Kevin Kerrigan has big plans for Sheffield Hallam University – as you might expect from a new Pro Vice Chancellor – but he’s been thinking about the future of the city too.
Specifically, how can it update its image in the world? It’s something many have wrestled with but few have answered.
Doubtless, it stems from preparing for the interview of his life.
Formerly the head of business and law at Northumbria University in Newcastle, he’s the new Pro Vice Chancellor for Enterprise at Hallam and Dean of Sheffield Business School.
He said: “People who haven’t been to Sheffield are pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer. It’s very green and maybe people don’t get how well connected it is. It’s less than two hours from London and it’s easy to get anywhere in the North – and HS2 will help.
“It also has an ‘edge’ thanks to its steel industry, it has an edge in business, it has Stanage Edge representing the Peak Park and it has a cultural edge thanks to its music, clubs, artisan and craft scenes. Perhaps there’s something to be developed around the city having an ‘edgy’ feel.”
You may disagree with this, but at the very least it’s an attempt to tie the city’s qualities together in one word.
He added: “It’s something students can help with. I was asking some why they came here initially and they said it was simply on a list of universities to visit.
“But when they found the people were friendly, there’s a real warmth. They hadn’t intended to enrol but they got a great impression of the university and city. They found it a welcoming environment.”
Arriving by train these days is “great,” he adds.
He says one reason he moved was because he wanted a job that was “across the university and looked out across the city”.
But new Vice Chancellor Chris Husbands was a big reason too.
He added: “He has a strong vision for the university’s role in the city and a real ambition for it to be more of a driver for regional development and have more partnerships with industry and be seen as one of the catalysts for regeneration and an improving economy.”
It sounds as if the university is brimming with confidence.
It dominates an area near the railway station, Kevin says, and plays an important role in bringing people into the city centre. And the HS2 stop at Midland station is only going to make that position even more valuable.
He adds: “It’s really early days for me and I don’t want to be dogmatic but I think there are opportunities for Sheffield to be a bigger part of the Northern Powerhouse.”
As the new dean of the business school – which claims to be the largest in the UK with more than 8,000 students from more than 100 countries and 360 staff – he plans to introduce clinics where bosses get free advice from students supervised by experts.
He also plans to pursue “an ambitious international accreditation agenda” to position the business school among the elite globally. As Pro Vice Chancellor for Enterprise he wants “all students to be able to understand business and how to be enterprising before they graduate.”
Many universities know that hands-on experience such as placements and launching a start-up, makes them more employable, but Hallam continues to lead the way.
But despite a focus on building the perfect business person, he acknowledges there are other ways to be successful.
Not least because his twin 20-year-olds are studying dance – the boy – and drama – the girl.
He adds: “Do what you love and you will perform better and eventually you will find a niche.”