Valuing qualityAlice Gast

In challenging times, recognising and valuing quality is key, writes Professor Alice Gast

We live in exciting times and a busy world. While our ability to connect globally with old contacts, new contacts, friends and family is extraordinary, the clutter of tweets, likes, wikis, blogs and chats can seem ephemeral. So it is wonderful to be a part of a community that values enduring quality. It is inspiring to turn these pages, and to see these values represented in prose, images and articles long enough to make us think. Some things just cannot be reduced to 140 characters.

Sometimes, however, it feels as though the world may not continue to value excellence the way we do. The traditional landscape of opinion is changing. Everyone everywhere is an expert. In our crowd-sourced social media world, reactions go round the globe in an instant and “what people think” can have little to do with quality. At times, it seems real expertise is becoming a precious resource and distrust of this is clouding public knowledge.

We will not let Brexit hamper our ability to pursue excellence"

Professor Alice Gast

The clearest evidence that we value quality and promote excellence at Imperial is in our people. We value Imperial’s excellent academics as they rapidly move the world forward with new and important discoveries. We value our students who excel in the concert hall as well as the lab and lecture theatre. We value our tutors who mentor and guide students in both their academic and non-academic pursuits; and we value our operational and administrative staff who make the College run smoothly. We have a diversity of the highest-calibre students and staff from across the UK and from more than 136 countries.

Our partnerships and collaborations include more than 2,400 universities, institutes and companies in more than 110 countries. Commitment to excellence is the common thread across this global network. People are excited to be part of this, and part of Imperial.

The recent referendum damaged this ideal. Many in our community felt undervalued and worried about their futures. So we must be clear. We will not let Brexit hamper our ability to pursue excellence in research and education for the benefit of society. We will continue to think and act internationally and make our voice heard by those responsible for negotiating the UK’s exit. We will also support all of our international staff and their dependents in every way we can.

We realise that we must ensure that others see the value in what we do and we look for ways that others can help us to achieve this. Our alumni and friends across the world are among our biggest champions. Your successes inspire and sustain us. Your ideas, support and encouragement drive us forward. In 2016 a record number, more than 4,500 alumni, supported the College alongside 3,000 friends who are donors. This is a vivid illustration that you value quality in the same way we do.

We are also, in the words of our strategy, “sharing the wonder and importance of what we do”. We are making scientific, medical, technological and business breakthroughs visible and accessible to those beyond our campuses.

We also set out in our strategy to “inform decision makers” in order to influence policy. We need the government to measure and reward excellence in our teaching and research. We work hard to help define excellence within the frameworks the government uses to target support. Unfortunately, sometimes the rewards and support are not solely based on merit. Thus we are vigorously seeking partners who value quality and will support our mission. Philanthropic and corporate support of research and education is more vital than ever. 

We have some new initiatives to celebrate and reward excellence at Imperial. Using earnings from the President’s endowment shares, we launched a £1m Excellence Fund to reward excellence and promote innovative ideas in research and teaching. Each summer we celebrate staff excellence in teaching, operations, research, service, volunteer work and collegiality with a garden party. Every spring we celebrate our colleagues at my annual address and reception.

We will always be true to our values, and we value quality. I hope that you will join us in celebrating and rewarding those values.