Bob began studying Natural Sciences at Fitz in 1965, and was the first in his family to go to university.
Cambridge students are rich, posh and privately-educated, aren’t they? Worse, they get there through connections. Many stereotypes contain a grain of truth, but I certainly didn’t fit that one. A product of Fleetwood Grammar School and the eldest of five children from a low-income household, I was the first in my family to go to university. My accent was Northern and no one could have thought me posh. Another stereotype is that Cambridge students are brilliant and have stratospheric exam results. Again, I wasn’t and didn’t. My A Levels – taken a year early – were good rather than outstanding. By my third year I knew where I fitted in the rankings – just above half-way – and my final degree classification reflected this. It was a respectable outcome, one which vindicated the admissions tutor’s gamble and continues to be a source of pride for me and my family.
Fitzwilliam gave me a sound start to adult life. The science course stretched my thinking skills and the Cambridge degree helped with early job applications. But these assets, valuable as they were, didn’t give me a ticket to the top. Working mainly in the public sector, that took other qualities, like enthusiasm, flair, persistence and a perfectionist streak.
Along the way, I won a £50,000 National Teaching Fellowship in 2002, had several wonderful years on the global higher education conference circuit and ended my career as a university reader. As a Lancashire lad from a very ordinary background, I’m satisfied with that. I had a good time at Fitz. It was a friendly place and I found my niche amongst people I regarded as my true peers. Despite them once dunking me in the river, I gained some lifelong pals whom I see regularly. Now retired, life’s fine. I know I’ve been lucky. Fitz was part of that good fortune. So are being long-time married and having four children and nine grandchildren. It’s been an improbable journey, yet I haven’t left my roots completely. Our public pensions mean we’re comfortable, not rich; it’s still obvious I come from the north and I’m still not posh!