In my blog Social Mobility in Education on 25th February I described how I had just stepped down after serving a maximum of two three-year terms as an Independent Governor of the University of Bedfordshire. In that time the University had trebled in its number of students and revenue, won several awards including the Queen’s Award for Export and considerably enhanced both its reputation and its estate.
Last week at a graduation ceremony in the beautiful 12th century St Mary’s church in Luton I received an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Bedfordshire. This is the highest honour the University can award. The citation read as follows:
‘It is a special privilege to bring forward today Mr David Pearson for the award of Honorary Fellowship of the University of Bedfordshire.
Mr Pearson graduated from Oxford University with an honours degree in Law before establishing himself as a talented and experienced businessman with a background in marketing. He has worked for some of the World’s top brands, including Sony, where he spent ten years rising to the position of Managing Director of Sony UK where he was responsible for a turnover of £2.2 billion and 5,000 employees.
His marketing skills are exceptional - he is the only man in Britain to have been elected to the UK Marketing Hall of Fame and to be a Fellow of both the Marketing Society and the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
Mr Pearson served as a Governor of the University of Bedfordshire for six years, offering his expertise in a number of key areas until stepping down in February of this year.
He was Chair of the Marketing and Communications Committee during the merger with the De Montford Campus at Bedford and the rebranding of the new University. He was later Chair of the Student Experience Committee which encouraged the launch of SiD, the Student Information Desk, and supported the Student Union on raising its profile.
Currently Mr Pearson is Chairman of innovITS Ltd, a Government-funded centre of excellence for the development of intelligent transport systems, a non-executive director of JPMorgan Japanese Investment Trust plc, a non-executive director of Simple Audio Ltd and a Criticaleye Associate. He is also an Honorary Governor of St Albans Girls’ School.
It is for his significant contribution as a Governor of the University of Bedfordshire that the award of Honorary Fellowship of the University of Bedfordshire goes to Mr David Pearson.
It is therefore with the greatest of pleasure, Mr President, that I now present to you Mr David Pearson for the award of Honorary Fellowship of the University of Bedfordshire.’
In my acceptance speech I said:
‘Mr President, Distinguished Guests, Ladies & Gentlemen
This is indeed an honour and I am humbly grateful.
I have been fortunate in my life and particularly in my education. I won a scholarship at the age of ten to one of the great grammar schools in the north of England. At that time over 90 % of the boys would go on to University and over a third would win places at Oxford or Cambridge. I duly gained a place at Oxford where I read Jurisprudence or what normal universities call Law. I then did the only sensible thing to do with a law degree, I became a toothpaste salesman for Procter & Gamble. From then on I had Oxford as a brand on my CV and I will not pretend that it did me any harm.
By contrast my wife, whom I met and married when I was working in Chile, had her university studies brutally interrupted by the coup d’état of Pinochet. We came back to live in this country where we have a wonderful institution called the Open University where my wife studied for 8 years to gain a degree in art while bringing up our two children. Her achievement was immensely greater than mine and taught me a lesson. Our son went on to Oxford as well and our daughter here today gained degrees from Goldsmiths and University College in London.
So that might have been my entire exposure to universities if it had not been for a phone call from a head-hunter I knew who happened to be the Vice Chair of Governors here at the University of Luton as it then was. That was about 7 years ago and I became an independent governor of this university.
I am immensely proud of what has been achieved in that time. The University has trebled in size to 25,000 students with a turnover of £135 million, strengthened its management and teaching staff, won various prizes and increased its reputation. Above all a university is about teaching and learning. I suppose when I came here I expected to pass on the benefit of my experience in business, to teach if you like. Perhaps I have done that. But more importantly I have learnt so much more. Both from the colleagues on the Governing body and also from the students with whom I have come into contact. Many of them have not had the advantages that I had early in life but they have dedicated themselves to hard work and grow so much more here. The Value Added in this university exceeds that of Cambridge. Cambridge may head the league tables while Bedfordshire is in a more humble position, but the league tables are wrong because they take no account of Value Added. I know because I studied this closely when I chaired the University’s Marketing and Communications Committee.
So turning to you, the students who are graduating today, let me offer a few words to help you on the journey ahead. The world faces many challenges, political and economic: the tension between an economy based on consumption and a world of dwindling resources; the challenge of feeding and watering a hugely growing population; the challenge of global warming and climate change and other threats to the environment.
But with such challenges come opportunities; the opportunity to build strong businesses and organisations; the opportunity to build strong communities; the opportunity to build strong families.
Whatever you want to do in facing those challenges have no doubt that you are immeasurably better equipped as graduates of the University of Bedfordshire.
Mr President, I used to think that Oxford was my university. I am now very proud to say that my university is the University of Bedfordshire.’
Perhaps it was fitting that the majority of the graduands receiving degrees that day will go on to be social workers!
Copyright David C Pearson 2012 All rights reserved