As some of you may know, I sponsor an entrepreneurship award at the University of Brighton. This year’s winner was particularly pleasing to me as the winner came from the artistic side of the university and it was a successful social enterprise.
Not only was I impressed that such a project should take place, it led me to investigate more of what is going on at the university and to compare it with how it was when I was there fifty years ago.
The first thing that became clear was that this project was just one of many taking place in the university. I discovered the Waste House that has been created and judged as the third most eco friendly house in the world. Moreover, it is a multi-disciplinary project.
I discovered many other projects such as the use of recycled glass or plastic for artistic creations, projects to assist wheelchair users to do art and other such projects that are outside of formal research.
I was equally impressed with the formal research that was being undertaken to tackle many of the world’s problems in such areas as clean water provision, combating typhoid, as well as projects in many other disciplines.
What came across with all of this was the obvious concern from students for the real problems around them and for their desire to use their time at university for more than just a qualification gained in the gaps of a three year party!
When I look back on my time there I don’t remember such concern for the environment or for the world problems. Perhaps we didn’t care or perhaps the problems were not so evident fifty years ago.
I suppose that another influence on my later life was the time I spent living in Oxford where the rarefied atmosphere of one of the world’s leading universities, along with it’s short terms and visible partying led one to believe that all universities were like this.
But if you look at universities like the University of Brighton, you see an establishment that has integrated the Art College, the College of Education, the PE College and Brighton Polytechnic into a multi-disciplined, cooperative group.
Moreover, places like Oxford University have few local people studying there, with many coming to Oxford from abroad. Brighton, by comparison, has far more people from surrounding areas and many that choose to stay post-university.
One other key component of the University of Brighton is a function called Beepurple. This exists to assist students to start successful businesses. This recognition that self-employment is now considered a legitimate route into work is a long way from the views of fifty years ago.
One other thing that has impressed me about the attitude of Brighton is their willingness to combine the theoretical with real life experiences. In my own area of business, the business school encourages lectures from people who are now in the workplace and will share their experiences.
It is for that reason that I am preparing a session for next week on my 30 years of assisting the start-up and growth of businesses for delivery in Brighton as well as meeting the winner of the award that I sponsor.
It is also why I go there with a renewed hope for the future because of the evidence I have that there are young people and academic staff out there that do care about the important issues and are prepared to do something about it.
I have been as guilty as others of decrying university education as often irrelevant. I still worry about those that go to university believing that a degree will set them up for life, but I can now see that there are those that go to university to do more than study and party.
I look forward to reporting back to you on what else I find when I return in a couple of weeks.