Being the first person to congratulate students on graduation day has been one of the most memorable moments for Lord Burlington so far in his first year as Chancellor of the University of Derby.
“I was very honoured to be offered the role in the first place, and being Chancellor has already exceeded my expectations. Just to be a part of the University, somewhere that offers students from all backgrounds the opportunity to reach their potential, is so inspiring.
“At the University’s graduation ceremonies I felt a sense of incredible pride, and being the first person to commend students was a real privilege and a particular highlight for me in the role of Chancellor so far.”
A visible ‘cheerleader’ for Derby
In March 2018, William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington, became the fourth Chancellor of the University of Derby. While his role as the non-executive titular head of the University involves him presiding at meetings of the University Court, ceremonial occasions and at award ceremonies which take place in Buxton, Derby and overseas, he sees his role as much more than that.
“The University first and foremost is all about students, and therefore that’s what I took as my cue when I began this position,” he explains. “Student wellbeing, student value, employability – the role of the Chancellor is involved in all of that, and more. There are two sides to the role; the more visible side and then what goes on behind the scenes.
“You don’t get more visible than standing on a stage at graduation wearing a gold-fringed robe. Of course, this ceremonial role is important but, behind the scenes, I am talking to people, supporting the goals of the University, understanding what the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Kathryn Mitchell is trying to achieve, and really being the head cheerleader behind that.
“Beyond the University, I see my role as ensuring key stakeholders such as business owners, civic leaders and teachers are excited about the University and want to get involved.”
Seeing a drive for excellence
Since his installation, Lord Burlington has spent the year witnessing first-hand what the University has to offer.
“The way the University is so centred in the community is notable,” he explains. “Derby is a comparatively young university, edging towards the age of 30, but it is a cornerstone of the city and county, not only benefiting students but the whole community. The University is a big employer and is continuously investing in facilities and infrastructure. In so many ways, it is helping the region to move forward.
“I understood that the University was part and parcel of Derbyshire life, but I didn’t realise quite how deep and far its reach extended until now.
“Among staff, there’s a tangible drive for excellence. I’ve visited all three University campuses – Derby, Buxton and Chesterfield, as well as Buxton and Leek College – and there is so much professionalism and commitment from everyone. Seeing first-hand the power the University can have to change not only people’s lives, but whole communities has been fantastic. It really has been an amazing year.”
Lord Burlington took up the ambassadorial role from his father, the 12 Duke of Devonshire, who served as Chancellor at the University for ten years. During this time, the Duke developed stronger links between the University and the family business at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, and encouraged a more global perspective, putting Derby and Derbyshire on the international stage.
Inheriting the responsibility
With big boots to fill, how does Lord Burlington feel taking on such a role?
“I never dreamt that this would be something that came my way as it’s not the sort of thing that is typically passed from a father to a son,” he says.
"But of all the roles that my father has ever had, this was probably the one I was most envious of. Whenever he came back from a University event or talked about the role, I have never known him to be so animated, engaged and inspired. That definitely had an impact on me.”
As a university graduate himself, Lord Burlington is passionate in ensuring others have the chance to succeed – and has made this the main focus in his role as Chancellor.
Among other responsibilities, he is Chairman of the Devonshire Educational Trust, an independent charity that works in partnership with the Chatsworth House Trust. It offers diverse and accessible educational opportunities, including learning about matters of historical, artistic and architectural interest, as well as the countryside and rural landscape.
“I came across a quotation recently that said ‘talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not’ and that really motivated and inspired me; it truly summarised to me what universities are all about, as well as what we can offer at Chatsworth,” he says.
“More than 1,000 people work at Chatsworth and the associated businesses, so there are lots of different ways to get involved, whatever your passion. Through the Devonshire Educational Trust, I have been trying to deepen engagement, not just with the arts, but with the environment through outdoor learning.
“Education is not new at Chatsworth. My grandparents opened up the farmyard in the 1970s as a place where people could learn about where milk came from, so it is something that I have felt very passionate about for a long time. I’ve always had amazing opportunities throughout my life and I feel that the most important thing I could do, given my situation, is to find ways to open up opportunities for others.”
Building the partnership
Chatsworth is home to the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and has been passed down through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. In 2018, the University of Derby, Chatsworth House Trust and the Devonshire Educational Trust signed a partnership agreement to work together to generate new opportunities for students and to benefit visitors to Chatsworth and local communities across the county.
“For me, this has been quite an eye-opening lesson in the power of accountability,” explains Lord Burlington. “As organisations, we have been talking to one another for quite a long time but nothing formal has ever been agreed.
“It’s impressive to see how much has taken shape in the few months since the partnership was launched – for example, for example, we hosted a student takeover where students ran an event at Chatsworth, enabling them to gain real-world learning. We also collaborated on a pricing assessment project – again giving real-world experience – and we’ve embarked upon an ambitious impact assessment for Chatsworth to discover how we impact the community financially, which will be an interesting live project for students to come and work on.
“There’s so much more that we are hopefully going to be doing too. We welcome over 600,000 visitors a year to Chatsworth so there’s just any number of opportunities for students to get involved in.
“When Professor Mitchell approached me about the Chancellor role, she described Chatsworth as the most educationally engaged organisation in the county that wasn’t an educational institution, which I found very flattering. It encapsulates exactly what we are trying to achieve at Chatsworth. We recognise that, by working together as organisations, we can offer opportunity where there is none – and that’s extremely powerful.”
Doing more of everything
Collaborative working is crucial if universities are to drive forward growth and fulfil their ambitions, says Lord Burlington.
“While Brexit poses many challenges for universities given their various strands of interaction across the world, closer to home one of the biggest challenges is in ensuring institutions work closely with their cities and counties,” he says.
“I have seen a lot of good work across Derby and Derbyshire but sometimes it is done in isolation. Doing things in a multi-agency way in order to have real impact is a challenge and something I am keen to help with, in my role as Chancellor. Derby is a civically engaged university at the heart of a thriving city and county and we need to shout loud to ensure people know this. When working together, we have formidable strength in boosting Derbyshire’s reputation, economy and future investment.”
The year ahead for Lord Burlington is set to be busy, as he moves forwards in his appointment as High Sheriff of Derbyshire and continues to assist Chatsworth with its ambitions as a global tourism attraction, as well as championing the University of Derby.
“This year I want to be doing more of everything,” he says. “My Chancellor and High Sheriff roles very much overlap – both are an opportunity to raise awareness of the vital work being carried out across the county, often by unsung heroes. If I can play a tiny part in some of the incredible work taking place across Derbyshire and help to have meaningful impact, that really will be an achievement.”