw down, of which Council has approved our using up to £60 million to cover our lost income. We can thereby avoid the more radical financial steps other institutions have taken and protect our current staff. We are making savings by cutting costs, deferring planned capital expenditure, and freezing recruitment and merit-based awards. The University remains resolutely committed to protecting existing jobs, to going ahead with the implementation of the Oxford Living Wage, and to ensuring that all staff on furlough receive 100% of their salary. There is every hope that our budgets have been conservative in projecting possible loss of income and that the extremely robust – indeed unprecedently high -- student numbers we are seeing this term herald the beginning of economic recovery. We remain cautious in our budgeting plans, however, aiming always to protect the University’s mission and care for current students and staff, while being mindful of our responsibilities to future generations. Emergencies take us out of our familiar environments. I am sure that each of us can individually think of things we have had to learn over the past six months that we would not otherwise have learned. Nouns like ‘Teams’ and verbs like ‘Zoom’ have acquired entirely new meanings for us all. I’d like briefly to reflect on what the University has learned during the pandemic and what we can take forward from this period to enhance our work in the future. In educational terms, we have learned from the successful move to open-book exams and to some forms of e-assessment. We now know that small-group and one-to-one tutorials work well online: students working remotely particularly appreciate the ability to replay recorded lectures to consolidate their notes and revise complicated topics. We know that larger groups are trickier to teach online and we have enhanced Microsoft Teams with added features in preparation for the new academic year. We have also modernised and integrated our digital library resources. The 4,000 new e-books we purchased for Trinity term, and the digital platforms we have invested in, have proven invaluable, and will enhance the creativity of our teaching in the years to come. We have learned from the provision of a range of remote student services, from counselling to careers. These will continue to be enabling in future. We will also continue to run compelling online access and outreach events. The pandemic has forced us to reach out urgently to students who were affected by financial hardship and other difficulties – we have improved our safety net, DDH, and mitigating circumstances processes. The University has set aside funds to support students facing financial difficulty as a result of COVID-19: an Emergency Assistance Fund in Trinity term to assist with unexpected costs, and a more substantial COVID Hardship Fund for the coming academic year. We have learned that the myth that Oxford is slow moving and cumbersome is just that: a myth. Not only did we adapt our teaching at lightning speed, we also adapted our research – and the entire world has benefited. In January, hearing that colleagues in the Jenner Institute – under the leadership of Professors Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert – had been working on MERS, and believed their work could be adapted to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, the University immediately agreed to provide a £1 million underwrite from the recently established Strategic Research Fund to enable the team at the Jenner to ramp up their work. We judged that, if the venture proved successful, other funding would follow, as indeed it has. Government, international organizations and generous private individuals, who contributed over £27 million, have invested in Oxford’s vaccine. Within 100 days of learning the genetic sequence of COVID-19, Professor Gilbert and her team had a vaccine candidate so that Professor Andy Pollard and his team in the Oxford Vaccine Group could begin clinical trials. This vaccine has now successfully passed through phase 1 and 2 trials and results from mid-July show that the vaccine is safe and effective in triggering an immune response involving both antibodies and T cells. Phase 3 trials are underway. People across the globe held their collective breath when the vaccine group, adhering to the strictest safety protocols, made the decision to pause work when a volunteer fell ill. But trials have now resumed in the UK, Brazil and South Africa and, along with people across the globe, we await the results with hope and admiration. On April 30, we announced an agreement with the global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for further development, large-scale manufacture and potential distribution of the vaccine. We were anxious to ensure, on the one hand, that we not be a party to profiteering during a pandemic, and, on the other hand, that we not repeat the mistake of the early 40s when Oxford academics discovered penicillin but handed all rights off to American companies. We required that any partner would agree that a vaccine, if proven effective, would be distributed at cost for the duration of the pandemic, and in perpetuity in the developing world. AstraZeneca agreed and are now overseeing trials around the world and manufacturing at risk so that if the vaccine proves effective, distribution can begin immediately. In a related development, Professors Peter Horby and Martin Landray are leading the large COVID Recovery trial. Over 12,000 patients have been involved in testing therapeutics for COVID. In June the trial demonstrated that an everyday, inexpensive steroid, dexamethasone, cut the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen, making it the first proven drug for treatment of COVID-19. It has been estimated that this discovery alone has already saved many thousands of lives. The trial has also demonstrated that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir-ritonavir are not effective treatments, while examination of other treatments continues. We have learned, or rather, we have demonstrated, that, while our medics and those in STEM subjects are at the forefront of the national effort against COVID, our colleagues in the Social Sciences and Humanities have valuable contributions to make too. In the Social Sciences, to give just two examples, Professor Melinda Mills has been working on social behaviour around face coverings and Professor Lucie Cluver has been investigating parenting in a pandemic. Our Humanities academics have also shone a powerful light on present anxieties, putting them in historical context. Professor Michael Parker has been advising the NHS on the ethical considerations needed for public trust in a contact-tracing app. Professor Emma Smith has written about the plague as a backdrop to Shakespeare’s work, and Dr Helen Lacey has spoken about what the Black Death can tell us about the global economic consequences of a pandemic. Thanks to the work of all these extraordinary colleagues, and many others, the research profile of the University has never been higher. We are all proud to be associated with these projects. Our vaccine development has attracted global attention and global funding to the University. Of still greater importance, it has highlighted the essential service universities provide to society as practitioners of cutting-edge research. At a time when universities often feel obliged to fight to defend our central role, these projects make a powerful case for how necessary it is to support wide-ranging university research that can prepare us for new trans-national threats, whether these come from infectious disease, rising sea levels or cyber-crime. We have learned that there is no such thing as left field when your perspective is 360 degrees. Institutional Progress TS Eliot’s character J. Alfred Prufrock famously said that he had measured out his life in coffee spoons. League tables can sometimes seem to be the institutional equivalent of coffee spoons; there are many of them and mostly they stir up controversy. Nonetheless, it is my pleasant duty to report that Oxford continues to be regarded as the leading UK university and maintains its international reputation, in the face of stiff competition. We lead the Times Higher Education rankings for 2021, making this the fifth consecutive year in which we have won first place. For the first time in several years, we have also taken top spot in the Guardian university ranking. In the international QS rankings for 2021 we take 4th place; we are the highest-ranked university in the world outside of the United States. To top it off, we were named University of the Year by the Sunday Times a fortnight ago. We were awarded this place, we were told, for two reasons: in recognition of our research on COVID-19 and in recognition of our progress in diversifying our undergraduate student body. These rankings are a tribute to the sheer quality of the work you do – in research, in teaching, and in the many forms of pastoral, administrative and technical support that make University life possible. It is hard to avoid concluding that if Oxford were a currency, it would be a gold standard. The fact that we have come to expect from you academic mettle of this quality does not in any way diminish its value or the astonishing feat of maintaining this calibre of research and educational experience, year after year. We continue to build, quite literally, on our success. While many minor capital projects are delayed, construction and planning continue on our major capital projects. Work has continued on Hans Krebs 2 – home of Biochemistry – which we expect to be complete next February. The dramatic demolition of the old Tinbergen has been taking place, and construction will begin on the new Life and Mind building in summer 2021. The new building will provide 25% more usable space than Tinbergen and will become the home of the Department of Experimental Psychology and the new Department of Biology, uniting the Departments of Zoology and Plant Sciences. The building has been designed to meet the performance requirements of the recently introduced University Sustainability Design Guide, including Passivhaus principles, which will achieve a 40% carbon reduction. Plans for the new Schwarzman Humanities Centre have also proceeded apace despite COVID-19. We appointed Hopkins Architects in February and a renowned acoustician, Ian Knowles, to make sure the acoustics of the concert hall are among the best in the world. Stakeholder meetings have been progressing online throughout the year. Meanwhile, the Humanities Cultural Programme moved its ‘Big Tent! Live Events’ series online during the lockdown and held 17 events, reaching over 22,000 viewers in 23 countries. Prior to the pandemic, it held successful in-person events including collaborations with the Ashmolean Museum and other local cultural organisations. We look forward to more collaborations in the coming year in support of the arts sector, which has faced particular challenges during the pandemic due to cancelled events and lost audience income. The new Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, which will eventually take its place within the Schwarzman Centre, has appointed a Director, two Associate Professors, two postdoctoral researchers and two DPhil students. It has held several seminars, bringing together expertise from Philosophers and leading technical developers and users of Artificial Intelligence in business, academia and government. Our aim is, as ever, to be at the forefront of this emerging field of research – whose modern importance equals that of medical ethics – and to provide an interdisciplinary home for research, study and debate. Innovation In the midst of all these ancient dreaming spires, Oxford excels at innovation. I am delighted to report that by the time of this Oration, OUI, Oxford University Innovation, which launched in 1987, has produced 200 spin-out companies. These have raised an extraordinary £3.2 billion in external investment since 2011, £856 million in the last 12 months alone. The revenues generated by OUI this year are over £30 million, of which over £18 million will return to the University, much of it reinvested in basic research through the new Strategic Research Fund, which made its first awards this year. Moreover, with OSI, Oxford Sciences Innovation, we have the largest university venture fund focused on a single institution in the world. Among recent developments, we are particularly proud of the BioEscalator, which welcomed its first tenants in autumn 2018 and now houses 13 companies employing 110 scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs. A quarter of the companies have female CEOs – an excellent example for tenant companies – and several companies have ‘graduated’ from the BioEscalator and expanded to larger premises on the Oxford Science Park. The incubator acts as a focal point for the entrepreneurial biosciences community in Oxfordshire. In fact, the success of the model has led us to plan a BioEscalator2. To give one illustration of its effectiveness, the BioEscalator has generated several projects with direct relevance to COVID-19. There is a national and global race to identify a fast, accurate, accredited and affordable test for Covid-19. Again our academics are in the forefront of the race and I know that people across the University, the city and the country are willing them on. We are both developing tests ourselves and (thanks to the work of Professor Derek Crook and his team) we are evaluating tests developed by others. The University has committed to deploying such a test once one is available. The Strategic Plan Philanthropy The historian Miriam Beard wrote that ‘the results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.’ She was right, of course. Out of the rocky gully of the pandemic has gushed a spring of kindness, generosity and goodwill. This is particularly apparent in the gifts of smaller donors to our coronavirus research, who have collectively given well over £100,000. Of the £27.6 milli


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