They are a form of transport one associates with many things – being late, being unreliable and, in Sheffield at least, once being almost as cheap as walking.
But the humble bus is not normally thought of as a venue for higher education. Until now, perhaps.
Sheffield University is to turn a city Sixties model – blue and cream, double- decker, door at the rear – into a mobile lecture theatre, complete with lectern, micro stage and 16 laptops.
And for one weekend only it will be touring the city with Sheffielders encouraged to get a ticket, hop on board and enjoy one of 30 mini lectures taking place. Everyone welcome. Notebooks not needed. Exams not taking place afterwards. And you won’t have to pay £9,000 in tuition fees for the privilege. It’s free.
“We were thinking about calling it University On The Buses,” says Professor Vanessa Toulmin. “But we thought no-one under 40 would appreciate the reference.”
Instead, the vehicle – loaned from the South Yorkshire Transport Museum in Rotherham – will be named The Mobile University. It will tour the city over between September 27-29, but park up at central locations each day for the lectures themselves to take place.
Subjects – presented by some of the university’s most senior academics – will include everything from entrepreneurship and engineering to linguistics and climate change. One, intriguingly, is entitled simply ‘Cyborg Versus Humans’ (nothing to do with Terminator, we’re assured).
A tent will be attached each time the bus stops. In there a big screen will relay footage from the session in case the bus itself reaches its maximum capacity of just 32.
“It will definitely be the smallest lecture theatre the university has,” says Vanessa, head of cultural engagement. “This is about taking the university out to the people of Sheffield. We want to say: ‘This month there’ll be thousands of young people coming to your city – and, on this bus, we’re going to give you a taste of what they’ll be learning’.“
The vehicle will park at Fargate on Friday 27, The Moor on Saturday 28 and Devonshire Street on Sunday 29. The 20-minute lectures will run from 11am to 4pm. A full timetable of subjects will go online at www.shef.ac.uk later this month.
“This gives everyone the chance to be a student for the weekend,” says Vanessa. “Or, alternatively, the chance to look round a classic bus. Either way, it’s a winner.””