Sometimes a name change is just a name change, sometimes it reflects a change which is genuinley profound.
When injury forced me to leave the regular army I decided that the hotel industry would be a good second career for me and I looked at where I could retrain. At the time Ealing College of Higher Education was regarded as an industry leader, so I decided to study there. My degree course was four years long and during that time the institution changed its name, twice.
In my second year it became the Polytechnic of West London and in my final year changed to Thames Valley University to better reflect the geographic area that it covered. The new university’s first Vice Chancellor was a guy called Mike Fitzgerald, who was then the country’s youngest vice-chancellor, he wore Armani suits and had a sofa and a jukebox, but no desk, in his office.
Even at the time I felt that he was more in love with the idea of being a Vice Chancellor than in love with the job or the university. In short I believed him to be a bit of a joke. According to the Time Higher Education Magazine (THE) he was also “seriously well connected to New Labour. David Blunkett regularly phoned him and, in 1996, a young Tony Blair dropped in and was impressed by his style (it is said that Blair decided he must have a sofa in his own office after the visit)”.
If he had spent as much time focusing on the university as he did cultivating his image the problems it faced over the next few years might not have been so severe. For most of the last twenty years the university has been dogged by difficult finances, a reputation for poor academic rigour and has languished at or near the bottom of the universities league tables.
I am pleased to say that under the Vice Chancellorship of Peter John and with Cobra beer entrepreneur, Lord Karan Bilimoria, as Chancellor the university experienced a renaissance. It became an unashamedly businesses focussed institution with strong links to the industries it serves. Official figures published in the THE in July 2008 reveal that the University has the best graduate employment record in the country, with almost 95% employed within six months of graduating.
On Thursday of last week I attended the intallation of the University’s new Chancellor, Laurence Geller and the unveiling of the new name, The University of West London.
There was a time when I was ashamed to say I studies at Thames Valley University preferring the rather vague statement that “I went to university in West London”. I am not only impressed with the transformation over the last few years, but I also think that the university has created a model which many other institutions will need to follow to attract students as they become “smart procurers” of higher education. On top of that I will now be able to say, with pride, that I gained my degree from the University of West London.