Charles Kennedy takes up Rector role for second term

Published: 19 April 2011

The Right Honourable Charles Kennedy MP has officially taken up the role of Rector of the University of Glasgow for a second three-year term following a special installation ceremony today.

The Right Honourable Charles Kennedy MP has officially taken up the role of Rector of the University of Glasgow for a second three-year term following a special installation ceremony today.

Mr Kennedy is only the second Rector to have been elected to a second term since former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the 1870s, defeating author AL Kennedy.Charles Kennedy is appointed Rector for his second consecutive term.

The installation of the Rector took place in the University’s Bute Hall as Mr Kennedy donned the black and gold robes of the Rector in front of an audience of staff and students.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Kennedy, the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, said: “Thank you to my other constituency in life – the students of this university – who have voted to give me this second term; and by a margin which would have been comfortable under first-past-the-post, alternative vote or even any given system of proportional representation.”

Tommy Gore, President of the Students’ Representative Council (SRC), said: “The Students’ Representative Council congratulates Charles on his historic re-election for a second term as Rector. We wish him every success over the next three years.”

Below is a full transcript of Mr Kennedy’s acceptance speech:

“The Chancellor has referred to the rather historic nature of today's occasion. Certainly, finding myself bracketed with Disraeli is an altogether different experience.

But before Dizzy, a reference to one of his predecessors as Rector - maybe a lesser known name today but a significant Scot of his time.

Sir James Mackintosh, MP, born a Highlander and educated on the Black Isle, was a philosopher and lawyer who went onto a career in Whig politics,  representing part of the same territory that I have myself (for a mere twenty eight years).

In giving his Rectorial Address in 1823, having defeated Sir Walter Scott, no less, he described the honour of this office as being "one of the most flattering distinctions that could have been conferred upon me; for it is peculiarly gratifying to those immersed in political affairs, that any part of their conduct should receive the calm approbation of those devoted to study."

Almost two hundred years later, I couldn't put it better myself!

Thank you to my other constituency in life - the students of this university - who have voted to give me this second term.

And by a margin which would have been comfortable under FPTP, the AV - or even any given system of proportional representation.

But back to Disraeli, my fellow second termer, a mere one hundred and forty years ago.

He described "the pleasure" of this moment as being "necessarily heightened when it is offered by the educated and the refined; when that body is representative, and, above all, when it represents the youth of a famous country."

Disraeli went onto argue that the first essential of the student was to acquire “Self-Knowledge” - only from achieving that can the individual then go onto consider how best to contribute towards the "Spirit of the Age."

And, he recommended, that in so doing the most vital thing was first to comprehend the Spirit of the Age. Comprehend it, but not necessarily endorse, far less embrace it.

That's what I propose to offer these few reflections upon today.

First, do we comprehend the Spirit of the Age - here, in the context of tertiary education?

Second, are we prepared to endorse or embrace it?

Personally speaking, let me answer the second question first. I don't like the Spirit of the Age where our universities are concerned.

I don't like it and I've been arguing for an alternative approach - for nearly thirty years as an MP, seven of them embracing three parliaments and two UK general elections as a party leader, three just past and now three more to come in my role as Rector.

And the vast proportion of those who voted for this second term I can assure you don't much like the Spirit of the Age either. It is not difficult to comprehend why.

And it is certainly not difficult to see how the Spirit of our Age in higher education has been arrived at - the history of the last quarter century tells the story.

First, a large expansion in the number of institutions being awarded university status. Universities have more than doubled in number, both within Scotland and across the UK, since 1992.

Following on from which came the setting of a new national target - that 50% of all school leavers should be able to go on to secure a university place.

I’m not an elitist – open doors and you open more minds. Other countries, from Scandanavia to the Far East, outpace us in levels of student participation.

But the net effect of the way in which we have gone about this in the UK has been twofold.

First, under-emphasis and provision in vocational education. We don't provide nearly enough apprenticeships anymore. And we're paying that price as a society.
Second, the most obvious, vexed question of all - with this massive expansion, at such speed, how longer-term to pay for it? And who should do the paying?

To cut this subsequent long and complicated story short, we now find ourselves in a situation where student fees are rising upwards towards a ceiling of £9,000 in England.

A ceiling which was always likely to become a competitive target for the institutions involved

So it would appear. It was a move I certainly couldn't support when it was put to the House of Commons at the end of last year.

And in voting against the Coalition government I have to say that I would do the same thing again.

That's not grandstanding or populism. I have never called into question the honourable motives of those involved in backing such a proposal.

It's the political judgement I disagree with - and the need to maintain an argument, that of free access to tertiary education being based on ability to learn and not ability to pay, funded out of general taxation.

One which has certainly served Scotland well down the generations. Scotland, of course, could never be immune from these profound developments south of the border.

And as this debate over student funding has intensified - often generating more heat than light - one argument has gained currency along the way.
It is the one to the effect that those who benefit from a university education and degree, over the course of their earnings lifetime, should be expected to pay something back.

They earn more; why should they benefit or be subsidised by those who do not reap the rewards of that university opportunity?

This, I believe, is a dangerous argument - particularly in the Scottish context.

It has got to be confronted and nailed for once and for all.

It is not one that I have ever encountered from those of my schoolmates, the majority who did not attend university, alongside whom I continue to live in the Highlands.

I depend on them for the skills I lack and the services they provide.

Equally, they can and do call upon me for what I can bring to bear as the local MP.

Social resentment as such does not seem to feature.

Or put that argument another way.

If I’m fortunate enough to be healthy and not in need of the NHS then why should my taxes contribute towards those who do need the NHS?

Or if I can afford to buy private education for my children and do so then why should I be taxed for that part of my income which goes towards the state education system?

Surely, absurd contentions.

Equally, those who earn more will, over the course of their working lifetimes, contribute more in taxation.
I do not believe the principle of double taxation in this sense to be a fair or sound one.

Instead, should we not be addressing more pressing anomalies in our current tax system?

Such as the fact that someone on my income level should qualify for comprehensive free NHS prescriptions?

Or that a lot of retired Scots can enjoy concessionary travel when their financial circumstances do not merit it?

Just take the savings which could be made from those two issues alone And add in the thought – how many of us parents or grandparents would be prepared to forego advantages such as these, if we don’t need them financially, knowing that the beneficiaries would by our children or grandchildren going into a properly funded tertiary education?

I believe that to ask that question is to answer it.

And then add in another - the fact that the next Scottish parliament will have a considerably enhanced tax varying powers as Westminster enacts the new powers recommended by the Calman Commission.

The Calman changes do not take effect until 2015. But where there’s a political will there’s a way.

The funding gap is closed effectively by what amounts currently to the equivalent of 1% on Scottish income tax.

It cannot surely be beyond the collective wit of Whitehall, Westminster and Holyrood to fashion an understanding which would acknowledge that a policy of the equivalent 1p on Scottish income tax would in due course be earmarked for Scottish education?

Speaking personally, I wouldn't dismiss such an approach out of hand.

Not least because I did contest one such general election on just such a UK policy.

And that still leaves the onus – properly so, on properly independent universities – to go much further in attracting private investment and the philanthrophy which can be generated from international alumni.

I would rather long-term trust a graduate than shoter-term trust a government.

But I do stress that I speak here as Rector, re-elected on an Independent, not a party political platform.

It will be for our newly elected MSPs, from across the party spectrum, to address the funding gap issue. But address it they must - and with urgency. Our universities simply cannot afford - literally - to wait much longer.

Three years ago none of us could have anticipated the political context which would be prevailing in three years time - both at Westminster and within Scotland. I certainly did not!

But when I said then in that Rectorial speech, addressing these same issues, that…

"It would never be the Scottish way to end up with a situation which recognised the price of everything and the value of nothing,"…

I could not have anticipated the pointed pertinence such an everyday observation would carry today.

My optimism remains undimmed, not least because that value remains around about us and has permeated each and every Rectorial Address ever delivered.

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being present in the University Chapel as the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, The Most Reverend Mario Conti, delivered his annual address.

He got to the heart of the matter, acknowledging that "the university is not immune to the winds of changes which are whistling through the corridors of academia all over the country."

He expressed his views "lest something of the 'studium universale' character of the university be lost."

It is an ill wind blowing towards us from the south. But an institution dating back to 1451 has withstood worse before and remains intact today. It is, in every sense, bigger than any of us.

Last year, here in Bute Hall, Scotland - from the First Minister downwards - paid tribute to one of this university's and our country's finest. The event was the funeral of Professor Edwin Morgan.

When, as Scotland's first Makar, he penned these lines over the opening of the new Holyrood parliament building, he could have been speaking of Gilmorehill itself.

“Open the doors! Light of the day, shine in; light of the mind, shine out!

We have a building that is more than a building. There is a commerce between inner and outer, between brightness and shadow, between the world and those who think about the world.

Is it not a mystery? The parts cohere, they come together Like petals of a flower, yet they also send their tongues Outward to feel and taste the teeming earth.” *

That is the essence of a university; of the hopes, dreams and precisions which underpin it. It is the essence of our university – the great, good University of Glasgow.”

For more information contact Stuart Forsyth in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 4831 or email

First published: 19 April 2011

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