#Uni Days 30 years on: from 1988 to 2018

My home city, Nottingham, will visibly “lift” over the next few weeks when over 60,000 students will descend on the city with all the aspirations, anxieties and expectation of Class of ‘18 for the University and Trent.

I shudder to think three decades have passed since I set off in Autumnal sunshine for University (in the old college system of Leeds, leafy North Yorkshire).

So what’s the difference between 1988 and 2018?

Finances – let’s get this out of the way

Fees, 1988 = £0. The Government still had the long-held view that access to Higher Education should not be hindered by ability to pay: the best brains or captains of industry are not just to be found in affluent leafy suburbs. In fact the lazy arrogance of privilege needs to be actively diluted.

Loans, 1988: didn’t exist. The good citizen councillors of Wakefield Metropolitan Council were more than happy to pack me off with a grant – for four years. Hall fees were around £500 a semester – that’s three meals a day and a cleaning lady called Sue.

Average cost of a pint £1.10. Student Union promo night pint = 50p. Gig ticket: £5.50. Debt on exit: £1,000.

The car parks were smaller. Halls had shared bathrooms. Wiki/Google didn’t exist. You had to book a computer a week in advance and have a degree in computer science to write a word document (try coding an indented paragraph). At dissertation time, you paid a typist.

Was it really so different?

As young as I was I recognised the quality of care and teaching.

Some of the most influential people in my formative years were 6th form teachers and that continued with my lecturers. I will name check Professor George Herring who embedded in me a life-long love of history, politics and analysis as well as a wry wit and a mischievous sense of fun.

That quality of teaching is still there – grab it with both hands.

Three years sounds like a lifetime to an 18year old. It’s over in a blink.

I remember one of the strongest guys and ‘blokes’ I ever knew crumbling before my eyes, sobbing when it was all over and saying: “I could have done so much more”.

Have no regrets.

Take all you can when you can from the learning – your capacity is more than you can imagine.

This is your time – make your mark.

Shake off heavy responsibility, fail fast.

Be defined by your successes and be unburdened by things that didn’t quite work out.

The same as 1988? A daily revelation is meeting people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, cultures, personal back-stories, expectations and finding common ground, a sense of purpose and a shared future.

You will meet people now who will be part of your life forevermore.

Different/the same: connectivity.

I always thought those who missed out were those who played at ‘part-time’ university and reverted to past life.

In those days it was a harder thing to do – students rarely had their own cars, no smart phones, no wi-fi. I thank my lucky stars digital cameras, wifi, insta and snapchat didn’t exist in 1988…..

Lack of public transport and the rarity of a car-owning student enforced separation from the ‘old life’.

The phrase ‘you get out what you put in’ is never more true than while at university.

Make the most of…

University life is much more than academic learning, it’s about making a difference to that community – either the campus community, or the community the campus exists in.

There are too many ways to list the ways that students can do that and continue to do that once they have graduated.

Living in a university ‘town’ is wonderful, even if sometimes Universities and cities struggle to articulate it. This is something which the civic university commission is currently looking at http://upp-foundation.org/civic-university-commission/

While for many people in cities, universities may seem ‘something that goes on over there’ but they add so much more than educating students.

They are the talent farms of the future population, the creatives of the future (here in Nottingham – London Grammar!), innovators. And yes – consumers, part-time workers, sports stars (GB Women’s Hockey team), the home builders.

A good proportion of students will never leave the city where they are educated, they will find their partners, settle, create a life there, innovate, bring new ideas: that is a truly wonderful thing.

For me, University did three main things:

  • My outlook was broadened by the people I met, setting my aspirations higher than I ever dreamed possible.
  • In turn that set the direction of my career, first in journalism then onto public relations and Government and onto where I am now.
  • Finally, but always first and foremost, it introduced me to my future wife – the mother of my three wonderful children as well as brought me for the first time to the wonderful city of Nottingham. It’s a cliché I am more than happy to accept.

So, go forward class of 2018: shed all doubts – your future awaits, grab it with both hands.

And don’t listen too much to old gits like me…

Stuart Baird graduated from the University of Leeds in 1992 with dual honours in History and English and a Masters in Public Communications in 2011. He was a journalist for four years before joining the Government communications service where he was a director of communications. He has been a director of communications for the NHS and now runs a PR and strategic communications consultancy in Nottingham. www.bakerbaird.com