Friday, 13 February 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to its scarce 'old' Champion of Lifelong Learning, David Watson

David, a man of abundant talent who chose to spend his life in Higher Education as an academic, manager, strategic thinker and policymaker and in the process enriched the lives of thousands of students and colleagues, has died at the age of sixty-five.

What you possibly didn't know about David, that he :

* was born, a Second World War baby boomer in 1949 in the small town of Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, passed
the 11+ exam and in 1960 went to Cheshunt Grammar School and at the age of thirteen, transferred to the prestigious boys' public school, Eton College, with his fees paid by 'Fleming Scholarship' through Hertfordshire County Council, which he later recalled as : "a short-lived pre-Sutton Trust-style initiative, immortalised in a novel called 'The Guinea Pig' by David Benedictus, very badly filmed with Richard Attenborough in the title role."

* left school in 1968 to study undergraduate History at Clare College, the second oldest of University of Cambridge's thirty-one colleges, where his academic brilliance was recognised in the granting of a 'Foundation Scholarship' and his musical prowess recognised in the award of a 'Choral Exhibition' which carried financial remuneration after he was tested for : 'A good ear, ability to sing in tune, a ‘true’ voice with the potential for blend, good sight-reading and genuine motivation' and involved him thrice weekly choral evensong and choral compline and extra services, such as Advent Carol services, All Souls and Ash Wednesday vigils, weddings, funerals, memorial services.

* graduated in 1971 with a First Class pass in both parts of the History Tripos, followed by an M.A. at the age of twenty-four in 1973 and then a PhD in 'Intellectual History' at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975 as a 'Thouron Scholar',  a generous exchange fellowship which paid for his two year's tuition, a stipend for his board, entertainment and travel and where his mentor, Bruce Kuklick, was author of  : 'ground breaking books on the history of American philosophy and religion, has also published a wonderful social history of a baseball stadium. I have used his example as an excuse for professional engagement with a wide range of historical and quasi-historical problems.'
* said in 1999 : 'In almost every context where I am asked to state my profession I like to say "historian." This is what I was trained to be, very intensively, as is the British style through undergraduate studies and the American practice in graduate school (incidentally, a combination I am happy to recommend). It is also a profession that I have continued to practice, even while much of my time has been seized by an alternative descriptor - more persuasive on the passport and for the bank manager - that of 'university administrator'.'

* having made the decision to teach in order to develop 'scholarly conversation' in his field, the history of ideas, eschewed the pursuit of a career in an elite university and at the age of twenty-six, took up his first teaching post to develop new courses at the newly merged Crewe and Alsager College of Higher Education in 1975 and left in 1981 as Senior Lecturer, Principal Lecturer in Humanities.

* in 1988 published 'Margaret Fuller : An American Romantic' based on his research on the 1810 Massachusetts-born philosopher who had published in 1845 America's first widely read feminist tract entitled 'Women in the Nineteenth Century' in 1845 and recognised that she : 'confused, unsettled and quite simply scared many of the men she met. Edgar Allan Poe divided humanity into three classes: men, women, and Margaret Fuller.'

* having moved to Oxford Polytechnic, at the age of thirty-two in 1981, progressed from the position of Dean of the Modular Course, to Deputy Director and finally Professor and focussed, in his first book on Higher Education practice, on its innovative curriculum in his 'Managing the Modular Course' in 1989 and expressed his continued interest in intellectual history in 'Arendt', published in 1992, based on the German-born political scientist, Hannah Arendt, in which he believed, in her philosophy she : 'identified with the existential pole of the Kantian legacy - and in part the achievement of Heidegger.'

* was appointed Director of Brighton Polytechnic in 1990 and from 1992-2005, Vice Chancellor of its successor the 'University of Brighton', where he was acknowledged not only as an outstanding university leader, but was also sought as an adviser and published as an author of influential works on higher education policy and curriculum: 'Developing Professional Education' in 1992, 'Managing the University Curriculum' with Jean Bocock in 1994 and 'Lifelong Learning and the University' in 1998, the year he received a knighthood for 'Services to Higher Education'.
* sat on the National Committee of Inquiry, chaired by Ron Dearing, whose Report was published in 1997, 'Higher Education in the Learning Society' and described its most controversial recommendation : to make students pay for their university education as : "one of the most eagerly awaited and arguably most distinctive acts of the New Labour Government" but was subsequently critical of the decision of the Blair Government to modify the proposals beyond the basic £1000 tuition fee and believed their actions to be "too greedy."

* in 1999 in the University of Brighton 'Millennium Lecture' entitled on 'The Necessity of the Historical Imagination' said : 'The principle of selection is, of course, always personal. In my case I feel very similar to the comedian Eddie Izzard when he was asked in interview "why on earth he had decided to put on his one man show in Paris, in French - a language he hardly knew ?"  He explained that he "likes to confront things that frighten him." '

* lent his services to the town of Brighton as Chair of the 'Brighton Festival' between 2002-2005 and, unusually for a Vice Chancellor, continued publish his research into Higher Education, which made it easy for him to return, in 2005, to a full-time academic role as leader of the 'MBA Higher Education Management' at the London Institute of Education, a programme for “people at the beginning of the middle of their careers.”

 * in 2007, told the House of Commons 'Select Committee on Education and Skills'"In the 1960s, when I was an undergraduate, there was a view that if you did not get in when your time came, you had missed it forever, and I think that culture has now changed. I think there is a view that higher education is there as a service that can be accessed in many different ways and at many different times during the life course. I think I am trying to play back to you, Chairman, the notion that none of these decisions are ever, once and for all, irrevocable decisions either to go or not to go; and for the students who decide not to go it is very important, I think, that the opportunity does remain there throughout the rest of their careers and their lives."

.* served as Chair of the Commission of  'Inquiry into the Future of Lifelong Learning' with its brief : "As a society we should be ambitious about the opportunities and capacity for learning by our members. The Inquiry hopes to establish not only why but also how we can achieve this" and co-authored its Report : 'Learning Through Life' in 2009 and the following year made, what was to be his last move to become Vice-Principal of Green Templeton College, Oxford, where he oversaw the opening of its Advanced Studies Centre in 2014, along with a new library for post grads and a new gym on the main college site.

* additionally supported cultural and social life of College with his wife, Betty Pinto Skolnick, where the erstwhile 'choral exhibitioner' and ever- keen musician, recognised as an 'Honorary Member of the Royal College of Music' in 2007, hosted regular informal music evenings in the Lodgings for amateur College musicians and in 2013 was instrumental in the installation of Susan Collins 'Bighter Later' illumination of the Radcliffe Observatory as part of 'Oxford Light Night Celebrations'.

* between 2005 and 2012 served as President of the 'Society for Research into Higher Education' and was described by the Chair, his Brighton colleague Yvonne Hillier as : “one of the few truly honest men who combined intellectual prowess with genuine concern and friendship for colleagues … His genuine warmth for colleagues in the research community was much appreciated by newer and fully established researchers alike.”

*  saw the citation for his 'SRHE  Fellowship' recognise in him someone who : ‘would make it possible for us still to believe in the magic of academe, because we could see everything that we valued embodied in that one person – a brilliant student, a wonderful colleague, an outstanding teacher and researcher, admired and respected inside and outside the institutions he led, prominent in national policymaking, and making a significant contribution in the field of research into higher education.'
* in 2014 was critical of the Russell Group universities, the 'magic circle' of 24 leading institutions, which he saw as a "self-promoting marketing group" which had come to be treated as an objective measure of quality and argued that many universities and individual departments outside the Group were as good as those on the inside, but there is no way for them to join this "gentleman's club" and "It is a blatant exercise in exclusivity, with the primary objective of cornering the market in resources and political influence."

* in the Autumn of 2014 delivered the Staff Lecture at the University of Adelaide entitled : 'Does Higher Education Make You Think ?' in which he said :"Lord Eric Ashby, Vice-Chancellor at Cambridge, thought that Higher Education should have its own 'Hippocratic Oath', that there ought to be some set of values signed up to as you joined the institution and I've played with this idea over a number of years and have a response to the 'Ashby Challenge' in the form of a set of ten potential Commandments for Higher Education." : (third of the way through clip) :

• Strive to tell the truth
• Take care in establishing the truth
• Be fair
• Always be ready to explain
Do no harm
• Keep your promises
• Respect you colleagues, and especially your opponents
• Sustain the community
• Guard your treasure
• Never be satisfied

* was described by Wes Streeting,  President of the National Union of Students between 2008 and 2010, in simple terms as :
 “One of the good guys in higher education : a fountain of knowledge

What better epitaph might an old champion of Higher Education in Britain have ?

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