It is amazing that, even now, some people still ask, “what is the role of higher education?” and “what is the value of a degree?”
The bottom line is this: in companies and professions across Britain, and in the case of the University of South Wales, over 120 countries around the world, there are graduates of my University and others like it managing businesses and developing their professions as only graduates can.
Whether they’ve studied the arts or business, humanities or sciences, graduates enter the professional world with the healthy scepticism and flexibility of thought that we hone through a university education.
Universities are not simply an economic generator of wealth, or a cog in the governmental growth machine, or a link in the economic chain. Of course, they do all of those things and we’re proud to say that we offer graduates a new route into the jobs market and equip them with the specific skills to build and develop their careers in a particular field. The British Airways partnership with USW – where the company partners with the University to train its aerospace engineers is a great example of this.
But I remind the sceptics that we have a deeper function too. A university education sharpens a person’s ability to react and shape events. We have always known that the natural abilities and talents of so many people are unlocked and given free rein by their time in higher education. The ancient Romans put it perfectly when they wrote two thousand years ago that “the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but a fire that needs igniting.”
Graduates are meeting the needs of employers across the world. They are senior civil servants and Members of Parliament, taking great decisions that affect the lives of millions of people; they are leaders in business, shaping the future of companies and countries; they are intellectuals and academics in their own right, in professorial chairs and seminar rooms across the world of universities; and they are authors, artists, poets, engineering directors, police officers, doctors and nurses. Some of them have reached the gold standard, the blue riband, and, literally, the Oscar statue at the summit of their professions. What could be finer, for example, than the film graduate from my own University who is now the Creative Director of Wallace and Gromit?
You see, a degree does not just offer training for a career. It provides graduates with a wider horizon for their ambitions, a wider perspective on the world around them, and, as one of our colleagues in the US put it recently, “acutely sensitive antennae for knowing when someone is talking rot.” Fundamentally, that’s exactly what employers need.