I regularly speak and write about the purpose and value of universities. We make a profound impact through the quality and innovation of our teaching and research, which transform lives and shape society for the better. When I say ‘we’ I am, of course, referring to members of our University and it is important that we share a collective pride in our achievements.
In this issue of Met Magazine we profile a colleague whose contributions are synonymous with life-enhancing initiatives: Professor Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate (2009-2019). Carol Ann joined Manchester Met as a lecturer in 1996 and became the Creative Director of Manchester Writing School in 2006. Carol Ann has been both grounded and global; it is unusual for someone with her international profile and standing to commit so much of her energy to teaching students and working with young people in our community. Through her work, she exemplifies what an individual with drive, passion and commitment can achieve.
It is characteristic of Carol Ann, and a hallmark of her laureateship, that she has used the influence it provided to create opportunities and build a legacy that will be sustained long after it comes to an end. Her Laureate Education projects have reached out to discover and nurture young writers, to infuse children with the joy of reading and writing, and, particularly, have sought out those from circumstances and backgrounds that make the route to Higher Education more challenging.
Her mission, expressed through The Writing School, and initiatives such as the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, and the flagship Mother Tongue Other Tongue poetry competition, is to lift poetry beyond the page, embracing wider audiences through projects with schools, arts-based organisations, and local communities, thereby inspiring the next generation of creative writers.
Carol Ann is committed to the inherent importance of poetry in our culture, ensuring its visibility and availability to anyone who might want to read or write it. Among the constant noise of the 21st century, Carol Ann identifies poetry as a space for language at its best. By taking creative writing and poetry out from the University into the city, its schools and communities, she is able to weave it into our culture, alongside football and cinema, music, theatre and prose.
Mother Tongue Other Tongue alone has interacted with over 100 schools and 30,000 students in England, Wales and Scotland. Celebrating ‘mother tongue’ languages, of which more than 200 are spoken in Manchester, the project shows young people the value of their native language, enabling them to share with their peers their culture and experiences, and encouraging all young people to share the experience of being creative in another language. It exemplifies the power of poetry to bring people together, and in a world that increasingly uses difference to drive people apart, it develops trust between individuals, groups and communities.
With her passion for poetry, her ambition for others, and her dedication and commitment to young people, Carol Ann embodies the values of our University. She has created a superb legacy that will benefit many future generations.
And talking of transformation, this brings me on nicely to our First Generation initiative, which will revolutionise the lives of 1,000 young people from communities in Greater Manchester without a strong tradition of engagement with Higher Education. First Generation provides practical and financial support to talented individuals, helping them gain admission to university, and developing them whilst they are studying. It is made possible through the generous donations and support from colleagues and alumni and ensures that the opportunity to benefit from Higher Education is available to everyone with the ability to succeed.
We are strengthening our Development and Alumni Relations team so that we have the capacity to work more closely with our alumni and to understand how we might best engage with one another. Students play an important role in defining the success of our University; they are an integral part of our community while they are studying here and important stakeholders in our extended community once they have graduated.
Confidence is a critical ingredient in student success. Indelibly linked to experience, it is a quality not always in ready supply among young people. I believe profoundly in the value of role models and mentors to address this particular deficit. Talking to a role model, someone who has experienced similar challenges, and who has already walked the path ahead of you, can have a significant impact. Indeed, I have benefited enormously from the advice, experience and wisdom of others throughout my academic career.
Alongside First Generation, we are seeking to recruit 1,000 alumni ambassadors to support our careers and employability programmes, enabling students to succeed in their desired careers and giving them the confidence to follow their dreams. I would be delighted to hear from you if you would like to be involved. It is always gratifying to hear from alumni about the ways in which their experiences with us have influenced their lives, and we hope that you will continue to feel you have a stake in our University, and the achievements of the next generation of students.
You can get in touch and join us in our endeavours by emailing me at email@example.com.