Stephen Toope to step down as University of Cambridge vice-chancellor

The Canadian vice-chancellor says the pandemic “has led me to reassess my own years ahead from a personal perspective”

Professor Stephen J Toope is to step down as vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge at the end of September 2022.

Prof Toope, who took up his post five years ago, said: “I take a great deal of pride in our accomplishments, which were built together as a collegiate Cambridge community. I am especially proud of our joint leadership across collegiate Cambridge to deliver on our dual mission of education and research through the unprecedented Covid crisis. We kept the university on track and safe during its hardest years since World War II.”

The vice-chancellor, who is Canadian, continued: “But at the same time, the upheaval of Covid has led me to reassess my own years ahead from a personal perspective. As an expat living far from home, being separated from my children and grandchildren by closed borders has been hard. Being near my own family and friends is more important than ever. It remains of course an extraordinary experience to serve this great university as its vice-chancellor, and a tremendous honour to work with colleagues across the collegiate university and beyond – one that I am proud and enthusiastic to continue for another full year.

“Indeed, there is still much to do through our programme of recovery from the pandemic. I am fully committed to focusing on the priorities set by the university council. The leadership transition next year will not detract from my commitment to the important work we have underway this year. The strength of our senior leadership and all our university community, the guidance of the council, and the eventual choice of a highly able successor will allow me to pass the baton without missing a beat.”

As vice-chancellor, Prof Toope led Cambridge through the creation of its first-ever Priorities Framework, launched its climate change initiative, widened student access and participation, started a £500 million fundraising drive to improve financial support for poorer students, and this year launched a new Foundation Year aimed at applicants who have “faced educational and social disadvantage, and are likely to include: care leavers; those who have missed significant learning due to health issues; students from low-income backgrounds and from schools who send few students to university; and students unable to access suitable qualifications”.

Mark Lewisohn, the deputy chair of the university council, said Prof Toope had had “a profound impact” upon the university. “Under his leadership, the university has become more transparent and more robust in its processes and has launched several new and exciting research and teaching initiatives. Stephen’s focus on sustainability, which has led to the creation of Cambridge Zero, will be an important part of his legacy, as will his efforts to make Cambridge more accessible to students from all backgrounds. We look forward to working with Professor Toope in the year ahead as we continue to make progress on our agreed priorities.”

Lord Sainsbury of Turville, chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said: “I totally understand and fully respect Professor Toope’s decision, taken for the best of reasons, to complete his term of office in September 2022. I know this is not a decision he will have made lightly, but he can do it in the knowledge that he has left his mark on the university, and contributed to making it an even better place to study, work and undertake research. His leadership throughout the pandemic has been essential to getting Cambridge through the biggest crisis of our times, and I am grateful for his dedication and commitment over the past four years.”

The search for a new vice-chancellor “will be underway shortly”, according to the university.

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