Reunited: Quests for knowledge

August 13, 2004

1967-71 Malcolm McMahon studied mechanical engineering at Umist. He is Catholic Bishop of Nottingham

I visited the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology with my brother, Peter, who, like me, studied engineering there, and my nephew Sam, a student at Manchester University's Medical School.

We had lunch with Graham Thompson, who has just been appointed head of the new School of Engineering for the two merged institutions. He was a year behind me at Umist. I was pleased for him. He was very enthusiastic about the Unity project. He still has a feel for the students - he was talking to me about all the different students and he knew them all by name. He has an interest in young people and caring for them, and is also leading one of the country's major engineering departments. It was a flagship department in the 1960s and I was pleased to see it was in such good hands. I thought the merger was a big step forward. Having two engineering departments before was daft.

My brother was happy to see the place still thriving - he's at the top of the engineering profession and works in strategic planning for Metronet.

It was also good to see the department. Some of it is still the same, some is brand new and quite exciting - there's a whole new building with wind tunnels and high-tech machines.

I talked to people in the student union. The annual 56-mile sponsored walk, which I did in my time, is still going. The students still seem to be caring for the wider community and enjoying themselves. You hear how apathetic they are, but they're not.

The union had more games machines and the dance hall is now a computer centre. In the late 1960s, Steppenwolf and The Stones played there - it held nearly 2,000 people.

I was union president during my final year, which was a sabbatical. It was good preparation for later life and a lot of responsibility at quite a young age. My student years were great, but when I became union president it was all a bit serious. We were quite politicised and gained student representation on every level of decision-making.

If I were 18 now, I would not go to university, because of the fees. I came from a council house in north London, in Kentish Town, and was the first in my family to go to university.

After Umist, I was with London Transport for six years and ended up as the contracts engineer buying hundreds of buses. The first couple of years were hard, settling into real life. It was quite narrow compared with being president of a student union.

I left work to join the church when I was . I was a regular churchgoer in London and knew the priests quite well. I just thought I'd give it a whirl.

After 24 years I was made a bishop. It came out of the blue and it changed everything. Bishops don't answer to anyone except the pope, whom I've met five times.

Religion and university are both quests for knowledge, finding out how things work; I just see it in a different way now, but it's the same reality. I think the philosophical quest is not that far removed from the scientific one.

University was a great formative time and that's what matters. It makes you who you are. I never thought of university as equipping me for a job - that's a narrow view. I went to university to be educated.

Interview by Michael North

Please login or register to read this article

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments