The first female vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford has called on the institution to educate future leaders who can “think critically” and “act ethically” so that they can prevent the next financial crisis and deal with other threats facing the world.
Louise Richardson has today been installed as Oxford’s 272nd vice-chancellor in a ceremony addressing academics from across the university.
Oxford needed to educate people who will “force us to confront the costs we are imposing on the next generation by our wasteful use of the earth’s resources; who will articulate our obligation to the vulnerable, the poor, the victims of war, oppression and disease, wherever they live”, she said.
The university must “provide leaders for tomorrow who have been educated to think critically, to act ethically and always to question”, she argued.
Addressing recent concerns about students censoring views on campus that they disagreed with, Professor Richardson, who was previously vice-chancellor of the University of St Andrews, said: “How do we ensure that they appreciate the value of engaging with ideas they find objectionable, trying through reason to change another’s mind, while always being open to changing their own?”
“How do we ensure that our students understand the true nature of freedom of inquiry and expression?” she asked, according to a summary of her speech released by the university.
Attacking bureaucracy in UK higher education, she criticised the “ever increasing cost of compliance with ever more bureaucratic, ever more intrusive, and ever less useful regulation, much of it, paradoxically enough, designed to ensure value for money. Instead it diverts resources – both financial and intellectual – from the central tasks of research and teaching.”
Professor Richardson, a terrorism expert who was born in Ireland and first pursued her academic career at Harvard University, also indicated that improving access for disadvantaged students would be a priority.
“In an increasingly complex world, the best may not be those who look and sound like ourselves,” she said. “They may not be those who naturally think of coming to Oxford. Those with the greatest potential may not be those who have already attained the most. We need to seek them out.”