Imperial College President Alice Gast gave her President’s Address on Wednesday evening. The President’s Address has historically been the place for the announcement of a strategy for the year ahead, as well as a place for academics and staff members to be congratulated on their work. This year’s speech, which focused on how the College will emerge from lockdown was notable in how policy and announcement heavy it was. The speech annouced a new £10 million fund to support under represented groups as well as international students, while also touching on what innovations produced by lockdown will be preserved going forward into the next years.
Creation of the Scholarships Challenge campaign will be funded by a £10 million investment from the College with the hope that alumni and other donors will double this to £20 million. 50% of this fund will be spent on scholarships and fellowships for black and other under-represented groups at Imperial while the other half will be targetted at international students. This comes after Gast addressed the “brutal fact” that “our talented community lacks diversity,”. This comes after black students received fewer First class degrees than any other named racial group in attainment data recorded by Imperial.
The fund will also target potential female students through targetted maths teaching programmes among other initiatives.
Representatives in the Union were cautiously optimistic. Deputy President (Education) Shervin Sabeghi told Felix that “It’s encouraging to see that the College are investing into bringing students from disadvantaged backgrounds to Imperial and hopefully we can start to move away from the elitist, non-divers e culture some people feel when they’re here. However, the devil will be in the details and it’s not known yet exactly where this money will be spent. Furthermore, it’s one thing to provide scholarships to enable students to come, but the College need to do more to ensure these students have a good time at Imperial - both academically and with the wider student experience.”
“THIS COMES AFTER GAST ADDRESSED THE “BRUTAL FACT” THAT “OUR TALENTED COMMUNITY LACKS DIVERSITY”
Critics of the speech commented on how reactive it was. Each of the major points (scholarship fund, new teaching methods and a space review) came across as responses to the various crises that have racked Imperial, respectively the risk of declining revenues from falling EU and Chinese student numbers, BLM protests and the coronavirus pandemic.There was also no mention of the bullying scandal that has engulfed the last year of Gast’s tenure. In general this may be expected. Gast has served nearly seven years in her role and has been buffeted by controversy. Her tenure will expire in 2022 making this one of her last President’s addresses.
However, the muted tone of the event was particularly notable. In past years, Gast has regailed her audiences with tales of her travels abroad and how they inform her today, taking her audience from the US to Athens to Paris. In one case she even channelled Barry B Benson, raving about her love of jazz and Miles Davis.
In a slideshow before the event, it was revealed that 36 academics at Imperial had been named in the Birthday Honours list.