Professor Stephen Toope, set to become Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, has outlined his vision for his tenure, which will begin in October 2017.
Speaking to CBC News, Toope, a Canadian legal scholar who completed a PhD at Trinity College and served as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia (UBC) for 8 years, said he hoped he would be able to contribute “fresh perspectives” to the running of the university, whilst maintaining its "openness" and its success in rankings.
“I think they were looking for new ideas, if I may put it that way,” he said of his appointment to the role, “and North America has tended to be a little more innovative in terms of university evolution than much of Europe over the last 50 years.”
Innovation remains a priority for Toope, although he also argued that, when it comes to running a university as old and reputable as Cambridge, this must come hand-in-hand with tradition.
"It's always a balance between retaining tradition, retaining our fundamental commitments to teaching, learning and ground-breaking research, and understanding that we have to rethink the way the delivery mechanisms operate, probably to some extent in each generation.”
Toope, originally from Montreal, Canada, speculated that the appointment of a non-British Vice-Chancellor - a first at the University - may be a "message of openness" in the wake of the “the Brexit phenomenon”. He highlighted the need for Cambridge to continue playing the role of a “beacon of inclusion and openness even at a time when there may be forces that are driving in a different direction."
Toope also voiced hopes that Cambridge would re-enter the top three in the QS World University Rankings. Last year, Cambridge dropped to fourth place – the first time this has happened in the twelve years since the rankings began – losing out to Harvard, Stanford, and MIT.
Whilst Toope acknowledged that these rankings are in no way to be treated as sacred – indeed, he argued that they should "be taken with a grain of salt" – he nonetheless intends for the university to strive for a higher position in the rankings in future.
"It means Cambridge has to look at itself and see whether it's doing as good a job as it can. It's still one of the very top universities in the world and it would obviously like to be consistently ranked in the top three."
Toope says that his training in human rights has showed him that he must focus on a joint approach if change is to be achieved at Cambridge:
"You really have to bring a lot of people along to accomplish change, and I think human rights is about understanding that individuals matter and that communities matter and you don't shape change by trying to impose solutions. It never works," he said.
The current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, will continue to lead the University until Toope takes over in Michaelmas term 2017.
As Vice-Chancellor Professor Toope will chair the University Council, the General Board of the Faculties and the Finance Committee of the council.
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