Features | By Amy Ripley

“City – distinctive, aligned, self-confident”

Professor Anthony Finkelstein, our new President, tells us about plans for the University.


“Our staff and students, our mission, our place in the community, our values and our work – these are the things that make City a special place. As does our potential to make a difference.” These are the words of Professor Anthony Finkelstein CBE FREng, reflecting on his new role as President of City, University of London.


A distinguished researcher in the field of systems engineering, Anthony was most recently the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser for National Security. His academic research was based at The Alan Turing Institute and at University College London (UCL) where, prior to taking up his government role, he was Dean of the Faculty of Engineering Sciences and Head of Computer Science.


Anthony became President of City on Monday 28th June 2021, taking over from Professor Sir Paul Curran, who stood down after eleven successful years at the University.

What was the last book you read?


“The last book I read was Nuclear Folly by Serhii Plokhy – a new history of the Cuban missile crisis. Another Day of Life by Ryszard Kapuściński is a favourite book of mine but I have many favourites.”

Anthony has had a strong connection to City. He was a Professor and the Head of Computer Science at City between 1994 and 1997, prior to his appointment at UCL. His father, Emeritus Professor Ludwik Finkelstein OBE FREng, was one of the University’s longest serving members of staff who established the institution’s pioneering Measurement and Instrumentation Centre, which still exists to this day, and was Dean of the School of Engineering. When City gained university status in 1966, Professor Finkelstein was pivotal to our growth, serving as Pro-Vice-Chancellor.


Anthony’s brother, the journalist Daniel (Lord) Finkelstein OBE is also an alumnus (MSc Systems Analysis and Design, 1986) and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in 2011.


These deeply personal links are an important part of Anthony’s story but are, he says, not the main reason why he chose to apply for the job as President. Taking up the reins at a time of unprecedented global and domestic challenge, which has had a significant impact on the higher education (HE) sector, Anthony is confident that City can take advantage of the opportunities that disruption affords.

City - distinctive, aligned, self confident

“City has unique strengths, built through collective hard work and commitment, my job will be to help take these to the next level. Along the way we will have an opportunity collectively for fun, creativity and making a difference,” he says.


“I have a period of learning to do and am keen to co-create a vision with staff, students and other stakeholders.


“We need to be distinctive, aligned and self-confident. Distinctive means understanding where City can uniquely contribute as part of a crowded and competitive HE ecosystem. Aligned means we must assemble our resources and energy around a coordinated and clear direction – we cannot have research, teaching and engagement going in different directions. Self-confident means the institution must maintain a strong and positive sense of itself and what it can it achieve.”

How do you relax, when not at work?


“I enjoy time with family; my wife and my sons. I enjoy reading, seeing friends, art, antique shopping and going to the theatre.”

Anthony will be meeting all Schools and professional service departments over the coming weeks and says staff should be reassured that he is ready to listen. Everyone – regardless of role – should feel comfortable approaching him.


“I value entrepreneurialism, energy and innovation. My risk threshold is high – I’m up for up for us taking some risks in the service of our mission. I’m a human being and approachable. I’m a person who if I hear a good argument, I’m usually up for being persuaded,” he says.


Our students are at the heart of everything we do at City. Anthony is clear that we must work hard to ensure that they are given the opportunity to develop the skills, confidence and experience that will prepare them for the fast-moving world of work.

What has been your favourite lockdown boxset or podcast?


“I enjoyed the Mogul Spotify podcast about a hip-hop entrepreneur called Chris Lighty. I also liked WeCrashed, a podcast about the downfall of WeWorks, the collaborative workspace company. Another recommendation is War on the Rocks, a podcast about defence and national security – there are some excellent episodes.”

City - distinctive, aligned, self confident

“You will see a radical refocusing on that agenda, already symbolised by the appointment of Dr Sionade Robinson as Vice President for Engagement, Enterprise and Employment who will lead this.


“I think that at the core of City’s identity is the idea of business and the professions, the fact that we are a ‘professional school’, oriented to achieving transformational outcomes for our students. Engagement, enterprise and employment are central to this notion.”


As we know, student life has been a very different experience since March 2020, when we transitioned to a model of primarily online learning in response to the pandemic. Anthony agrees that this has sometimes been difficult for students but is looking forward to offering them the best experience that they can have – both on campus and digital – from the start of the next academic year, subject to government guidance.


“We hope to be able to give students a fully immersive on campus experience, backed up by excellent, and enhanced, digital support. It may take time to get to that point, but we should set ourselves a high ambition,” he says.

Who or what inspires you?


“It would be hard to do an interview at City and answer a question like this without mentioning my father, I admired him greatly and loved him deeply.


“More generally, I admire what are sometimes now thought of as ‘old-fashioned’ virtues – respect, honour and courage. I admire people who show courage in the face of opposition and adversity, who maintain themselves and vision through this.”

Research is central to City’s mission and the contribution it makes to business and the professions. Anthony intends to build on his predecessor’s track record as a champion for research, aligning it with his vision of an institution deeply engaged with advancing practice and creating impact.


“In the past few years, City has made significant efforts to drive improvements in its research performance and these efforts have yielded dividends. The next phase of our research journey will be to cohere it with those our missions of impact and engagement. Research is changing, radically, and we will have to respond to new emergent models of research and be strategic in the choice of focuses.”


Another area of focus will be extending the work City has undertaken on equality, diversity and inclusion – something that Anthony believes should be an essential part of everything that we do.


“A concern for equity and justice should run through all the ways in which City works and engages more broadly, including our community standards and how we work together. Our mission gives us a very particular opportunity because what brings many of our students to us is aspiration and opportunity – we have a chance to make a difference. Through our work, we can transform lives and the diversity of business and the professions and we can make a difference to their inclusiveness.”


City has always reflected London – a global city which is home to a diverse network of communities including the vibrant, creative areas in which the University is located – Clerkenwell, Shoreditch and the City of London. Anthony plans to strengthen these relationships – a key part of why we are attractive to students and staff from around the world.


“We will do this by making sure we have superb educational offerings that are globally distinctive. We want to attract the most talented students from wherever in the world, those who would benefit most at City, wherever they come from. I think that we need to show that this is the best place to study, teach, learn and research – to engage and create impact.”

What does leadership look like to you?


“It matters more what it looks like to others – those being led. It’s about many different things – principally, respect freely granted on the basis of knowledge and judgment and responsibility exercised with kindness and good humour.”

As a lifelong Londoner, London is a place that is important to Anthony personally, as well as professionally. He says one of his favourite things to do is to walk London’s streets, uncovering unfamiliar areas as he does so.


“I love walking and discovering new bits of London – buildings, gardens, monuments. It is such an amazing diverse city, in all its ways. I am constantly surprised by what I find.”