Published: 16 October 2017 at 11:53
We are the middle of our 2017 graduation ceremonies and each ceremony brings students whose individual journeys have been remarkably different together to cross the stage in celebration and recognition of their achievements.
We have seen in the first week smiles, tears and cheers, but what all have had in common is a real sense of the importance to each of the students of their educational achievements and the opportunities being opened up.
As a university we draw students from an incredibly wide range of backgrounds and this is something we are, and should continue to be very proud of. Whilst UK school leavers are the largest group, we have mature students from a very diverse set of careers and EU/international students from more than 100 countries. Unlike many universities we draw very evenly from areas of the country with high participation rates in HE and those with lower rates - a recent analysis that I have done indicated that we are among the 10 most equitable universities for admission statistics in the UK. We have seen students from across this spectrum graduate and it reminded me each time I saw the smile and sense of achievement in their face why we do what we do - education, research and innovation transforms lives.
This is not new - John Ruskin when he opened the Cambridge School of Art knew this and the importance of ensuring that doors are not closed to those who could benefit. It is consequently concerning that some who themselves have benefitted from access to Higher Education are now suggesting that doors are closed and drawbridges pulled up. Andrew Adonis's comments last week suggesting that the new universities are not fit to hold the title of university is sad and entirely misguided. We are demonstrably making a real difference, and as someone who has worked in a number of universities with different histories I can absolutely state that the commitment that our staff have to the wellbeing and education of our students compares very favourably indeed. Each and every university needs to be considered in the context of its own history and background. My own alma mater, the University of Leeds, from which I very proudly hold three degrees was established in 1904, drawing together an independent School of Medicine and the Yorkshire College of the Sciences. Its initial agenda was very familiar to us; a very strong civic mandate, widening participation and meeting the needs of the local community and employers. It is salutary to read commentary from the inter-war years on the deficits of the "modern" universities - Leeds among them. Indeed, fast forward 80 years and we could be speaking of the latest generation of modern universities. The book 'Redbrick University', written by the Liverpool based academic E Allison Peers under the pseudonym Bruce Truscott in 1943, goes into the challenges faced by a previous generation of new universities in great detail. Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool have all grown and developed in their first 100 years and few if any would say that the UK is anything but the better for those "modern" universities. As we continue to shape the future of ARU we should perhaps remember the words of 'Truscott' at the end of his volume - "Not all of the plans of the great founders of the newer universities proved successful. But when their plans failed, they thought out new ones. They kept on thinking. They kept on experimenting. They kept on believing."
I finish with again celebrating the achievements of our graduates - there is no greater voice that which will come from them as they take what they have learned and lead and challenge our futures.