#LoveHE: A fistful of confidence

September 2, 2010

Director Tristram Shapeero left school at 16 but wishes he'd studied more, if only for a healthy dose of self-belief

Unfortunately, higher education is something I hadn't experienced in my life, until now. Being awarded an honorary degree from Bath Spa University was a tremendous honour and privilege. Standing among all the other graduates that day was wonderful.

I fully intended to go on to further studies, but I got carried away with pursuing a photography career. I was given an opportunity to do work experience with the portrait photographer Cornel Lucas, a stills man for J. Arthur Rank during the 1940s and 1950s who shot the likes of Marlene Dietrich. My school was against it, but I went ahead and did it anyway.

I went back to school after a month, but I was too far behind to catch up, so I decided to leave and thrust myself into the world of work at the tender age of 16. After a few years of working as an assistant to the advertising photographer Ray Massey, I was incredibly lucky to land a position as a runner at the fledgling Hat Trick Productions.

I spent several years there immersed in television comedy, working my way up the ladder. It was there that I realised I wanted to be a comedy director. It took me years of assisting directors, good ones and bad, before I became a director myself. I feel fortunate to have had experiences working with exceptionally talented people and directing programmes such as Absolutely Fabulous, Peep Show and Green Wing, yet I do regret the fact that I've missed out on the unique opportunities a university education provides.

I believe university is like a microcosm of the real world. In many ways, the hardest part of your education starts once your working life begins. At university, you are allowed a trial run. You are immersed in a world of people with a shared goal at the same time of life. Although you are there to learn and study, it also offers necessary experience in self-discipline, expressing ideas, making arguments, handling mistakes, developing intuition and practising diplomacy. All these skills are required to deal effectively with the myriad unpredictable situations and people you will meet once you start life in the workplace.

I'm lucky that my chosen career path didn't depend on having a degree. The knowledge I did need to acquire was cultivated slowly and on the job. Looking back on what I've achieved thus far, I think that university would have accelerated my development as an individual. If I had been armed with university experience and a degree, I feel that I would have progressed further in a shorter space of time. I dipped my toe in the water rather than finding the courage to plunge myself into my pursuit.

Receiving the honour from Bath Spa was especially meaningful as I was born and raised in the area. My favourite teacher, who I hadn't seen in 28 years, attended the ceremony. It was a wonderful surprise and brought me right back to that time in my life where I faced the crossroads.

Although I made the decision to bypass higher education, I believe that there is nothing more important. Life has become much more complicated, harder and more competitive since I left school. It's ludicrous that there are talks of university cuts at a time when greater funding is crucial. There are record numbers of students applying for places and sadly, without enough funding, a great many of them will be turned away. It's a real shame and a growing quandary.

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