From Kylie Minogue to a new £35m complex; why these are such exciting times at my university

  • 7 October, 2011
  • Philanthropy

What do Kylie Minogue, the singer/actress, and Jilly Cooper, the novelist, have in common? The answer is that both women this week received honorary degrees from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), of which I am Chancellor.

Ms Minogue received her award in person on Wednesday evening for her work in promoting breast cancer awareness. She was, of course, diagnosed with the disease in 2005 and underwent surgery and chemotherapy before being given the all-clear the following year.

I feel total admiration for the way Ms Minogue has helped others after successfully battling breast cancer herself and I felt honoured to make the award presentation to her. It is entirely appropriate that should she be made an honorary Doctor of Health Sciences at the university that I attended, as a young business studies student, more years ago than I care to remember.

Meanwhile Jilly Cooper received her honorary degree on Tuesday, becoming a Doctor of Letters for her formidable contribution to journalism and literature. ARU makes honorary awards to individuals with extraordinary talent who have made an outstanding contribution to their chosen field of endeavour.

In all, 11 distinguished individuals from worlds as diverse as entertainment, business, sport and viticulture received their honorary degrees this week and, equally importantly, there were also presentations to many of the 2,500-plus students who recently graduated from ARU.

These are exciting times for the university, whose 30,000-plus students and 1,000 academic staff, are split between two campuses at Chelmsford, Essex, and Cambridge.

Students studying in Cambridge have just returned from their summer break to find that their new £35 million complex, including extra facilities for the Lord Ashcroft International Business School, was completed in their absence.

With its upgrade, the business school now stands as a centre of excellence for business and management education. It has taken a significant step towards its ambitious vision of becoming the UK’s leading practice-based international business school.

The two-year redevelopment at the campus has also seen the construction of a 400-seat lecture theatre, two 200-seat lecture theatres, a Harvard-style lecture theatre, new rehearsal space, an expanded library area and an access area with an extra 250 computers.

I made a £5 million donation towards the construction of the new business school facilities in Cambridge having already given a similar amount some years ago so that the Lord Ashcroft International Business School could be built on the Chelmsford campus.

Personally, I fared better in the “university of life” – as an energetic entrepreneur – than I did in the classroom or lecture hall, but that has never stopped me believing whole-heartedly in the merits of a sound education.

However, I am convinced that schools, colleges and universities need to gear their teaching more effectively to the realities of a pupil’s or student’s future working life. It is to this end that I have devoted substantial time and money both in the UK and abroad, notably in the Caribbean.

I revived my links with ARU in 1999 when I was invited to meet the college’s management over lunch. I liked what I saw and in November 2001 I was invested as Chancellor, succeeding Lord Prior, the former Conservative Cabinet minister.

It was in May 2003 that the business school was opened in Chelmsford by the Earl of Wessex. Since then, it has continuously offered the most advanced learning technologies to our students.

The new complex, which will be officially opened early next year, will help to ensure that ARU students remain at the cutting edge of management practice, and thus entirely relevant to the contemporary world of commerce.

At ARU, we pride ourselves on taking university education in imaginative new directions. We are continuously forging close links with the business community and we have entered into partnerships with a wide variety of businesses and public-service organisations to ensure that our students will leave with the rights skills for their future working lives.

As Chancellor of ARU, I am enormously proud of both its established business school and its new complex. I am also delighted to be playing a small part in helping to shape the lives of young, bright students who are destined to become Britain’s future business leaders.

– ARU is holding the first of four undergraduate open days tomorrow (Saturday, October 8) when potential students will have a chance to see the new-look Cambridge campus

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