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Of grit and granite



In preparation for the 2017 Staff Developers Conference whose theme this year is on adapting learning to a changing higher education environment, we asked ourselves ‘How can we face this enduring period of change?

We can look to our founding story, says Jamie Jauncey. It reminds us of our purpose, who we are and what we stand for. And throughout all the many complex roles a university plays, we should perhaps never forget our purpose.



Some years ago I ended up working with the development department of my alma mater. Among the writing tasks I was asked to fulfil was the copy for an advertisement in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

It was a generic advertisement, intended to create awareness of the university’s sixth century fund-raising campaign and the results it had so far achieved. I felt that this called for a story, and one that linked past and present.

A little research into the founding of the university soon threw up themes that highlighted a clear continuity of purpose down all those centuries. I wrote:


A fifteenth century bishop had a dream. If his northerly granite-built town could educate its own professionals, its prosperity would surely grow.

But he needed money and royal consent.

So he talked to the king and his nobles, his friends in the church, the city fathers and merchants. His determination was unquenchable.

In time his dream turned to reality. His students became leaders and thinkers who increased their region’s standing and took their ideas to far corners of the earth.

Centuries passed and the world changed. But the granite endured and so did the bishop’s spirit of determination.

The modern-day fathers of the university looked at the challenges around them and resolved to take equally bold steps.

They would become one of the great universities of the world. They would hire eminent international scholars. They would ask themselves whether what they taught was appropriate to the age.

They would build a magnificent new library and create the trappings of a modern campus in an ancient and beautiful setting. They would attract the brightest academics and students.

And today, in their sixth century, they are doing just that.

The bishop would have been proud of them.


At times of change founding stories so often offer an anchor or compass, a stabilising reminder of corporate purpose. Like that northern bishop, someone somewhere had an idea and fought to bring it to fruition. Some of those qualities and ambitions are still there in the organisation’s heart.

Do you know how your institution was founded? What lessons might that story hold for you today?


A blog by Jamie Jauncey: business writer; facilitator; novelist; musician; and Programme Facilitator at Invisible Grail.

Discover how to translate your university’s own founding story into words that direct the future narrative of your leadership, team and organisation. Find out more about how we can work with you.

3 comments for “Of grit and granite

  1. 28 November 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Very interesting topic, regards for putting up.

  2. 1 December 2017 at 10:59 am

    Yeah bookmaking this wasn’t a bad decision outstanding post!

  3. 5 December 2017 at 12:48 am

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but Ӏ thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but certainly you are ɡoing to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

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