Inaugural President's Address 2022

President's Address 2022


The annual President's Address to the Imperial Community provides a personal insight into the President's vision for the College.


Watch Professor Hugh Brady's Inaugural President's Address on Tuesday 11 October 2022.

Thank you to Imperial for its world-leading Covid response

First, a very big Thank You to the entire Imperial community for the quality of the Covid response over the past two and a half years.

It has been an extraordinarily challenging and exhausting time and, of course, tragic for so many families.

Your efforts to keep Imperial’s education and research activities going were truly heroic!

Imperial’s research shed light on the biology and pathogenicity of the virus, its variants and behaviour, vaccine design and treatment approaches.

Our modellers influenced government responses across the world and likely saved hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions of lives.

The Imperial community proved itself to be both creative and resilient academically and empathetic, collaborative and supportive!

We hope, of course, for a more normal 2022-23, but nothing is guaranteed.


A few words on my journey

It is a great honour to serve as President of Imperial.

It is all-the-more special because I was a medical student elective in 1981 at the Hammersmith Hospital, one of our clinical partners, that inspired me to pursue a career in academic medicine.

I trained as a clinician-scientist, a nephrologist – kidney disease, dialysis and transplantation. 

Before joining Imperial, my journey took me through University College Dublin where I graduated, the University of Toronto where I had my clinical training, Harvard Medical School where I spent most of my formative academic years, and the University of Bristol - four very different and successful universities, each with their own unique character and located in four great cities.

But I can say with the utmost confidence that I saved the very best wine until last!

I’m very grateful for the warm welcome I’ve received across the College during my meetings with staff and students, campus tours and departmental visits.

I’m learning so much about Imperial, what makes it tick, what staff, students and alumni love about the place, their ambition for the College and equally their anxieties, concerns and day-to-day pressures.


What attracted me to Imperial?

In short, it was a combination of its unique history, magnificent track record of achievements, distinctive profile and strengths, and, above all, its enormous potential!

Every time I walk along Exhibition Road, I marvel at the vision of Prince Albert and his fellow architects over a century and a half ago.

And my goodness didn’t they create something really special!

Per square meter, Albertopolis must be one of the most impressive cultural and scientific quarters in the world.

It is such an important part of the Imperial Experience and it is great that we are collaborating with our fantastic neighbours more and more.

I visited Imperial’s Dyson School of Design Engineering over the past few weeks and heard about its Masters in Global Innovation Design – a really unique transnational programme delivered collaboratively with the Royal College of Art – that is already producing some remarkable young entrepreneurs.

Sitting in City and Guilds this evening is a reminder of how Imperial has evolved – its antecedent institutions - the Royal School of Mines, City and Guilds of London Institute and the Royal College of Science - coming together to form Imperial College London which received its Royal Charter in 1907.

25 years ago, Imperial welcomed its new School of Medicine. Many congratulations to the Medical School on its silver jubilee!

And in 2004, the late Queen Elizabeth II opened Imperial College Business School.

These bold and visionary moves over a century and a half – none I suspect without their challenges and detractors - paved the way for the creation of today’s Imperial – a global powerhouse that is truly distinctive because of three powerful elements:

  • First its focus on business, engineering, medicine and science;
  • Second its commitment and passion for innovation, entrepreneurship, impact and societal benefit
  • And third its location in, what I would argue, is the world’s greatest city!

It was this alluring cocktail that attracted me to Imperial and that attracts the brightest minds - students and staff – from across the world.

It is the cocktail that makes Imperial unique among the world’s leading universities!


Innovation and impact are in Imperial’s DNA

I have been struck by how many staff and students tell me that they chose Imperial explicitly because they want to make the world a better place!

Imperial students talk excitedly about innovation and starting companies.

This was readily apparent when I welcomed first years in the Great Hall and chatted with students at the stalls during Welcome Week.

And it positively lit up the room when I met our impressive student entrepreneurs at the recent London Demo Day – Imperial now produces approximately 50 student start-ups per year!

Innovation and impact have also been central themes in my conversations with staff during departmental visits!

It is no exaggeration to say that our fantastic staff are generating and harnessing new knowledge and technologies to make our world healthier, smarter, safer and more prosperous and more sustainable.

I’m always somewhat reluctant to give examples but even over the past fortnight, it was inspiring to learn more about truly ground-breaking initiatives such as:

  • Imperial’s new Institute for Deep Tech Entrepreneurship
  • Our Institute for Security Science and Technology
  • Our new Brahmal Vasudevan Institute for Sustainable Aviation
  • The College’s recently established Institute of Infection, and
  • I-X at White City

And all against the backdrop of Imperial being ranked 1st for research quality in the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF).

And its abundantly clear that Imperial is not resting on its laurels.

If anything, the REF success has raised the College’s ambition and my job over the coming years is to understand that ambition and to work with you to further develop it and secure the resources to deliver it.

I can’t think of a better job in the world!


Developing a vision and strategy for Imperial

It is customary at these events for the new President to enthral the audience with a vision for the future in an eloquent speech infused with literary quotes, humour and uncanny foresight.

I’m afraid I’m a much more practical individual!

Indeed, it would be inappropriate for me to be prescriptive after only two months in this great institution.

However, I will share my early thoughts and, in particular, propose why and how we carve out some time to refresh Imperial’s Vision and Strategy over the year ahead.

Imperial’s performance has been remarkable – it is now ranked amongst the world’s best universities – virtually all of which enjoy significantly greater levels of resource.

I detect a clear ambition to strengthen Imperial’s position within this top tier and to maximise Imperial’s potential as a force for good in our world.

The purpose of our refreshed strategy will be:

  • To capture our vision and ambition for Imperial over the decades ahead;
  • To establish a roadmap or gameplan to guide our decision-making and investments, and, very importantly,
  • To inspire others to join us, partner with us and invest in us.

To be relevant, our refreshed strategy must, of course, take cognizance of the context within which we operate.

Indeed, it is precisely because of the recent tectonic shifts in our world that it is an opportune time to take a fresh look at Imperial’s strategy.

I don’t need to remind colleagues that we live in truly extraordinary times – a pandemic; Brexit; geopolitical instability and war; a cost-of-living and energy crisis, likely recession and the concerning consequences of climate change.

We also operate in a Higher Education sector that is challenged on multiple fronts:

  • home tuition fees that don’t cover the cost of educational delivery
  • research funding that doesn’t cover the full costs of research
  • ongoing doubt over our association with the world’s largest research programme Horizon Europe
  • a national immigration narrative that the brightest and best across the world perceive as unwelcoming
  • culture wars which sometimes depict our world-class higher education sector as a problem rather than the huge international success story that it is!
  • And now a question mark over the long term sustainability of the government’s finances

A quite legitimate question is whether Imperial can continue to compete successfully in the top tier globally given this confluence of threats?

I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t confident that Imperial can, but only if we play smart and:

  • build on our strengths and differentiators
  • identify and grasp new opportunities early
  • diversify our income streams and deploy our resources wisely
  • partner strategically and
  • strengthen our global brand.

Our strategy needs to address all of these key issues.

It will be the playbook that enables us to compete at the very top level on a sustainable basis in the face of the very challenging external environment.

It is definitely not going to be easy but Imperial’s fundamentals are very strong and it has a fantastic set of ingredients to play with and it has you, our fantastic, staff, students, alumni and friends.

Our new University Management Board kicked off the strategy discussions during a two-day residential in early September and we are forming a Steering Group to coordinate a College-wide conversation.

We will be seeking views from our entire community and, equally importantly, the views of external stakeholders.

I hope you will get involved.

We will try to keep it as light touch as possible – I appreciate how busy people are – but it will require some of your time if the process is to be engaging and meaningful.


Balancing day-to-day pressures with long-term vision

Before turning to some of our big strategic opportunities, let me reassure you that our strategy refresh will not diminish our efforts to address key day-to-day issues that I know are important to staff and students. 

Staff have been very clear that we have further work to do together on our culture and values, the quality of our support systems and services, and, of course, workload. These will be a priority for my team.

On the topic of culture and values, I want to first acknowledge the important ongoing work coordinated by the Imperial Together Action Group and secondly to announce that we will establish a People and Culture Subcommittee of the University Management Board, which I will chair, to ensure that this agenda has the prominence it deserves at the very top table in the institution.

In my conversations with students, three topics have come up repeatedly that they would like addressed as a matter of urgency: student mental health, assessment and feedback, and student hardship.

There is already important ongoing work on assessment and feedback that is building on Imperial’s excellent recent NSS results and we will redouble our efforts in this area.

I can also assure students that we will closely monitor the size and eligibility criteria for our student hardship fund over the coming year and make adjustments if necessary.

But, given that it was World Mental Health Day yesterday, I thought it appropriate to say a few words on this priority. The rising tide of mental health challenges among young people in the UK and across the globe is very concerning. It is not, of course, restricted to students, being at least as prevalent in non-students of the same age. Nor should universities be expected to replace the NHS - the primary provider of mental health services. Having said that, we are in a privileged position to identify students with mental health issues early, support them and help them access the NHS.

I’m delighted that Imperial has adopted the student opt-in policy that we pioneered in Bristol and many of the recommendations of the Suicide Safer Universities report that I chaired for Universities UK.

An absolute priority for me over the next year, will be to partner with our students and staff to develop a comprehensive ‘whole institution’ mental health strategy to ensure that our efforts across Imperial are joined-up and fit-for-purpose. At Imperial, mental health has got to be everyone’s business.


Medium to long-term strategic opportunities

Let me return now, in the final section of my address, to our strategy.

Again, I appreciate just how busy everybody is and the pressures they are under, but it will be important that were carve out the time to take a medium-long-term view.

There have been many successful and even iconic organisations that have run aground because they were overly focused on the day-to-day and failed to recognise emerging trends or threats.

Key questions that I suggest we need to sink our teeth into are:

  • What is the optimal institutional size, shape and business model given our ambition?
  • How can we be more radical in our approach to EDI and widening participation?
  • How can we achieve a step change in the scale of our research in key strategic areas and, related to that, a step-change in our innovation capacity and industry partnerships?
  • How can we harness the full potential of our White City Campus and how do these developments dovetail with our plans for South Kensington, Silwood Park and our clinical sites?
  • How can we deliver on our commitment to transition to net zero by 2040?
  • And last but not least, how we strengthen Imperial’s international presence and brand?

Given time constraints, I’ll say a few words on some, but not all of these topics.

First, a word of reassurance. Imperial is already a high-performing organisation and much of what we do today will continue without radical change over the decade ahead.

As a physician, I am acutely aware of the adage primum no nocere (first do no harm)!

But the reality is that:

  • our world continues to change rapidly
  • with that change comes both new opportunities and significant threats
  • our competitors are not standing still – in many areas they are moving faster and investing more
  • and at the very least we need to match the opposition and ideally get ahead of them

I’m aware that discussions on size and shape can cause anxiety in high performing institutions as it implies winners and losers but that’s not the intention and I can reassure you, that I’m not contemplating closures or mergers!

But, if we are to compete on a sustainable basis in the very top tier internationally, we are competing in a deep-pockets game and will need to grow our non-regulated fee income to generate the resources to reinvest in our research and innovation activities.

This reality, in turn, raises a number of questions:

  • In what academic areas should we grow?
  • How do we incentivise, accommodate, and support growth?
  • How do we ensure that we are not over-dependent on a limited number of geographies (already a clear and present danger)?
  • Is our portfolio sufficiently flexible for a world where many students may not want the traditional residential experience and fit for purpose when many employers are looking to upskill their workforces through different types of educational products and partnerships mainly in areas of STEM where Imperial is best in class?
  • How do we capitalise on our new digital education capabilities and emerging immersive technologies to further strengthen our menu of educational opportunities
  • Having generated additional resource, where do we invest for most impact. What are the research areas we want to scale up.

These are challenging real-world questions that we need to grapple with sooner rather than later given the inherent weaknesses and risks in the UK’s current HE funding model.

If I could turn then to EDI, I’m delighted that it has figured centrally in all of my department visits to date and huge progress is being made.

I’m also very encouraged by our efforts to widen participation and make an Imperial education accessible to a wider swathe of the population.

In this vein, I can’t think of a more exciting and timely initiative than Imperial’s new joint Medical School with the University of of Cumbria.

This is real levelling-up and I hope it will inspire other parts of the College to be even more radical in their approach to WP and diversity.

Finally, I am tremendously excited by the potential of our White City Deep Tech Campus and how it complements, and indeed enhances, the wider Imperial experience. It’s amazing what has been achieved so quickly, under quite challenging conditions. My congratulations to all who have been involved to-date.

It is already, certainly coming from the outside, a rich cauldron of world-class research, innovation, start-ups and scale-up, and industry partnerships.

It is serving as a magnet attracting both SMEs and large corporates in the wider White City Innovation District.

And it is providing valuable educational, training and prototyping opportunities for communities in one of London’s most disadvantaged areas.

It is a shining example of how a world-class research-intensive university can develop a new precinct that is transformational for its own educational, research and innovation activities and a catalyst for levelling-up, urban regeneration and economic growth.

We have some exciting decisions to make:

  • what does the next phase of campus development look like – both its academic focus and innovation profile
  • Who and how should we partner as we develop it
  • how can we fund it and how fast can we deliver it;
  • how can we best support and influence the shape of the wider White City Innovation District; and
  • how can this world-class innovation asset contribute to the UK’s wider innovation ecosystem.

As a relatively recent arrival to the UK, I find it somewhat puzzling that the strength of London, and indeed the so-called Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge, is sometimes portrayed as a problem.

Most countries would be celebrating and promoting such a brand across the globe to attract talent and foreign direct investment, and looking to leverage this unique concentration of research and innovation to build innovation capacity, through partnership, in other regions of the UK.

The real competition is not national but international – it is not London versus Manchester, Birmingham or Glasgow but London versus Kendall Square, Silicon Valley and Shenzhen.

Imperial is a phenomenal innovation asset, and I look forward to using our strategy process to engage with the UK government and other potential stakeholders on how we can maximise our contribution to the UK’s growth ambitions.

Thank you for listening.

It’s a great privilege to serve as your President and I look forward to exploring these topics with our community in more depth over the months ahead.


Professor Hugh Brady

President, Imperial College London