10 October, 2011 - 14:15 By Tony Quested

Cambridge University Chancellor election descends to a lottery

October 14 has never been a particularly good day for England on the battlefield. King Harold clearly should have gone to Specsavers rather than Hastings on October 14 1066 when Norman archers killed him with an arrow through the eye.


October 14 1322 and Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II to drive through Scottish independence. (Question from editor: You sure that’s a bad day?)

October 14 and 15 2011 and Cambridge University’s new Chancellor will be elected this Friday and Saturday.

Unfortunately for the future of a University trying to protect its world No.1 research position and for ongoing generations of students keen to get the best education possible with the greatest ensuing job prospects, the date already appears to have been erased from the calendar in the minds of many.

Business Weekly research suggest that too few of the eligible electorate recognise the importance of this particular vote – or even how or where they vote.

For example, misconceptions abound that voters have to turn up dressed like party animals at a Vatican fancy dress ball.

Some have had it whispered in their ears that their vote doesn’t count because David Sainsbury has it wrapped up. Others have been told Brian Blessed is the runaway winner. Either way - why spoil a good weekend by having the commonsense to fight for your own future welfare even if you don’t give a damn for that of your alma mater?

For those whose graduation gowns have fallen victim to a legion of moths, the University will provide free ones to allow eligible voters to discharge their entitlement.

And far from being a slam dunk for David Sainsbury, it is conceivable that the vote of luvvies like Stephen Fry and Sir Derek Jacobi might see Brian Blessed slip in with the lowest vote from the lowest ever turnout. Or lawyer Mike Mansfield or local shopkeeper Abdul Arain if he is zipping up and down Mill Road’s retail mile with sufficient elan.

Indeed, one radio station has reported fulsomely that Blessed – nominated by alumni in a Facebook campaign – is ‘the runaway winner.’ Lord Sainsbury, it said, was paying the price for not playing the social media influencing game.

All the signs are that arguably the University’s most important Chancellorship election of all time has become a lottery. And that spells potential pain for the University board trying to secure funding for its research programmes from an ever diminishing pot, for tutors and students long into the future.

If insufficient funds are raised from research collaborations with industry leaders the struggle will be on to retain top Dons and faculty (academic staff). That scenario threatens to both sap education standards and the ability to attract wealthy corporate sponsors for research programmes – and so the downward spiral could continue.

Everyone who can vote therefore has a moral duty to do so. They must do so in person at the Senate House between 10am and 8pm on Friday or Saturday.

The electorate consists of all members of the University holding a higher degree from Cambridge. In effect, this means that every Cambridge graduate holding a degree other than a bachelors (save the BD) has a vote. As members of the Senate, holders of other Cambridge Masters' and Doctoral degrees also have a vote.

All members of the Regent House are also entitled to vote as they are automatically members of the Senate, even if they have no previous Cambridge degree; this includes most post-doctoral research staff with three years' service and also fellows of the colleges who do not hold a Cambridge degree.

It must be fair to assume that Cambridge University fellows and alumni are among the most intelligent people on the planet.

It surely must be apparent that at a time when political expediency reigns at the very highest level of government, and in the midst of the biggest financial crisis most of us have known, that Cambridge needs a fighter, not a figurehead – an inside track scrapper in the corridors of power rather than a strutter upon a stage.

Lord Sainsbury understands the machinations of the government inner sanctum. He appreciates the needs of business – notably the areas of industry and science in which University departments excel. He knows what is required to turn the university’s innovation pipeline into a currency that can be used as a bartering chip for a better-funded future.

I would urge everyone involved with the University and with its future welfare at heart to go to http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/chancellorship/ without demur to fully understand the process. If eligible, exercise your voting rights. At least a full and broad ranging vote would increase the chances of a properly considered result, whoever emerges in the ermine.

I have no axe to grind whatsoever – but as an independent observer I can see with crystal clarity how David Sainsbury is likely to achieve far more on the university’s behalf than any of the other candidates, however personable they may be.

Everyone involved with the University will be discarding an effective and much needed champion if they look the gift horse that is David Sainsbury in the mouth. It will only take a few moments to cast your vote – get it wrong and you’ll have a large slice of a lifetime to regret it.

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