"Why do we exist?": A speech from Mollie Footitt

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The following is a speech from De Montfort Students' Union (DSU) DP Education Mollie Footitt first presented on Friday 20 October at De Montfort University (DMU)’s #KeepUniversitiesForTheMany lecture ‘Why do we exist?’.

Hi there, I’m Mollie – your DP Education at DSU, and I’m here to talk a little bit about why I feel universities should exist.

I grew up in a small town, where everyone knew everyone and children followed in their father’s and mother’s footsteps. My grandfather had lorries, so my father now has these lorries. It’s a natural progression for the children to take over the business and let it grow.

But for me, going to university has always been my goal. From when I was a child, I always said I wanted to continue to learn, to become someone who could help change the world. And I knew that university was the way for me to do this, not lorries.

I was the first in my family to take the big step to leave my home county, the family business, the general life I knew, and go to university. That big step of coming to DMU, and stepping out my comfort zone is a step I am thankful for. A step I am also very aware may not have happened without funding from the government.

Without university funding, my parents may not have been able to support my decision to further my education. They may have had to decide on my own or my sister’s desire to continue to learn to give back…who needs the university education more – the psychologist or the primary school teacher?

Without funding, many students here at DMU and all over the country would also be in the same situation as I would have been in. Fewer students, young and old, would be able to develop the skills society needs. We would have far fewer doctors, pharmacists, engineers, artists, authors from backgrounds where this path in life may have seemed impossible.

Universities are an opportunity for people, much like you and I, to gain access to the education that we rightfully deserve. Education is not a privilege for the few, it is a chance for anyone, who so desires, to develop the knowledge and skills to better the public and social good.

We have universities up and down the country which allow that vision of ‘education for all’ to become a reality. Universities are here to share best practice, research ideas and innovate. Universities are a chance to strengthen, transform and enhance the communities you and I know so well.

Universities are vitally important in research that is conducted nationally, research that may be obvious to expect – medicinal studies, and further developments in science and the arts, but also research centres such as the Stephen Lawrence Research Centre that DMU is opening next May. The research centre is going to look into the history of ethnic minorities and West Indians in post-war Britain; the concept, practice and elimination of institution racism; the experience of major denials of justice and also the personal psychology of racial violence. These research themes will provide our community with invaluable information for years to come.  

Every single person in the country benefits from universities. Whether that’s our own development, the development of our co-workers, our doctors…we do not go a day without benefitting from the outcomes from a university education and experience.

A student I know decided to take the bold step to study nursing after years out of education looking after her family. She took this step to give back after witnessing all of the amazing work nurses and the NHS have provided her family in the past.

Another, now working for Leicestershire Police, decided to go to university to protect our students and our families. He felt like he had something to offer and that studying here, and working towards that goal was his way to do so. These students, much like many more that I’m sure we all know, decided to further their education to ensure that our society can benefit from the skills they have to offer.

But there are so many reasons as to why students study. Personal and social growth is key, but so are the potential and exciting new job prospects that come from a university education. For many, like I have previously mentioned, these things equate to individuals then giving back to society.

For me, the reason why I studied is that learning and development is something that I feel is within us all. As humans we are so inquisitive, always looking to make that next stride. The three years, for some even longer, we have at university enables these discoveries that will impact and benefit society in the future for years to come.

On a personal level, people do benefit privately from their time at university. We all long for the day we are dressed in our cap and gown, waiting in line to hear our name called out to collect the certificate that we worked hard to gain. But on a wider perspective: that certificate and those years spent to gain it, impact the society in a vast number of ways. The time spent at university, volunteering, working on research, developing those skills, can have such a positive influence the public in so many more ways. DMUlocal and DMU Square Mile are two ways in which the opportunities that universities have for students can positively influence an inordinate amount of people.

In Leicester alone, 10% of the income throughout the city comes from students, with 3% of the national income also from students, although this is not necessarily an educational notion, it shows how universities can impact the society in many more ways than previously mentioned.

The government needs to fund our universities. Simply, if funding ceases, universities will close. This will bring De Montfort University into threat. 75% of our students come from a widening participation background, many students are the first in their families to attend university, and others have additional commitments aside from their education, for instance, students with children, students who are carers, students who also need to work to cover the cost of living. These are the students who will also be at risk.

A high proportion of disabled students choose to attend DMU due to the support we can grant for them. Without funding, it would be enviable that this support would not be as strong as it currently is. Without funding, and the slash of the disabled students grant, 16% of our students could be in danger at our institution of getting the education that they so deserve. 

Without funding, we will only have universities who have the reserves to endure a decrease in funding. 24 universities will be deemed ‘safe’, compared to the countless post 1992 universities up and down the country who need this funding to support their students and society.

Therefore, this is why I truly believe that the variety of universities on offer, for differing demographics in society, has an overall positive impact on us all, and so we should continue to fight to enable institutions like ours to exist.

Thank you for listening.

Mollie also delivered a speech to DMU's newest international students during International Welcome Week alongside Usaid Nagaria, International Students' Representative at DSU.



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