Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

Speech on receiving doctorate from the University of Kuwait

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Kuwait University, Kaldiya Campus, Sabah Al Salem Auditorium, Kuwait
Source: Thatcher Archive: speaking notes
Editorial comments: Between 0900 and 1030.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 788
Themes: Higher & further education, Religion & morality

Rector, Members of Faculty, Students, Friends,

It is a great honour to receive the degree of D.Phil. of the University of Kuwait.

The more so because my own university education was in chemistry.

Later I became a lawyer, thus turning from the study of the laws of science to the laws made by man.

Strangely enough, all this proved to be a very good training for an MP and then a Prime Minister.

And so, as I consider some 30 years of my own encounter with history—which as destiny would have it became closely interwoven with yours—it seems the right time to ask the question: “What do you expect from education in order to fit for a life of effort and to build a better world?”

And if this is the right time to ask, it is also the right place, because here in Kuwait you have come so magnificently through the grim days of murderous attempts to inflict brutal oppression on your whole country. The words of the poet seem very appropriate:

“Two things have altered not
Since first the worlds began:
The beauty of the wild green earth
And the bravery of man.”
[end p1]

The right place also because we are at your national university which for those who win a place here is the archway to a greater understanding of the world.

I would expect a university to be a centre for five great purposes.

First, to teach knowledge and learning for its own sake.

That was perhaps the original purpose: sheer scholarship, the contact and dialogue between great minds.

It may be the study of literature and languages or of the broad trends of history—is it true that history is the biography of great men and women, or is it more than that—what part does the character of people play?

It may be the fascinating work of mathematics and astronomy—of how our world was formed. Perhaps you remember that Isaac Newton, when asked how he came to his conclusions, said “By intending my mind” —a lesson for most of us in concentration.

I am sometimes asked by young people, was it worth going to university to study knowledge for its own sake. The reply is unhesitatingly yes, if you really want to do that subject. Then you will have a clear objective and the knowledge you gain and the friends you make will stay with you for life.

The second purpose is to provide vocational training for one of the great professions.

Medicine, law, pharmacy, engineering, computer science and communications, geology, teaching, and so on.

So much industry is science based, either the product or the process. It needs technology to be efficient and to translate the latest research into practical use. [end p2]

This part of a university's work is vital for the whole success of the economy. Japan, for example, trains three times as many young people in engineering as we do. That I believe is part of her success in delivering quality goods to the market and often being first with innovative ideas.

The third purpose is to transmit the heritage to future generations.

I think young people should be taught all the things of which their country can be so proud: the values for which their country stands and their people believe, values which transcend the vagaries of time and which are forever contemporary.

The importance of the family, the need to strive for excellence …

As I go round I am very impressed to see that young people want a set of rules and disciplines to live up to. How refreshing after a period when to debunk everything was the cynical, brittle fashionable approach.

To me and to many others, it was your deepest beliefs that saw you through difficult times and, in the words of the Psalmist, caused the night to pass until “Your light will break forth like the morning and your healing will come forth speedily.”

The fourth purpose is to be a source of creative ideas—the kind that no amount of logic or careful analysis can produce, but pure inspiration.

Inspiration—to unlock the secrets of science and to turn the results to the use of mankind —to formulate new laws when the old ones are inadequate for the needs of the times [end p3] —to find new art forms or a new style of painting

Fifth—and last—to teach that each person matters, and that each is responsible for his own deeds. Does one person matter?

Yes, and many of us know some brave souls whose contribution made an enormous difference to our lives.

One of our poets, Tennyson, put it very succinctly and very well. He was referring to the miracle of life:

“this main miracle
that thou art thou
with power on thine own to act
and on the world.”

These I believe are the five purposes of education at university.

May the new birth of freedom that has come to your nation spread to the wider world so that all may truly dwell in peace in their own land.