Ellie Chowns – thoughts on Hereford University

Today I went to a briefing on Hereford’s planned new University, www.nmite.org.uk, given by Prof Janusz Kozinski, the CEO. It’s an ambitious plan – to create a completely new, engineering-focused University, with a project-based, problem-solving approach to teaching and learning. As a University teacher myself (currently working at the Uni of Bath) there’s lots about the proposed approach that I find very exciting.

Prof Kozinski and team plan to recruit the first ‘Design Cohort’ of 25 students to start in October this year, with the aim of expanding to 1200 students and 110 staff by October 2022. The new Uni could have a significant impact on Hereford city in all sorts of ways – economically, culturally and demographically.

One thing I’m still a bit puzzled by, though, is what the real focus of the Uni will be. Prof Kozinski talked a lot about ‘humanist engineers’, and emphasised the four key curriculum themes: Feeding the World, Shaping the Future, Living in Harmony, and A Healthy Planet. It all sounds pretty good from a Green perspective, doesn’t it? But… it’s puzzling because when I’ve heard others talk about the new Uni (including senior local Conservatives) the emphasis has been all about servicing the ‘defence’ industry; and the two key corporate partners so far are Siemens and Qinetiq. I asked a question about this, and didn’t get as clear an answer as I’d like.

So, the new Uni is something I’m going to be taking a keen interest in going forward. I think it’s great that Hereford will be getting a University; other cities of similar size (e.g. Durham) or smaller (e.g. Warwick) have world-class universities, after all. And although I’m not an engineer myself, I do believe that technology can help solve many environmental and social challenges. I like the vision of ‘humanist engineering’; I just wonder whether funding and other pressures might push the new Uni in other directions. So, I’m going to be writing to Prof Kozinski with some more detailed questions, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on how the proposals for the new Hereford University evolve.

BTW, I’ve got an idea for a project the first lot of students could tackle: finding some way to keep the heat in the Shire Hall in the bottom 25% of the room, where the people actually are. It’s often freezing in there during our council meetings (today I got so cold I could barely type by the end) though I expect it’s baking up by the roof, with all the rising heat. I can’t help feeling it needs a layer of triple glazing part way up…


  1. Reading your last paragraph Ellie, I was thinking, “it needs a glass ‘roof’ at the height of a normal ceiling, but you got there first! Yes, there would be objections around doing such things to a building such as the Shire Hall but we are at a point in civilization when we need to re-examine our priorities over all manner of things and respond in the light of the knowledge that we are rapidly entering a time when we must make wise choices about our energy use. I have no idea at all if a glass division would be the best option, it was a knee jerk response, but I do know that we must now make our decisions in a way which is much more responsible in terms of our use of resources, energy included.

    As for the new university, it is so important that it is directed towards positive things to help us in the new, lower energy, more locally sustainable and resilient world that we so desperately need to move into. Please keep encouraging them to concentrate on these themes instead of defence. The UK as a whole is simply not taking up the challenges of our changing world. We could, if we chose to, be at the forefront of the developments that we so desperately need rather than leaving it to other countries. I don’t believe technology and engineering has all the answers but there is plenty of space for developing clean public transport ways of keeping cars out of our city and increasing the local production of renewable energy to take just 2 issues.

  2. I share your puzzlement or is it apprehension? about the direction the University will take – expressed in your para 3. I got no response from Jesse when I expressed concern. I shall be interested to follow what you learn as the project develops. It certainly has the exciting potential to bring many benefits.

    Re the temperature in the Shire Hall, I am aware that there is simple technology which can redirect the warmth that tends to rise to a high ceiling by means of fans and ducts.

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