Working hard 100 years on

Graduates leaving the ceremony

Last week I was invited by Baron Bilimoria of Chelsea, in full ceremonial dress as chancellor of the University of Birmingham to sit back in the Great Hall of the University of Birmingham and appreciate the history of just that one room – the events and celebrations that have happened there.

It’s graduation season, and I was sat with a thousand or so people to celebrate our new graduates thinking on that room.  From the untold stories project I knew about the 1st Southern General Hospital in Birmingham photos, with line upon line of beds in the Great Hall, in what must then have been a nearly newly built hall. Looking back at me now was line upon line of young graduands and their expectant families in that same hall.

The Great Hall in 1916

Mixing stories from Indian Army to Cobra beer from Zoroastrian Parsi to the House of Lords, does Lord Bilimoria epitomise the principles  University was founded on – Entrepreneur, immigrant to Britain, seventh chancellor of the first civic UK university where students from all religions and backgrounds are accepted on an equal basis?

This guiding principle and the challenges applying it in an elite University means a lot to me.  The graduates view of the University matters more, and perhaps even more important are the views of students yet to come – afterall, if children do not see our University as a place they can identify with and see themselves at, how is it possible to find students from all backgrounds and religions?

Viewing archives in the stacks of Cadbury
Research Library

This week I have also helped organised a local school to visit the University.  The group included many of the young archivists who have worked with Peoples Heritage Cooperative to maintain Paganel Archive.  They were aged 11 and nearly all said they had not been to the University before, even though the school is a mile from the the main Edgbaston campus.  They visit Cadbury Research Library, The Barber Institute of Art, and Lapworth Museum of Geology.  Some of the pupils are ‘the white working class boys less likely than anybody else to go to university that Theresa May announced in Birmingham this week she wants to help.  All of them deserved the opportunity to Higher Education on an equal basis the University of Birmingham offers.

The visit was intended just to give some idea of what University was like, and that it might be somewhere to consider going to in the future.  And what did they think?

‘It’s really big, lots of things to see and people learn and everyone works very hard…I’d go if I can’

I hope we at the University, Paganel School, Peoples Heritage Cooperative and Theresa May can help realise the ambitions of our children to achieve great things whatever their religion or background.
For more about what they thought see Paganel visit the University

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