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President and Provost Professor Michael Arthur says that when we come together, great things happen.


One of our favourite sayings at UCL is the African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’

That feels very relevant now, as I write this in September 2018 shortly after learning of the death of Professor Sir Charles Kao – UCL alumnus, Nobel-winning scientist, friend and inspiration.

His example reinforces what being part of the UCL family has already made clear to me – the world is a small place, individuals can effect great change, and being part of a community is the best way to make a deep, long-term difference.

Charles is known as the father of fibre optics and the godfather of broadband, his work laying the foundation for the communication revolution that has radically changed how we all live, work, understand and interact. When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2002, it felt particularly cruel that such a brilliant mind could be ambushed in this way. Bravely, he and his wife, Gwen, tried to bring forth something positive from their situation, setting up the Charles K Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease to raise awareness, improve support and tackle taboos around dementia in Hong Kong.

In November 2016, Charles and Gwen were able to join the celebrations when UCL launched the It’s All Academic Campaign to raise £600m. Dementia is one of the priority projects for the campaign, and Gwen spoke unflinchingly about the need for research funding. “One day old age will come for you and you will benefit from today’s research,” she said. “I hope you will support UCL’s research, or it may be a calamity when you get old.”

Powerful words from an extraordinary woman; none of us who were there will forget the courage and warmth that shone from both Charles and Gwen, despite the cruel disease they were dealing with.

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, who works closely with UCL neuroscientists to tackle dementia. The whole event summed up the foundation of UCL’s success – a global community working together to tackle the big issues that affect us all.

A university is a place where knowledge is pursued, where new knowledge is generated, and where it is applied to have impact on a global scale. Collaboration is at the core of that. No individual or institution, no matter how talented, how wealthy, how determined, can go as far alone as they can as part of a team.

That’s why, at a time when being a global citizen is not necessarily seen as a positive thing, UCL is happy to put its head above the parapet and make the case for the value of being an active member of a global community.

Some of you will have taken part in our Global Citizenship Programme, which gives students the opportunity to come together to bring their varied skills and knowledge to focus on particular global issues – from urban change and environmental justice to infectious disease.

Meanwhile our Global Engagement Strategy, now in its fourth year, is developing partnerships across the world based on ‘global partnerships of equivalence’ – alliances based on trust and respect from which both sides derive value. The approach reflects our understanding that, as eminent as we are, we can still learn as much as we can teach.

One of the great pleasures and privileges of my role at UCL is meeting alumni communities across the world, not just because I have a great time but because those visits fill me with optimism – that cross-cultural understanding, friendship and collaboration are well embedded in our culture and will not easily be uprooted.

So please do keep our global community growing and active. Get involved in your local group (or create one if it doesn’t already exist – we can help) and develop your global UCL network through the Alumni Online Community (another thing to thank Charles Kao for). When we travel together, there is no limit to how far we can go.

Professor Michael Arthur
UCL President and Provost.

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Portico Issue 5. 2018/19