Dame Nancy Rothwell: ‘First lady of Manchester’ is special guest of honour at bicentenary event

Dame Nancy Rothwell: ‘First lady of Manchester’ is special guest of honour at bicentenary event

It was a night to remember as a special group of guests gathered in Dubai to mark The University of Manchester’s bicentenary, at a dinner in Dubai. The event brought together many of the University’s first 200 graduates supported through the Middle East Centre, hosted the presentation of the Middle East alumnus of the year, and welcomed a very special guest of honour who also shared some ground-breaking news for the region.

Welcoming guests at the start of the evening, Randa Bessiso, Founding Director of the Middle East Centre, said: “I'm so delighted to see so many of our alumni, partners and friends joining us this evening. We really appreciate you being here with us to celebrate this special anniversary. Why am I hosting this event on a Wednesday in the middle of May? Because we are honoured and privileged to have with us for one day only our President and Vice-Chancellor - Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell.”

Dame Nancy was visiting the UAE with colleagues from the University’s leadership team – her last visit to the Centre and region in her role as President and Vice-Chancellor. The Middle East Centre took the opportunity to pay tribute to her years of service with a video presentation.

“We want to take this opportunity to celebrate her many accomplishments, her successful years and pay tribute to Dame Nancy for her service and commitment to the University. 14 years of remarkable transformation and rapid development. And many, many years before that, as a highly respected and successful leading researcher in her specialist field.

“Dame Nancy, the University has continued to transform under your leadership and today it is recognised and respected as one of the world's top higher education institutions with a global reputation for excellence. You are the First Lady of Manchester. The first woman to lead the University and its two predecessor institutions in its 200-year history. The first woman to chair the Russell Group of universities. We celebrate your achievement and the impact you have made in providing an inspirational role model for so many women here at the University and across the world. Indeed, many are here with us today, myself included.

“Your impactful leadership has been transformational across all the pillars of our mission. And it has been the driving force behind the physical transformation of our campus. You set the highest standards of leadership that have made all the difference. Leading a team that has enabled us to make a collective impact in so many ways. From teaching and learning, research and social responsibility, community engagement and collaborations, diversity, equity and inclusivity, student employability and international outlook and many more.

“All these achievements culminated in the presentation of the Times Higher Education Outstanding Achievement Award for President and Vice-Chancellor at its recent prestigious annual award ceremony. Only one such award is made by the Times Higher Education each year. It is indeed richly deserved and as the Times Higher Education said, ‘few people in higher education have been as successful at every rung of the ladder as Dame Nancy…. completing 14 years in charge of The University of Manchester. In doing all this she has shone out as a beacon for women in higher education and beyond, smashing glass ceilings at every turn.’

“While I really don't have the words to improve on this, I have to add that Dame Nancy is also a dear friend for many of us here. We share your deep sense of care for higher education and your belief in the role that it plays in transforming lives and societies for the better. So, throughout 2024, we will continue to celebrate 200 years of learning, innovation and research. 200 years of our incredible people. 200 years of global influence and your many years of leadership and service.

“So, Dame Nancy, on behalf of the Middle East Centre team and our entire regional community of students, alumni, partners and friends, I thank you for your unique and immeasurable contribution to Manchester and for the legacy that will certainly endure for the next century of The University of Manchester and beyond. Thank you.”

Dame Nancy Rothwell responded with thanks for the “amazingly kind words. It's wonderful to be back here again.

“This is an amazing place. It's always such a pleasure to visit, and what an incredible centre. So much has been achieved by that centre, and I always get such a warm welcome, and it’s so incredibly well organised. Everything is done to a tee, and I know that's down to Randa and her team.

“So, even in the short time I've been here today, we've had a productive day. We met the British Ambassador, we visited senior staff in Mubadala, and the Ministry of Education, and the CAA (Commission for Academic Accreditation).”

Dame Nancy then shared the latest news on the Middle East Centre: “Although not yet formally announced, I'm allowed to tell you that we have now been successful in our accreditation by the CAA of the Middle East Centre, and this was just last week. So, an amazing achievement - congratulations. This was a lot of work… and we heard directly today from the leaders of the CAA how well-deserved it was. This paves the way now for doing much more, for applying for joint research programmes, joint PhD programmes, and it's something that we will definitely be working on.

Dame Nancy went on to comment on her 14-year term as President and Vice-Chancellor: “There have been some difficult times along the way. We had COVID, of course. We had a major cyberattack but also there have been a lot of successes in Manchester and, indeed, here as well. And across the region, you have all been very active, and one of the great satisfactions is looking back and seeing the strong relations between the University and the Emirates.

To enthusiastic applause, she confided that this may not be her last visit to the UAE because: “My successor, who you will get to meet very soon - he's really an excellent appointment - has asked me to stay on to help him.

“2024 is the year of sustainability here in the UAE, and this is also incredibly important for us. And we are looking to partner on research and innovation in all forms, economic, social, educational, digital, but also particularly in sustainability, which is so important for the world. I'm not surprised that UAE continues to attract international media attention, talent, and investment.

“Later in the year, there are lots of events planned for the bicentenary. There is the festival in June, Universally Manchester, with some amazing presentations. Then we have the THE World Conference in October, and we're launching a book on the history of Manchester. There is a Bicentenary Way, celebrating many of the incredible people in our past. And so, if anyone can make it to Manchester, please do. You're always very, very welcome. And of course, this will go on beyond that into our third century.

“I do want to particularly thank Randa and her amazing team here for all the amazing support for me and my colleagues, not only during my visit but throughout the year. You have been a great success, and I see it grow all the time. And now with the accreditation, there are huge opportunities for the future. And I always say to people back in Manchester, if you want to see serious branding, come here. And indeed, I was watching the bicentenary ‘lighting up’ event from Manchester, when we were all very proud to see on the screen the lighting up event here, also in Hong Kong and in Shanghai. And people felt very proud that we have our international centres. So, I do want to thank you all for your support. I thank you personally, and I thank you on behalf of the University.

“I want to leave you with a few personal thoughts. I never planned to be a Vice-Chancellor. I never intended to be a Vice-Chancellor. I never wanted to be a Vice-Chancellor, and indeed had to be persuaded to be one. I could never have been a Vice-Chancellor at any university other than Manchester. Indeed, this was never a job to me. This was always a passion. The University of Manchester is an absolutely incredible institution and I will continue to do everything I can for it.

“It really is a truly amazing place. Why? The people - the students, the staff, the community, the alumni, the many, many people. They are everywhere. Everywhere you go in the world, you see Manchester alumni. So, I will continue to be absolutely passionate about The University of Manchester.

“And, as they say - I will be back. Thank you.”