Lichfield's University - Ancient and Modern

At our March open meeting the Society was addressed by Professor Christine King. Christine is a Vice Chancellor and the Chief Executive of Staffordshire University. Amongst her many academic interests she has written on ancient and modern history and has championed the avenues for life long learning and widening access into higher education.

Christine opened her talk by referring to Lichfield as `a Jewel in Staffordshire's Crown', immediately finding common ground with her audience, always a sign of a good speaker! She discussed Staffordshire University's association with the Cathedral particularly in the development of an educational partnership for a theological course with the significant by-product being the possible funding for the extensions to the Cathedral Study Centre, delayed following the unsuccessful Lottery bid. So look out for an MA study course in Theology in a future prospectus!

Christine developed her theme of Ancient and Modern education leading the audience from the establishment of a school in Lichfield at the time of St Chad focussed on religious interests, through to the modern Staffordshire University with its purpose built campus in Lichfield being part of the wider spread campuses in Stoke and Stafford and focussed on current interests such as IT. She traced the emergence of Universities and defined their raison d'etre as being the reflection of the advancement of Society and the process of learning and research as the advancement of the interests of that Society.

Christine traced the general emergence of the modern University from Tudor times via the Redbricks of the Victorians and on to modern developments. Two percent of students leaving school in the 1960's went on to University. By contrast the figure is now 40 percent and the Government's well publicised ambition is for this to advance to fifty percent. All very optimistic but with the dead hand of Government always present and of course a worrying financial crisis to navigate, this ambition may b difficult to achieve. She described four tenets for the emergence and continued existence of Universities: one, for its civilising and cultural influence; two, to represent the values and diversity of a fair Society; three, to teach skills for bus ness and the professions and four, to assist in knowledge transfer by research work. Interestingly, she alluded to the 'class' attitudes of some Universities manifested by their `sniffy' attitudes to others, reminiscent of the famous Cleese, Barker and Corbett comedy sketch.

Christine delivered an articulate, well-polished and intimate talk, seated amongst and with close contact with the audience. Refreshingly, with no PowerPoint display anywhere within range! But by far the most interesting part of the evening was the Speaker's encouragement of participation of the audience and the Q & A session produced many lively questions. All were handled with consummate skill by the speaker but nevertheless still left many issues in the air. Do students (described as customers) get a fair deal from the student loans procedures (25,000 of indebtedness following a three year course)? Do Schools prepare their pupils to a standard necessary to commence their University course? Why has Staffordshire University stopped offering vocational courses enjoyed so much by retirees etc? The many questions and statement of opinion were a reflection of the importance attributed to education and continuing worries about Government policy towards and funding for education. Deeds not words are necessary, a view that was endorsed by our Speaker. It was a stimulating, thoughtful and most enjoyable evening.

Tony Crookes
March 2009