When Lord Oxburgh steps down as rector of Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in three months' time, he will leave a formidable legacy. His seven years at the helm have seen the college keep pace with the academic excellence of Oxbridge and perhaps gain ground. Recent headlines have underscored the perception that London may be mounting a credible challenge for higher education's top spot, after the poaching of three leading Oxford scientists.
The nation's scientific eyes are firmly fixed on Imperial as the focus for Creating Sparks, the British Association Festival of Science, which this year is combined with a ground-breaking celebration of the arts. The arts-meets-sciences concept was the brainchild of Lord Oxburgh.
Imperial's School of Medicine, formed from the 1997 merger of London medical schools, has become one of the biggest academic biomedical research groupings in Europe. A month ago, the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology joined, giving Imperial a unique laboratory-to-clinic capability in the field.
Imperial has also merged with Wye College, bringing agriculture within its remit and bolstering biological sciences, environmental research and business management expertise.
The Centre for Tissue Regeneration and Repair opened last year, the Genetics and Genomics Research Institute was launched in March, the Wolfson and Weston Research Centre for Family Health will open next year and a Pounds 300 million specialist heart and lung centre is planned for 2005.
In seven years, Imperial will mark its centenary. By then it will have undergone many further changes - not least being the arrival of Sir Richard Sykes, who will take over from Lord Oxburgh at the start of 2001.
Sir Richard will bring a management style honed by a distinguished career in the pharmaceutical industry. He is expected to stress the commercial benefits of Imperial's research.