Professor Hamilton met with alumni in Prague

The alumni society of the Czech Republic had the honour of welcoming Professor Andrew Hamilton and his wife Jennifer in Prague on 5 February 2015. The Vice-Chancellor gave a talk to the alumni in Carolinum, the historic building of the Charles University in Prague, in which he reflected on the changing role of universities in the 21st century, suggesting that their main task will be, as ever, to promote innovation and openness alongside high quality teaching and research.

Professor Hamilton, who came to the Czech Republic to attend a research conference, kindly accepted the invitation of the local Oxford and Cambridge Alumni Society (OCAS) to speak in front of some 40 of their members and other participants. The society caters for former students of both Oxford and Cambridge, but given Professor Hamilton’s academic history, this was no problem. He easily won the hearts of the Society’s Cantabrigian members, pointing out that he was the first Vice-Chancellor in Oxford’s history to hold a degree from ’the other place’.

Demand for impact

In his talk, Professor Hamilton addressed a number of the challenges faced by traditional universities. He identified in particular the demand of society for the increased impact of their research, especially on the economy. Indeed, he noted that the UK’s recent Research Excellence Framework had introduced impact as a key indicator in its assessment of academic research. Another significant trend related to impact has been the preparation of students for the job market. Professor Hamilton noted also that there were expectations of increased levels of cooperation between academia and business, outlining some of its pros and cons. 

Czech connection

Last but not least, Professor Hamilton made several heart-warming remarks regarding the long-standing connection between Oxford and the Czech Republic, dating back to World War II, when medical students from Czechoslovakia completed their studies in Oxford, and former President Eduard Benes received an honorary degree from the University. More recently, he said that he had been honoured to be present when Vaclav Havel was commemorated with the installation of a “Havel’s Place” in the University Parks, last November. 

Debate and wine

The Vice-Chancellor’s speech was followed by a debate which brought numerous questions from the audience. The topics raised included the phenomenon of e-learning and MOOCs, the accommodation of governmental and business objectives, university funding and strategic planning. Afterwards, there was a small reception offering some Moravian wines at which Professor and Mrs Hamilton, and Jackie Hruby from Oxford’s Alumni Office joined the alumni in a pleasant informal conversation. At the end of the event, Professor Hamilton gave an interview to the distinguished news magazine Respekt. On behalf of the Czech alumni, we would like to thank Professor and Mrs Hamilton for the great time they spent with us and we hope to be able to welcome them soon again.

Zuzana Pickova – Communications Officer, Oxford & Cambridge Society of the Czech Republic (Fitzwilliam College Cambridge, 2012, MPhil International Relations)