In this second part of our interview with Pro Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mark Simpson, on the development of Teesside Universities brand new #StudentLife building, we take a look back at his history with the University before looking to the future and the skills that will be essential in the Digital economy

From politics student to Pro-Vice Chancellor

The clear passion that Professor Simpson holds for this latest campus project becomes instantly understandable when you peer into his personal history with the University.

Having first arrived on Teesside in 1992, as a politics undergraduate before going onto pursue a PHD in Criminology, Professor Simpson’s professional life charts a growth that rivals the University’s own impressive transformation.

Asked about his own personal journey within Teesside University whilst sat on a top floor conference room of The Curve, itself an earlier £20 million development for the University, Professor Simpson takes a moment to glance out of the window at the “the barely recognisable” campus when comparing it to the place he knew as a student all those years ago.

He said: “You know the School of Health didn’t exist, Olympia didn’t exist, the Library didn’t exist, obviously Student Life didn’t, The Curve didn’t, there used to be a main road that run’s through here.”

“I remember the day The Dickens Inn opened – even that didn’t exist when I first started!

“It is a completely transformed place and – you know – it is amazing to see that transformation and the impact that the University is having both for our students but also for the wider region as well.”

But when put to him whether his early experiences as a student, which included days out to read journals at the British Lending Library, near Wetherby, played a significant role in the way the Student Life Centre has been positioned, Professor Simpson was respectfully modest about his own contribution.

He said: “It is a building that’s had lots of people involved in it, both students and staff.”

“We’ve been seeking feedback and we’ve been piloting a lot of the ideas through the library, and again, constantly moulding and constantly thinking about what we’re doing, reflecting the feedback from students.

“So it’s been an absolute team effort.

“But yes, living and breathing the institution for all these years, I know some of the challenges that we’ve had and you know, my view is this will be game changing for us.”

Focus on creativity

In preparing for the interview, a check of Professor Simpson’s Twitter feed resulted in finding a series of tweet’s from early November, that demanded further investigation.

Featuring self shot video footage from the Adobe Max Conference in Los Angles, Professor Simpson was fortunate enough to be able to mix serious business with a side helping of pleasure, as his collaboration with fellow technology enthusiasts and creatives types at the forum coincided with key note speeches from a host of star studied names from the world of film and music.

Those names included breakout indie pop star and performer at this summers Radio 1 Big Weekend, Billie Eilish, and legendary film Director M. Night Shyamalan (Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village).

But from the tweets, it was clear that one guest speaker in particular had caught Professor Simpson’s attention, that of musician, Dave Grohl.

Describing it as being “a real privilege to be in the same room as him” Professor Simpson cited it was his “down to earth” nature that really impressed this self-confessed Nirvana and Foo Fighters fan.

“The things he was speaking about was just really heart felt, really honest and just really nice bloke. To be so honest and such a cool bloke, was really nice – there was certainly no diva about him at all!”

But away from that moment of unashamed fandom, Professor Simpson was also to reveal that the conference had played a key role in affirming his understand of how Teesside University needs to direct it’s teaching of subjects, across disciplines, to ensure graduates are fully equipped with the skills to satisfy the demands of the future job s market.

“One of the things that we’re really trying to focus on now is creativity.

“With the advent of digital and the advent of AI – and I can tell you all sorts about the things that we saw and the clever things that AI can do and will be able to do in the not too distant future – the retrieval of information now is going to get easier and easier and jobs that are currently some of those are very well-paid jobs – in the future will either be done by computers or won’t exist at all.

“What we then need to focus on are what the skills of the future are.

“Some of those are around those skills that can’t be replicated currently by a machine, which is around creativity, is around collaboration, it’s around what’s been seen in the past as kind of softer skills.

“Softer skills will become more and more important.

“So therefore no matter what discipline you’re in… creativity becomes really, really important and we’re really keen to start to push and work in that creative space right across the University.

“The art of the story telling.

“It’s much of what I do now. If I’m trying to convince the board that something is a good idea like Student Life, you bring that to life through a story, through a narrative.

“And that’s the skill set we want to develop within our student population.”

You can read the first part of this interview here.

TUXtra would like to take this opportunity thank Professor Simpson for taking part in this interview.

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