From education to employment

How results day setback and a teacher’s stinging criticism set Coventry University Provost on life-changing journey

Coventry University Provost Ian Dunn was told by a teacher he’d never speak French after picking up his exam results – now he’s not just fluent in the language but is making sure young people who find themselves in a similar position this results day have the support and encouragement he did not receive. 

The stinging words could have crushed his dreams but Ian was determined to prove that teacher wrong – and he did, joining Coventry University – back when it was known as Lanchester Polytechnic – through Clearing to study Engineering with French. He gained undergraduate and postgraduate engineering qualifications in the French education system before returning to Coventry to start his teaching career.

As he celebrates his 30th year working at the university the Provost, who grew up in Stoke-on-Trent and South Cheshire and was the first in his family to attend university, has been a champion for investing in support services as Coventry University continues to grow its reputation for student experience and teaching and learning quality.

He said: “When I got my results, my French grade was not great, but I passed, and I was pleased with that. 

“One of my teachers said, ‘I told you you’d never speak French, you should never have tried’.

“It was so damaging for a teacher to say that but it was also a motivation.

“My grades would have taken me off to do mathematics and statistics but I didn’t want to pursue that path.

“So I pulled out of the offers I had and sat with a career’s advisor in the library at school, there was no internet, so they pulled an A5 flyer out of a filing cabinet that had engineering with French at Lanchester Polytechnic.

“It was a moment of serendipity, a leaflet that gave me the opportunity to carry on something that I really enjoyed, and I’d been motivated by a teacher telling me I was rubbish.

“I was offered a place and I went on to get undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the French education system and my French is fluent – unfortunately, I have never had the chance to say that to that teacher!

“Nobody should be told they are rubbish and I think that once we have admitted a student to the university, we have a responsibility to help that person be as successful as they can be and want to be.

“I want Coventry University to be even more well known for our support, for our student experience and our teaching and learning quality.”

While Ian did not get the support from that teacher, he did find support and mentors when he moved to Coventry in 1986, and he has seen first-hand how the university has developed its support services to prepare students for university. 

He said: “My first in family background did not prepare me for university but now we have lots of things in place to support people, as we know how big a step it is. 

“Now at our university once you enrol, to support your personal and academic journey, you’ll have access to a Success Coach and be introduced to your Academic Tutors. They are there to help you to settle in and with your career, studies, health and wellbeing throughout your time with us. We also have a software platform called Vygo that brings peer support and mentoring to all students from day one. 

“Finding mentors in all stages of life is important. When I turned up for my interview, after scaring my mum on my first introduction to the ring road, I met the late Professor Stan Harvey, a wonderful, inspirational man who would offer me a place and go on to offer me a job as my first head of department.”

And Ian shares his advice to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position to him on results day. 

He said: “My advice is, do not stress and be calm. Clearing is not something to be afraid of, it is a chance to make a decision about your life.

“Look at Clearing as an opportunity to change your mind, or make up your mind, that is exactly what I did.

“Try to hold a place and visit, that way you can make sure it is the right course, academic environment, and a comfortable fit for you.

“There are lots of other people in the same boat, so take your time, identify what might be on offer to you and do not be afraid in any way of taking a step. Learning can be life changing – and I speak from experience.”

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