26 and 23. Two simple numbers. But they are central to the purpose of higher education. They are the numbers of two of the most powerful articles listed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Number 26 (The Right to Education) and Number 23 (The Right to Work).
Universities need to provide opportunity for talent. We want talent to be able to express itself regardless of background, beliefs, location, or socio-economic status of the individual. And there needs to be an equal opportunity for people to have the chance to develop and succeed right across the country – in every neighbourhood – irrespective of postcode. We need to ensure individuals understand the options available to them and are not held back by circumstances or ability to pay – instead they should be propelled by their individual talent and drive. We are proud of our focus on student opportunity, and we’re ‘open to talent’ wherever it is found.
We also need to recognise that tertiary education and skills development represent an escalator – where people can step on and off at different levels to best suit their needs, circumstances and ambitions and all at their own pace. This is why at Plymouth we are working across education boundaries – as evidenced by our University Technology College and our sponsorship of an Academy Secondary School and its feeder Primary. We don’t want a skills escalator that only goes to the first floor and abandons you there when you want to go higher!
And by unlocking talent – ideas and innovation emerge. Ideas, generated by individuals need to be nurtured and take form. For the public good, we need to ensure that freedom of thought, ‘blue-skies’ thinking, is nurtured so that individual researchers can explore new ideas and develop our knowledge base. We also need to promote the dynamic transfer and exchange of knowledge through innovation, business incubation and development. It is such individual ideas that ultimately create jobs and work.
The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant argued, that what makes human beings different from mere things is that people have dignity based on their ability to choose freely what they will do with their lives, and they have a fundamental moral right to have these choices respected. And it is this principle which is upheld in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We need to ensure not only that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit, but that there is freedom of choice and opportunity for our graduates as they seek to begin their careers. And helping to connect talented graduates with work is something we seek as part of our offer – so employability is a core focus for us. Our Plymouth Graduate Internship Programme has been hugely successful in connecting graduates with SMEs, and we plan to really scale up this project from September this year.
So two simple numbers, 26 and 23. But they add up to change the world – what we (universities) do matters!