Q&A with Lord Stafford

We speak to the next chancellor of Staffordshire University

June 12, 2014

Last month, Staffordshire University announced that Lord Stafford would become the institution’s next chancellor. Lord Stafford runs his family’s estate at Swynnerton and in 1997 set up the Lord Stafford Awards to recognise outstanding collaborations between businesses and universities.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Scotland on 13 March 1954 at a cottage hospital next door to where my grandparents lived. Within a very few days I was brought back to Swynnerton in Staffordshire, which is where I have been ever since.

What should be the goals for Staffordshire University?
It is very important that Staffordshire University plays to its strengths and concentrates on what it is good at. It is an extremely good university for vocational courses, and has niche areas of research and strong international links. I believe the challenge is going to come with student numbers and ensuring that our students are well equipped to go out into the employment market both as employees and as entrepreneurs.

What was your university experience like?
I went to the University of Reading, lasted one year and then left. I made the mistake of taking a course that I didn’t enjoy. I did, however, enjoy all other aspects of university life, perhaps too much.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
I embraced everything the university had to offer except studying.

What’s your most memorable moment at university?
Recklessly putting my name down for president of our hall of residence only to discover that I had to give an election speech. I hadn’t ever spoken in public so instead I told a joke; I forgot the punchline and ended up being voted in by an overwhelming majority. As the new president of the hall I was then automatically on the main student union executive [representing] some 12,000 students.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
My advice would be have a dream, then wake up and work hard to try to make that dream a reality.

Tell us about someone you’ve always admired.
The person I admire the most is Father Edward Corbould, a Benedictine monk at Ampleforth Abbey. A remarkable man now aged 80 who is kind, considerate, gives selflessly of himself, has a great sense of humour and sense of fun, [is] humble, courteous and has a deep faith. He is an inspiration to so many people. I have tried to follow his example and often failed.

What has changed most in higher education in the past 10 years?
Without doubt the student fees. Also corporate governance. When I was first pro-chancellor at Keele University about 15 years ago, corporate governance was almost non-existent yet now each university has to become an accountable business and not just an academic establishment.

What were your motivations behind the Lord Stafford Awards?
As pro-chancellor of Keele I saw brilliant academics who had no concept of taking their ideas to the marketplace and I saw small and large businesses who did not know how to access those ideas. By bringing businesses and universities together in collaboration it was a win-win situation.

Do UK universities do enough work with local businesses?
No. There should be better signposting for businesses to be able to access universities, for universities to commercialise their [intellectual property rights] and more scope for mentors of businesses to come into universities to help provide the students with the knowledge base they need to enter the business world.

What keeps you awake at night?
Nothing. In fact I sleep for half an hour every lunchtime.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I always wanted to be in the countryside and [deal with] everything associated with it and, thankfully, that is exactly what has happened.

What’s your biggest regret?
I would be very foolish to say I had no regrets. What I will say is at this moment in time I have been the luckiest man alive.

What’s an undergraduate degree worth?
If it is the right degree for the right person at the right university it is worth a great deal. If students sleepwalk into university and spend three years building up debt, then a degree is of very little value. I believe that students should do more research into what course they want to do and why they want to do it.

What are the upsides and downsides of running a country estate?
My greatest responsibility is passing on the family estate I inherited in a better condition than I found it. The downsides are living within European directives, high taxation, tight planning laws and, of course, the weather. On the upside, it is a huge privilege to live in such a beautiful place and be tasked with looking after it.

john.elmes@tsleducation.com

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