Blog: 2023-24 Programm

Sillhouette of man staring up at the stars

We have now launched our 2023/24 programme of lectures andbefore thinking about that I want to start with a Celebration of Gresham College – where it has come from, where it is going to. In 1597 Elizabeth the First was still on the throne, the idea of education for anyone other than a small elite was novel and as so often happens private enterprise was needed, in the shape of Thomas Gresham to have that vision and put the financial backing into his idea.

In my view the longevity of Gresham College is entirely due to two things: 

  • The original financial pot being large enough to continue to today
  • The original concept, which was for 7 professors, in set subjects, which remain fresh and interesting 425 years later

During those centuries we have travelled 

  • through the Enlightenment, scientific discoveries of magnitude, 
  • women’s emancipation
  • to the internet and technology
  • along the way we added 3 professorships (Business, IT and the Environment)

The most important aspect of Gresham College for me, is not the history (although that allows us all to be here today), it is the forward-looking face. Today our professors are the best academic minds of their time. To those of us who work here we are driven by the mission of education as a societal good. In the era of fake news we remain a bastion of fact, of research, of learning  -  disseminated to anyone and everyone free. The fact it is free is at the heart of our charitable mission. We cannot talk about reaching a more diverse, a more disadvantaged and a more global audience in any meaningful way, if we select those who already have a socio-economic advantage, by creating payment barriers. You can even watch Gresham lectures in the sky –as BA have added them to their watch on board lists. 

We seek to literally transform lives, to give people lightbulb moments, to help create a better educated world, for the good of all.

In my time, as the Acting CEO, I have been steering the ship through a time of change as we look to stand on our own feet to a greater extent, financially and in this we are hugely indebted to our donors and sponsors. I’d like to mention in particular those who have sponsored a series this year – Novartis and ISRF; and to those who have enabled us to fund a Schools Outreach officer and create a schools competition: St Paul’s Schools Foundation, the Merchant Taylors and Bloomberg. I’d also like to thank those who donate personally, many signed up as ‘Friends of Gresham’ to regularly donate. Many thanks for your ongoing support. Without this, without all of your commitment to the education we provide we would not be able to take this exciting programme forwards. I should say if anyone wants to know more about donating, either personally or through a company or foundation, please do speak with Jess.

The most exciting part of the new audience is our work into schools, who as we all know suffer from reduced funding, poor access to extra-curricular input, and in a more diverse world, struggle to offer resources fitted to all their students.

So, I will say a word about the Gresham Schools Oracy competition, which is in its second year. This year we will be asking all year 12 students in the state sector to send us a 5-minute video of themselves answering one question, out of a choice of six. A mini, mini Gresham lecture. The challenge we set each of them is to explain a complex idea in understandable terms, to have oracy skills, such as our professors and speakers have. And because we are an academic intuition, the prize, which we are seeking funding for, is for the first year’s university fees for the winning student, £9,250. Against the high barrier of university costs we want to create a virtuous circle where this win helps at least one student go to university, from where in years to come, we will hope to find our Gresham professor.

Finally I’d like to pay tribute to our Provost Professor Martin Elliott. The shape of our programme comes from his ideas and vision, he flies like a brightly coloured kite over us, whilst hanging onto the string, letting him fly, but keeping hold of the exuberance is our very own, Academic Programme Officer: Sophie, who only joined us this year, she has experienced the turbulence of staff changes and kept a steady hand on that kite string. My thanks to you both and to all the brilliant staff here.

Lucy Petrie