As is traditional, I thank members from all parties who signed the motion and those who are here this evening, particularly those who are alumni of the University of Stirling, some of whom may speak this evening. I am delighted to welcome to the public gallery Gerry McCormac, who is the principal of the university and who has led that organisation with aplomb and distinction since 2010.
On 18 September 1967, the doors to the University of Stirling opened for the very first time, admitting 195 students: 164 graduates and 31 postgraduates. It was the first genuinely new university in Scotland for 400 years. The royal charter was signed in November 1967 and the great seal of Scotland was applied the following month.
Stirling’s university has grown to become a global player in educational excellence, and I am delighted to lead this debate to highlight the significant history and achievements of this wonderful institution. The debate also gives us the opportunity to consider the massive contribution that the university makes to education, culture and research.
The university has a beautiful campus, which offers a fantastic base from which to visit one of the world’s most inspiring and vibrant countries. The university is currently investing an additional £40 million, to enhance student residences.
The university’s first principal was Professor Tom Cottrell, who was also the university’s co-founder, as well as the co-founder of the Macrobert arts centre in Stirling, which, like the university, is a thriving institution that continues to inspire to this day. Professor Cottrell’s background was in chemistry—he was professor in the subject at the University of Edinburgh before he became heavily involved in the founding of the University of Stirling. I can think of no more fitting an origin story for today’s University of Stirling than one that involves a chemistry professor turned founding university principal who dedicated himself to promoting the arts. The story sums up the diversity of the subjects that are taught on the campus and the knowledge on which the university is built, and it inspires new generations of students.
Since opening 50 years ago, the University of Stirling has expanded to offer more opportunities to its students. For instance, the university’s contribution to sport is almost unrivalled. It is Scotland’s university for sporting excellence, and it offers a number of world-class health science and sport courses. Perhaps its most notable sporting achievement is the continuing success of the swimming team. At last year’s Olympics in Rio, the university was Scotland’s best performer. The Great Britain swimming team took home three silver medals, and Stirling swimmers Duncan Scott and Robbie Renwick were part of the GB squad who sealed Olympic silver in the 4x200m freestyle relay. The GB team achieved its best result in 108 years, setting a new United Kingdom record, and Duncan Scott went on to smash the UK record in the 100m freestyle.
As members might imagine, a university as diverse as Stirling has tallied up impressive achievements across a large number of subjects. The university’s institute of aquaculture opened in 1991 and to this day is the largest institute of its kind in the world. The university’s innovation park opened in 1986 and continues to provide a hub for enterprise and business that is directly involved in research and development. It benefits from European Union funding.
The Iris Murdoch building, which Dame Judi Dench opened in 2002, is home to the world-leading dementia services development centre, which is an incredibly important focal point, given our ageing population and the increasing number of people and families who face that debilitating condition.
Following investment of £11.5 million, the university opened its state-of-the-art library in 2011, giving students access to modern learning resources and ensuring that all students have the tools that they need to succeed in their chosen courses.
Today, the University of Stirling is ranked first in Scotland and third in the whole of the UK for graduate employment. Earlier this year, it was named in the list of the top 50 universities in the world under the age of 50. Three quarters of all the research that is conducted in the university was ranked “world leading” in the 2014 research excellence framework exercise.
The international student barometer benchmark places the university first in Scotland for welcoming students from around the world, and in the most recent
Guardian university guide, this marvellous institution was ranked first in criminology, education, media and film, and social policy, and was ranked second in sociology. That shows the university’s remarkable track record.
I wish that the debate provided more time to talk about the university’s achievements, because there is much more to say.
There are more than 82,000 alumni of the University of Stirling, including people of 169 nationalities. Many of them have gone on to serve with distinction in many fields. Today, 14,000 students currently attend the university, with 20 per cent of them coming from overseas. With the 1,500 staff included, there are more than 120 different nationalities represented on campus today.
In its relatively short 50 years, the University of Stirling has grown to become an institution that offers education and life experience opportunities to thousands of people of all walks of life from across the globe. When, in preparing for this debate, I asked staff at the University of Stirling to sum up their ethos and what the university is about, they responded to me with this:
“Stirling staff, students, and alumni challenge the status-quo and make significant difference to society; we are driven by transformative thinking, innovative action and the desire to use our knowledge and skills to shape the world in a positive way.”
Presiding Officer, I think that I will just leave the last words to them, because they are both powerful and meaningful.