The De Montfort University Annual Staff Address took place on Wednesday, with some interesting revelations. Hundreds of staff members from across all four faculties gathered in The Venue@DMU to hear the Vice-Chancellor Professor Dominic Shellard give his speech. Usually a reasonably predictable affair; summing up the past year’s achievements, this year has been markedly different. This year there is a new Chancellor- and Professor Shellard finally had the opportunity to reveal just who that is.
Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE; parliamentarian, prominent campaigner and ambassador for youth was confirmed as the most recent holder of the honorary title.
Perhaps most recognisable as the mother of Stephen Lawrence, a teenager tragically murdered on his way home in 1993, she has worked tirelessly since his passing to promote positive change in communities around Britain.
Campaign efforts by Baroness Lawrence have demonstrated determination, courage and passion in ensuring the justice system of the UK is fully responsible for its actions. To define her as an anti-racism campaigner alone does not provide a true insight into the work she has pioneered; tackling a justice system which could no longer find justice. No mean feat, her work in civil law and accountability led her to an OBE in 2003, an honorary degree from DMU last year, and the title of ‘Britain’s most powerful woman’ according to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour.
Baroness Lawrence also speaks extensively about the issues facing young people in Britain today, and is widely regarded to be bringing a pragmatic and practical approach to the Chancellorship. In response to her appointment to the honorary role, Baroness Lawrence said; “As Chancellor I will be involved in the lives of young people at DMU, both now and in the future”.
Interestingly, praise for the new chancellor didn’t dominate the entire address; as Professor Shellard was also keen to highlight the University’s achievements over the past year, and there are actually a fair few of them. Few members of the University have been able to escape the ‘Razor’s Edge’ campaign run by DMU, playing from TV screens to the cinema over the summer.
Undoubtedly, this has paid off. Applications as of January 2015 were showing a 13% increase in the popularity of DMU. Furthermore, the improvement of the institution as a whole is becoming ever more apparent. As explained by Alistair McCall, editor of The Times and The Sunday Times Good University 2016, who said: “After last year’s meteoric 32 place rise (from 86th to 54th), to maintain that position – and improve it by a further place – is no mean achievement”. With an international applications also on the rise, nearly 3% higher than the previous year, the ethos of diversity and innovation is evidently still alive and well at DMU.
In addition, the Vice Chancellor took care to highlight the recent comments of Theresa May, who outraged and alarmed many throughout higher academia, when she explained she ‘didn’t care’ about the opinions of University lobbyists when it comes to international students. The Home secretary was adamant in a speech to the Conservative party at the beginning of the month that ‘the rules must be enforced’.
For Universities such as DMU this can cause concern for their future ambassadors; the valued graduates from all around the globe who may dislike the hard line approach of the home secretary. But Wednesday’s speech reassured all – staff and students alike – that international students are just as integral to the wide range of students accepted at DMU as ever.
Once again, DMU is defying convention and embracing that which makes it an exciting and innovative centre for higher education. In the words of the Vice Chancellor: “We’re the face of modern Britain, the appointment of Doreen Lawrence is just a natural extension of that”.
Baroness Lawrence’s inauguration is set to take place in January in De Montfort’s newest completed building; The Venue @DMU.