• Cambridge Chancellor Visit

Notes for a talk by Prof. Stephen Toop The University of Cambridge’s Vice Chancellor given at Ulink College Shanghai

Thursday, September 12, 2019         2:39 PM Notes taken by P Brannac
Lightly edited for clarity and flow. Throughout hyperlinks are embedded linking to further details or useful information.
Figure 1Prof Toop giving his talk to students and staff at Ulink College Shanghai
Others guests included:
Eilis Ferran Pro-vice chancellor of Cambridge
Dr Jing Zhao - Regional director East Asia Cambridge International
Ms Christy Yuan - ELT & education director, Asia Cambridge University Press
Ms Yvonne Huang - Senior manager East Asia Cambridge International
Mr Kelvin Shi - Area Manager, East Asia Cambridge International
Ms Julia Yue - Professional Development Manager Cambridge International
This is perhaps his 17th visit to China and he was recently in the China Development Forum in Beijing in the process of setting up the Cambridge University-Nanjing Centre of Technology and Innovation. Cambridge is working in partnership with several universities in China and carrying out research in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders in the Nanjing area. [This 5-year project is looking into “Smart Cities”, integrating large-scale infrastructure like IT, Healthcare and building management in a broad range of collaboration that will also carry out research in areas including autism. It is being driven by Cambridge’s Department of Engineering]
Cambridge “must be part of the global supply chain of ideas and innovation”
“Our world relies on people who think critically” - One of Cambridge's key roles is reaching out to other global universities, governments and civil societies.
"Schools like Ulink equip students with the skills necessary to succeed at the best universities"

The University of Cambridge and Cambridge Assessment International Education

Cambridge University has been involved in school assessment for 160 years.
Ulink College Shanghai (UCS) students “tend to do very well, with many of UCS students receiving “Outstanding Camrbidge Learner Awards”
CAIE is an extremely large organization, at any one moment there are around 1 million students studying a CAIE qualification all over the world
The university of Cambridge often takes students from UCS, this year alone taking 5 new students.

CAIE works very hard to ensure it’s qualifications are capable of providing access to universities and employers
It’s qualifications are accepted by over 1400 universities across the globe, including all Ivy League universities.
93% of CAIE students will go on to universities.
Cambridge programs are designed to help instill confidence and produce students who are reflective, innovative, socially engaged and ready to make a difference in our world – all skills that are needed in the 21st century.

The University of Cambridge

It has ancient past with over 800 years of educational excellence.
The institution’s shared aim is to support the next generation of globally minded people who are prepared to make the world a safer, more peaceful place and perhaps even helping to make it more full of love.
It currently has 1,200 Chinese students, out of a student body of 19,000 students in total.
At the undergraduate level, it, alongside Oxford, is unique with it’s collegiate system of 31 Colleges which are all part of the larger University.
There are many advantages that Chinese students have, like their exceptional discipline, which makes them well prepared for the rigors of a Cambridge education and they also have a love of learning and self-betterment, which is a great cultural trait.
Cultural traditions that are particular to certain geographic areas can be quite distinct and this can lead to frustration for new arrivals, but Cambridge's smaller community helps bridge the gap in those cultural differences and is perhaps the best university to manage these challenges.
UK system [A Levels] tends to be most interested in a depth of knowledge, unlike the broader scope of the US educational system [including the SATs and the Advanced placement, AP, program]. Focused on people who have already started to specialize much earlier on in their studies which helps those students develop a rich and in-depth of knowledge, for instance, in the sciences.
A Levels are not just knowing facts,, they enable students to show creativity and better help students to be able to play with ideas. For instance in an engineering application interview, the applicant will be asked to figure things out [problem solve], or given a model of a system and explain what is wrong with it. You need to know a lot so you can use what you know creatively to ask better questions about it. You must be creative and challenge things, to question even the questions.

Questions asked of Prof. Toop by Ulink students


What does Cambridge look for in an applicant?

What people definitely don't like is arrogance; it is very harmful in the interview if you come across as giving the sense that you feel entitled to a place. Another thing to avoid is simply reciting facts, without analysis. The interviewer is most interested in the questions you have and would like you to demonstrate where your knowledge and intellectual curiosity goes beyond the curriculum [subject enthusiasm, passion and the motivation to find things out for yourself] 

How to prepare for automation?

We will have to be able to change what we can do more often, be flexible and reorient oneself will be crucial in the future.
What Cambridge is looking for in its students will help them prepare for a changing working landscape: curiosity, questions and a questioning mind and a continuing ability to learn.
Cambridge is gives you the time and space to ask more and more questions and to get involved in rigorous analysis.
There has never been a time where there are more extraordinary opportunities in life. If you well prepared for this change you should go out into the world of work with a sense of excitement and confidence.

What is unique about a student from Cambridge compared to one from Oxford?

Different types of programs for each university. Try to ask as many people as you can to find the best program for your interests then think carefully about the various programs before you make your selection.

The Vice Chancellor of Oxford suggests Oxford has made more prime ministers; however Cambridge has many more Nobel laureates [109 affiliates of Cambridge since 1901] , which perhaps suggests Cambridge is doing a better job.


What are the basic differences between the British and the US system?

There is a fundamental difference in style between the two systems. The best of the US systems takes the form of the Liberal Arts education which offers the widest possible range of exposure to ideas during your undergraduate degree. After that you would then specialize at a Masters’ and PhD level. It is very successful and great for high school students who are unsure about their passions and also good if you just want to explore [ideas and yourself]. However, it requires lots of changes in subjects, you will be studying very wide variety of disciplines, e.g. languages like Chinese, sciences like chemistry and the humanities, like sociology. You must be comfortable with that. The US system looks for leadership and they will ask all kinds of quesitons about this in the interview.  There is a desire there to create leaders.
The UK undergraduate system places privilege upon a deeper understanding of a particular subject matter, you need to understand something really well before you can start to challenge [what you know and what others think]. The focus is when selecting applicants is pure academic ability, the UK doesn't look as closely at extracurricular interests.
In UK system the University of Cambridge tries to make more opportunities for choice, e.g. in the Natural Science Tripos will offers a selection of all of the sciences from which a student may choose their preferred combination.
Cambridge does produce leaders [in a wide variety of fields], but it doesn't expressly select for that trait.

Which 3 books would you recommend?

Jane Austin - Emma. One of the most wonderful explorations of empathy and the lack of empathy. Empathy the most critical qualities for a global education.
Toni Morrison - Beloved. Descriptions of human frailty and resilience, both of these things will be required of the [21st century] student and worker.
Edmund De Waal - The Hare With Amber Eyes He’s a contemporary potter and very interested in all white porcelain. In writing this book he learned about his family that date back to the middle ages. The central theme of the book is his families collection of netsuke [ornamental toggles to help tie cords around kimonos]
Prof Toop’s concluding remark, inspired by this last book, whose author is, incidentally a Cambridge almnus was:
“Where one comes from doesn't necessary decide where one can go.”

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