Chancellor, Lord Provost, graduands, honorary graduands, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to start by welcoming you all to your Graduation ceremony in this, our 50th anniversary year.

We gained our status as an independent university in 1967, after a long association with the University of St Andrews. 50 years on I think both sides would agree this has been a fortunate separation, which has created two world-class universities and formed something of an `intellectual gold coast’ here on the east of Scotland.

And I can confirm that we are still very much friends.

I had a brief stop at St Andrews while doing my Charity Challenge last week – brief only because I was advised not to stop too long in the middle of a 50-mile cycle in case my legs seized up!

That event was part of our 50th anniversary celebrations. In her speech greeting the cyclists from Dundee, St Andrews Principal, Professor Sally Mapstone, wished us well for the next 50 years, to which I responded by wishing St Andrews well for their next 600 years, that being an anniversary they marked recently.

This emphasises one critical difference between us. Since gaining our independence we have had to make our mark quickly. And we have done so, to the extent that Times Higher Education ranks us as the best in the UK – and in the world’s top 20 – of `young’ universities, those aged 50 years or under. In the face of increasingly fierce competition from around the world, it is notable recognition.

Our 50th anniversary is something we are marking with events throughout the year. A recurring feature of these for me has been the chance to meet with many of our alumni, your predecessors who too have sat in their robes in this hall over the past 50 years.

What has struck me time and again is how proud they are of their University, and the affection in which they hold their time in Dundee.  On visits back to the campus – and we have welcomed hundreds of them in recent weeks – there has also been much reflection on the changes they see around them, on campus and across the city.

For those who were here in the late 1960s there is obviously a lot that is different. But the same applies to those who were here just ten years ago, as the landscape around us continues to change.

You will have seen this in your own time here, I am sure, most obviously in the central waterfront of the city where we see the V&A Museum of Design rising on the banks of the Tay.

That is a project which originated here at the University, and it is just one that I think epitomises a very important point about where we came from and where we are heading.

In his address to visiting alumni at our Chaplaincy recently Eddie Small said that the most important part of our name is the word “of”.   He went on to remind us we are not just a University `in’ Dundee. We are the University OF Dundee, a community within a community. We take pride in being where we are and are committed at all times to making a difference locally, using our global reputation to bring benefits to the city.

We are critical to the local economy, contributing £750million every year to Scotland and standing as a major employer and a crucial focus for innovation and investment.

We are a social and cultural hub, linking researchers with the community across our many disciplines, creating events that draw thousands of people on to campus and in to the city.  This year’s annual degree show at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, for example, attracting 15,000 visitors in its opening weekend.

We attract people – students and staff – from around the world to Dundee. Many of the nationalities across the 140 or so countries our community is drawn from will be represented in the hall today. We are a more international institution than we have ever been –with record numbers of applications to come and study here – and I believe this creates a diversity on campus that enriches our community and culture, and that of the city. And we will continue to be international in our outlook.

We are committed to improving equality and fairness, providing the best opportunities for everyone in our wider community. Our record on widening access to higher education in Scotland is unequalled. Our annual Access Summer School celebrates its own silver anniversary this year and in that time has helped more than 2000 students in to higher education. They are people who may not have been able otherwise to obtain a university place, in many cases through no fault of their own due to the circumstances of their upbringing.

In all of this I think you can see the influence of our central mission, to transform lives, locally and globally, through the creation, sharing and application of knowledge.

The 50 years that have brought us to this point have provided plenty of challenges but also many startling achievements. Over those past five decades we have pioneered innovations as diverse as flat screen technology and keyhole surgery;

  • many of the satellites and shuttles launched into orbit have circuitry designed and built here
  • our translational biomedical research underpins global efforts to tackle cancer, diabetes and tropical diseases which kill millions each year
  • we have become one of the world’s leading centres for forensic sciences research
  • And from Turner Prize winners to political leaders, activists for social change to captains of industry, our alumni are transforming the world and the way we look at it.

And we are ambitious to do more, to take our University into the next 50 years with justifiable confidence.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to accompany colleagues on a visit to CERN in Geneva, sight of the Large Hadron Collider, the largest scientific experiment in the world, capable of replicating conditions which last prevailed naturally at the very dawn of the Universe. We were there to discuss collaboration, arising from world-class expertise in laser technology in our School of Science and Engineering.

It is yet another example of us taking a seat at the table with the very best in the world, creating research with impact but also opening up opportunities for students, giving them the chance to experience the forefront of knowledge and human understanding.

Our achievements are driven by the strong sense of community that exists in the University, and across Dundee. You will have experienced this yourselves as students here and I hope you continue to feel part of it as graduates.

That sense of community is something that is at the heart of our approach, and is what makes Dundee unique. It is by harnessing the strengths of our community that we can do even more, and working in partnership with DUSA, our students’ association, is a vital part of that.

It has helped us create a student experience that is consistently rated among the very best, underpinned by students being participants in all the University’s important committees, helping to plan for continuing success.  Just this morning we have further confirmation of the quality of teaching and the wider student experience that we can offer – we have been awarded Gold in the Teaching Excellence Framework, the highest standard in this major assessment of learning and teaching at UK universities.

You have all played your part in creating that community, and I thank you for that. You have helped set the standards we have reached, and fuelled our ambitions for the future.

I hope that in years to come, people here will be talking about your own achievements, and you will be sharing your own warm reminiscences of time spent at the University.

As you cross this stage today to receive your degrees and then step out into the world, as a graduate and ambassador for the University of Dundee, I and the University community wish you the very best for your future.

Thank you.

Pete Downes
Principal and Vice-Chancellor