Thatcher installed as chancellor of private university: Charles Oulton reports on a day of mixed emotions for the former prime minister

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The Independent Online
THE WOUND inflicted by Oxford University seven years ago will never heal, but Baroness Thatcher was not going to let it spoil her day.

As the former prime minister was installed as chancellor of the University of Buckingham yesterday, the only discordant note came when someone mentioned the food at Merton. The baroness smiled, albeit grimly, and the moment passed.

It had been a tactless reference because few episodes in her premiership were more humiliating than the decision by Oxford's governing assembly, Congregation, to refuse her an honourary doctorate. The only other person to be snubbed this century was the former Pakistan president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and he was later hanged.

When the then prime minister received the news of her snub, her office said that if the university did not wish to confer the honour, she was the last person to wish to receive it. So yesterday, for consistency's sake, Lady Thatcher stuck to this line.

Accepting the chancellorship, she said it was 'an honour greater than any to which I ever aspired'. It would have been churlish to doubt her. Certainly, she has been an ardent supporter since she opened the university in 1975.

As a private university, it was for many years outside the UCCA system of entry. Now it has more similarities with other universities, although the 900 students, many from abroad, still pay the full fees. However, it is still alone in offering a two-year degree course for 'highly motivated' people.

This is where Lady Thatcher comes in. Speaking at the ceremony at the church of St Peter and St Paul, Buckingham, she reminded her audience about the 'lesser minds' who questioned the wisdom of setting up a private university, and who had now been routed by its success. Appropriately the university's motto is Alis Volans Propriis (Flying With Its Own Wings).

A solitary protest staged outside by Rob Lehmann, a Labour town councillor, reminded Lady Thatcher of her glory years. He said some unprintable things about what she had done to the country. However, the only really unprintable words yesterday were Oxford University.