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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 06:05 GMT 07:05 UK
University gets female head
Alison Richard
Professor Alison Richard is the new vice-chancellor
Only the second woman to become vice-chancellor of Cambridge University is due to be officially installed.

Professor Alison Richard is due to be made the university's 344th vice-chancellor in a traditional ceremony on Wednesday.

She replaces Professor Sir Alec Broers, whose attempt to modernise Cambridge's labyrinthine decision-making structures suffered defeats at the hands of rebels in Regent House, as the university's parliament of academics is known.

Professor Richard comes to Cambridge from Yale in the US, where she was provost, effectively its chief financial officer, from 1994 until last year.

I look forward to joining the effort to find good solutions and, above all, to doing my best to help Cambridge remain among the finest academic institutions in the world
Professor Alison Richard

With political debates raging about whether cash-strapped universities in England should get more money from the taxpayer or be funded by higher tuition fees, she acknowledged she was taking over at a challenging time.

A Newnham College anthropology graduate on Tuesday revealed she once leapt on former Prime Minister Harold Wilson's car during a student protest in the late 1960s.

Professor Richard promised to try and maintain Cambridge's position as one of the "finest academic institutions in the world".

'Major financial challenges'

She said: "It is at once exciting and sobering to take up office as vice-chancellor of a university that is nearly 800 years old and a precious national asset.

"Major financial challenges confront universities in the UK today.

"I look forward to joining the effort to find good solutions and, above all, to doing my best to help Cambridge remain among the finest academic institutions in the world."

Last year, when her status as vice-chancellor-designate was announced, Professor Richard pledged to try and create a culture of donations by Cambridge graduates as an alternative funding stream.

The US has a well-established practice of "alumni" - former graduates - giving large sums to their universities.

More donations sought

It has helped Ivy League institutions, including Yale, Harvard and Princeton, build up endowment funds that dwarf those available to their UK rivals, including Oxbridge.

The Government has also urged universities to encourage alumni donations and seek more money from businesses.

Cambridge has had one previous female vice-chancellor, Dame Rosemary Murray, who held the position from 1975-77.

But this is the first time since the role was given greater executive powers in 1992 that the job has gone to a woman.

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