Ifte and I went for an afternoon’s explore at the newly created Dyson Institute – an offshoot of Warwick University nestled within the Dyson HQ in the middle of nowhere in Wiltshire. 33 undergrads in the first year of the experiment. 1 day of intensive lectures, 1 day of self-study, and 3 days working as an engineer for the company. The students/employees get paid, rather than paying, for the experience. A fascinating model, always a privilege to visit somewhere with a strong vision.
Here are some thoughts from the day:
- 4% of students study engineering in the UK. In Singapore it is 40%. What is the ideal number?
- Despite it being an Open Day, the closest we got to seeing any engineering was being shown the terrifyingly secure doors, controlled by fingerprint scanners, that let in the engineers to the inner sanctum. A shame.
- Is learning only worthwhile if it has a direct impact to industry? What is the link between university and employment? Is this a commercialisation of learning? A necessary evil or something to be actively celebrated?
- Universities still have a role to play. It is just that the more varied the options for students, the better
- Currently the institute had a standard A level offer. Given that students’ experiences at school will be so varied, why bother? With a cohort of 30 students you can assess in more personal ways, and support those who need it at the beginning of their journey.
- Only 1 in 8 engineers are female. Ask a child to draw an engineer and they will draw a dirty man fixing something, rather than a woman creating something beautiful.
- We heard of teachers transforming their practice with the help of inspiration from the Dyson Foundation. A class of quiet students methodically filing away at their acrylic torches was transformed into a class of joyful chaos, students all pursuing products that have a real need.
- Dyson is a deliberately youthful organisation. James Dyson, at our swanky meal, said “I crave naïveté and hate experience”.
- Speaking of James, his name was dropped constantly by everyone throughout the day. I asked about this, and the employees spoke of him as a centralised point of inspiration, rather than as a weight crushing down on them. Fine balance for a figurehead to strike.
- One of the students said “At school, the teacher knows the right answer. Here, they have no idea. If they already knew, then there would be no point in asking”. This is not the distinction between school and university, but between bad and good teaching?
- I overheard a Dyson student complaining to his teacher – “You made us de-bug a computer program just using pen and paper. When would we never need to do that?” The tyranny of relevance rears its head here – learning for learning’s sake has scarpered?
Thank you to the Dyson Institute for a fascinating insight into a really exciting new journey. Best of luck!! It has reminded me to get stuck into the world of university teaching.