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Timothy O´Shea Principal of the University of Edinburgh:

“Education contributes to world peace”


Professor O´Shea became Principal of the University of Edinburgh in October 2002. Since his appointment he has sat on various boards including the Boards of Scottish Enterprise, the Intermediary Technology Institute Scotland Ltd, the British Council, the Governing Body of the Roslin Institute and has been Convenor of the Research and Commercialisation Committee of Universities Scotland and Acting Convener of Universities Scotland.

 "At the top level, one would say that universities and going to universities, being part of that, is to try to contribute to world peace," O´Shea said in an interview with Xinhua at the University.

Being very big and international, the University of Edinburgh is making a contribution to world peace, he noted, adding that when the university students return to home countries or go to different countries, "you want them to be in a situation where they will better understand people from other countries", as 40 percent of his university students come from outside of the United Kingdom.

"So I think, at the highest level, the purpose of universities for the individual is to give them increased intellectual autonomy; and the purpose of the universities for the world is world peace, is a society that lives in harmony and that respects of diversity," said the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, who was born in Hamburg in 1949.

On academic research and practical employment for education, O´Shea dismissed the necessity for a sharp distinction between the two aspects as academic research also need a lot of practical things to keep it going to ensure being supplied, while practical employment is not straight forward anymore in modern world.

He underscored the importance of students´ qualities of opening inquiry and exploration of possible answers as they really are, which is necessary to both the professional world and the academic world.

The principal also encouraged the students to make intellectual development to be ready for the university environment of "do a lot of thinking quickly", adding that the University would like to choose students who have a very high chance to be successful, which means the students should be "very well-prepared".

Meanwhile, O´Shea admitted that university is an expensive thing to run in terms of costs, which can be supplied by the country´s tax system and other resources of support.

"I think, the fundamental issue is to aim so that students are not impeded, not stopped from going to universities because of lack of money," he noted, referring to the role of scholarships, bursaries and government funding, as well as the objective to ensure "as many students as possible who need support get support".

On the difference of western style education and Chinese higher education, the Principal asserted "the differences between subjects, for example, the differences between mathematics and medicine are much bigger than the differences between countries."

"It is much harder to move from mathematics to medicine than it is to move from Beijing to Edinburgh," said O´Shea, whose university has good connections with Beijing University, Fudan University and Nankai University among others.

The Principal also hailed the performance of Chinese students studying at the University of Edinburgh as "successful", "work hard" and "stay contact with others".

On youth employment, he encouraged students "psychologically to be very flexible", emphasizing the importance of well-chosen job-related projects for university students and entrepreneurship education.

O´Shea, who is contributing much to Confucius Institute for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh, stressed the three aspects of the Institute to promote Chinese culture, teach Scottish people Chinese language, and provide a space for Chinese students to practice Chinese customs including making mooncakes.

Influencing the world since 1583, the University of Edinburgh is promoting excellence in teaching and research with over 500 degree courses including medicine, science and engineering, humanities and social science.


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