Rebecca Paddick: Congratulations on becoming Solent’s new chancellor. What made you want to take on the role?
Theo Paphitis: It just felt right. The University stands for so many of the things I stand for. University life is very much about learning your chosen subject, but it is also a lot to do with understanding what the real world is about. That, for me, is the most brilliant part. And I feel that Solent is very in-tune with this.
I’m not an academic, I’ve got a Scottish certificate in colouring-in maps, that’s about my total qualifications in life! Talking to students about the real world never fails to excite me, and them, it seems. Every time I’ve given a speech at the University or held a class, it’s never failed to give me a buzz. The enthusiasm of the students, their natural interest, is infectious.
My daughters went to Solent, so I’ve also had a personal connection with the institution for some time. I was very flattered when Graham [Graham Baldwin, Vice-Chancellor, Solent University] initially asked me, but I did warn him that I’m a typical backseat driver. I told him that I’ll likely get involved in much more than I should, and that he should be careful what he wished for!
I’m not an academic, I’ve got a Scottish certificate in colouring-in maps, that’s about my total qualifications in life!
RP: What do you hope students will get out of their university experience today?
TP: I often wonder, is it really just achieving those massively high, aspirational academic results? Then will graduates be fine? Or is it about going to university where you can create a world of life opportunities? How many times will our graduates be faced with this question, ‘you’ve got a degree, so what?’ So I think it is our duty to prepare them for that. I want to ask our students, how is the world of work going to treat you? What’s going to be expected of you? How are you going to be successful? How are you going to convert your knowledge into further achievement in your chosen field? And I think for me that’s the exciting thing about Solent, because they’ve already got that ethos, my ethos, and we share that.
RP: So what will your role involve?
TP: Part of my first year is to give each school within the university some dedicated time. So, they get me, exclusively. I can spend time with them, understand exactly what they’re doing, and get to know the expectations of the students, and how I can help. Not only just with my own skill set, but with contacts and people I know who have skills I haven’t got.
RP: That’s a significant investment of your time. Is teaching a bit of a hidden passion then?
TP: I’ve got to be honest, I’m an incredibly selfish person sometimes. Every time I go to the University and give a talk I can’t tell you how invigorated I personally get. In those two or three hours I’ve spent there, and even in the car on the way back, it’s a great buzz. I’ve told the students this and I’m sure they don’t believe me, but I am envious of them. The fact they’re starting their careers now, and the things they’ve got to look forward to, and if they play it right and concentrate on it, understand where they’re travelling to, and how they want to get there.
RP: As you’ve said, you’ve had a connection with the University for various reasons, for some time now. What’s it been like to watch Solent grow and evolve?
TP: It’s not just been interesting, it’s been exhilarating. From the new buildings that have appeared, to the plans for further expansion, the amount of work and effort that has gone into creating a solid institution is staggering. It’s exciting to know that lots and lots of people are going to get an amazing benefit. And to be involved in that in any way, is fantastic.
Part of my first year is to give each school within the university some dedicated time
There has never been a more interesting or challenging time to be part of the university sector and I am relishing the opportunity to help place Solent firmly on the map.
Theo will be inaugurated as Chancellor in October.