Conferment of Honorary Fellowship, University College, Northampton

Graduation 16 July 2001  Acceptance Speech

It is indeed an honour to be elected as an Honorary Fellow and I am most grateful to the Senate and Council of University College Northampton. It is also a great pleasure for me because I am returning to my youthful haunts and I am awash with nostalgia. Sixty- one years ago, as a schoolboy, I was sent away from the London blitz to Northampton. We were evacuees - a newly invented word. I came with my cousin Basil Cohen,
Back row: Marjorie and David Hickson, Iris and Basil Cohen
Front row: Natalie and Derek Pugh
who I'm delighted has joined us here to-day. Nowadays people commute daily between Northampton and London as a matter of course. But in those days to a young boy it seemed a long way away, and I did not quite know what to expect. We were billeted on the good people of the town and they had to endure us as part of their contribution to the war effort. There were the inevitable tensions, but after a bit we got to appreciate the place. Well, to the extent that I clearly remember thinking: Northampton would be a really nice place to live - if you weren't an evacuee! Now that I am no longer an evacuee, I really feel very benign about the town. 

By the time I got to the Fourth Form all the London School's science masters had been called up to the Forces and we were sent to the College of Technology by the Racecourse for our Physics and Chemistry classes. I remember that I was impressed by the laboratories, and I am sure that they are still top notch today. As Simon has said, I was most taken by the plaque showing that the first Principal of the College was both a Master of Arts and a Master of Science. I thought what a clever man he must have been to be an expert in such a wide range of subjects. Now, many years later, when I too have an MA and an MSc, I realise that it is basically a matter of determination and persistence. After all, even 'Genius', as Edison pointed out, is only 1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. The golden rule is 'Keep going' and then, in due course, you find yourself, at the graduation ceremony - sometimes with a certain amount of surprise as some of us have to admit.

At the College we had Mr Siddall to teach us. One day he went off to London and came back as Dr Siddall. It was all very mysterious then, and it had to be explained to us that it did not mean that he was now a medical doctor who could issue us with pills. I think I understand what happened a little better now, having spent a large chunk of my working life supervising and examining PhD students like Dr Simon Denny, of all of whom I am very proud. It is a mark of the very considerable change that this institution has undergone and a tribute to its high standards, that there is now no need to go off to London as University College Northampton awards its own Doctoral degrees under the auspices of the University of Leicester.

Of course, change has been the most characteristic feature of most aspects of life since the Second World War. In my time in higher education there have been many changes, and I have always tried to find ways using them to satisfy my taste for innovation. I have worked in several new academic fields as Simon has noted. I have worked in new institutions. In the 'fifties I went to the Birmingham College of Technology, which quickly became the College of Advanced Technology which, in turn, became the University of Aston. In the 'sixties I came to the London Business School soon after it was set up as one of the first postgraduate business schools in the country. In the 'eighties I joined the most innovative experiment in higher education of the 20th century - the Open University. Change in every sphere is inevitable, and careers do not always follow orderly progressions in today's world. So if have one message for to-day's graduands it is: work hard at understanding the changes in your environment and analyse carefully how to benefit from them to enable you to seize all the opportunities for self-development that come your way in your working lives.

But some things don't change. For the past forty years I have been working with my colleague, co-author and friend Professor David Hickson of the University of Bradford. We started as colleagues in the Aston University Industrial Administration Research Unit, but even when we moved on separately from there to different places, we continued to collaborate in writing books. The first book we wrote together is dedicated to our parents; the latest to our grandchildren, which gives you some idea of how long we have been at it! So I am very pleased to welcome David here to-day. It also allows me to take the opportunity to remind him that the publisher's deadline for our next book is only 41/2 short months away.

That means more work, of course. I am now an Emeritus Professor, officially retired, although Natalie, my wife, regularly looks at me and says: "Well, I can't see any difference!" But for me it has been a great privilege to work in higher education because of the large amount of intellectual autonomy which academics are allowed in research and teaching. Apart from my first apprentice projects, I have always done the research that I have wanted to do, choosing the work that I felt worth doing and where I could hope to make an impact. I have always lectured on my understanding of the fields in which I have taught creating new courses in the process. I am most appreciative of this degree of academic freedom. But it does mean that it is very hard to retire if you feel that you still have something to contribute. The way I put it when asked is that I am not retired but I am 'working at retiring' and that will hopefully keep me going for a bit.

I have always been most impressed with the way that musicians, no matter how eminent as performers, always give lessons, feeling that the education of the following generations is a task to which they should contribute. That is my view too, and in my teaching now I concentrate on encouraging beginning Management researchers who are studying for a PhD by giving master classes on research. I think this is a particularly appropriate task for a senior citizen who has become an Honorary Fellow, which is why I gratefully accept the honour that the College has conferred on me.

Thank you.

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