A tribute from the CUPP team

Sir David, Vice-Chancellor between 1990 and 2005, left the University of Brighton to become Professor of Higher Education at the Institute of Education in London before joining the University of Oxford in 2010 as Principal of Green Templeton College and Professor of Higher Education. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Brighton in 2006. Below is a tribute written by the Cupp team shortly after his death.

“David Watson was Vice-Chancellor at the University of Brighton when Cupp first got going over 10 years ago. In fact, if it weren’t for David, there would never have been a Cupp at all.  His tragically early death last Sunday is an immense loss in so many areas of private and public life – including the cause of community-university engagement in the UK and across the globe.  For Cupp it means the loss of our ‘inventor’ and greatest advocate. Speaking in 2006 about the origins of Cupp, David himself said:

The history is begins where I appeared on a Radio 4 programme…about whether the expansion of higher education had been a good thing or a bad thing…I made a number of points in that programme about the democratic advantages of widening participation.  Following that I was actually contacted by a representative of our major funder for this project…..I think there was a sense that Brighton was making a case for growing out of the community.  And for giving a lot back to the community, and he was interested in pursuing that.  That’s the germ from which the notion of the Community-University project grew.  It drew together some things that the university was doing already, but it had an extra layer of external support which enabled us to move into some new, more experimental areas…. What makes Cupp particularly interesting is the nature of the dialogue between the community and the university that leads to projects.  We have created a space where our expertise, their needs and also their expertise in many instances can come together.

Cupp began in Brighton in 2003 and before David concluded his time as Vice-Chancellor there in 2005 he had already firmly embedded its intellectual roots, its guiding principles and its institutional location in the university’s core. That legacy has remained strong and enduring. But his influence did not end there, and,  over the past ten years David  has been an exceptional  international presence in making the case, through a wide-reaching  body of articles, books and lectures, for the primary duty of higher education (above all else) to serve the public good.

For David this principle was seen as fundamental to all aspects of university life – to teaching, to research, to partnerships with community organisations and business, to how we manage our affairs.  And this perspective then set community-university engagement – especially its newer and more experimental forms – at the heart of what universities are for.

David possessed a lucid and scholarly mastery of the histories of higher education, and his research captured and articulated the diversity of ways in which, in the 21st century, it is played out across the globe.  David’s work shows how community-university engagement is both part of the historic mission of universities and a necessary immediate step to meet the needs of contemporary societies. David always remained a close friend of Cupp – responding to requests for lectures (as at our tenth anniversary event in 2013), giving advice, exchanging ideas and being part of the same international university- community networks which have – often against the odds –  strengthened so much in the last decade.

We shall miss his presence – we do miss him – more than words can say. It is hugely sad to think of all the further work which he would have completed– which will never now be brought to a conclusion. Yet, in a sense that work, whenever it stopped, would always have been incomplete – as he often remarked – higher education is not a matter of who has the last word but is, rather, about a conversation between more and less experienced learners. In Cupp we shall continue that conversation into the future – the poorer for David’s absence, but infinitely the richer for the contributions he has made.”

The Talloiries network have compiled an outstanding tribute to David from colleagues around the world which can be found here http://talloiresnetwork.tufts.edu/blog/2015/04/15/sir-david-watson-1949-2015/

Watson. D (2007) Managing Civic And Community Engagement (Managing Universities and Colleges: Guides to Good Practice) Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Recent Posts