My earliest memory of Cranfield University is moving into the newly built number 9 Handley Page Close and then taking the bus to Aspley Guise to go to junior school there. I can also recall playing in the hangars and in the planes stored there. I was especially impressed with the TSR2, V2 rocket and the Lancaster bomber. As children, we treated the university as a large adventure playground – it was wonderful for me and my elder brother Paul! We were into everything and everywhere we should not have been. We ranged from the sewage farm, damming the stream, climbing tall trees, playing chicken with landing aircraft on our way to Scouts and to visit friends in Cranfield village, and pretending to fly the various aircraft parked all over the apron. We were friends with the children of other academics and played all over the greens and in the surrounding countryside. It was ideal.
We came to live in Cranfield because my father, Professor Colin Kirk (now 88 years old), came to the university from a job as an associate professor at University of Arizona in Tucson. He joined as a senior lecturer in the College of Aeronautics under Professor Keith-Lucas. He found the College to be quite stuffy at first and said it was nothing like his experience in the USA where they were very ‘go ahead’. However, his opinion changed over the years as new talent came in, and in particular working with Robin Langley (now deputy Head of Engineering at Cambridge) he did some very satisfying work in dynamics.
I always knew that Cranfield had a leading Management School. When I was 31 and working as Head of Public Relations at Manchester Airport I decided I need to get an MBA, and Cranfield was on my short list – along with Manchester, Warwick, Sheffield and Aston. Cranfield won out because they had their own entrance test which I passed and because I could live with my parents in Bedford. I did like the idea of returning to the campus after 20 years and seeing my Dad for lunch in the Stafford Cripps building. The fact that I had played on the building site that became the School of Management in 1968 was an extra attraction as I had never been inside the finished article. I really loved my time on the MBA. The best thing was the quality of the other students who came from very varied backgrounds and from whom I learned a great deal. The worst thing was statistics with which I struggled until it ‘clicked’, but we loved the classes with the legendary Professor John Mapes, and especially the case study about the “pizza pie” restaurant.
The University has developed physically almost beyond recognition but the retention of the airfield and hangars provides a permanent reference point to the past. The range of subjects has developed and changed with economic and social demand, but Cranfield remains a high-quality, niche university with an excellent reputation. And of course, it’s the people you remember – for me, it’s Professor David Myddelton, the accountancy guru. His economic and financial analysis was incredible and he has a very sharp sense of humour! In 1990-91 he was one of the principal advisors to the Government on tax matters. There was also Mrs Pashley, who was a lovely woman from Moulsoe who ran the College cubs, and she made me very welcome as an eight year old in 1967, fresh from the USA with no friends.
Cranfield is undoubtedly a place of quirky traditions and I remember that anyone late to a lecture on the MBA had either to tell a joke or pay a £5 fine, and if no-one laughed at the joke they still had to pay the £5. The overnight WAC (Written Assessment of Case) had to be handed in before 10am at the security gatehouse. I once saw a colleague tripping over the front step and breaking his leg as he fell, because he was so anxious to hand his work in on time. As he fell, his folder shot across the floor and came to rest by the reception door. It was 9.59am.
Cranfield is different to other universities because of its genesis. It has always been close to industry and business and it is proud of that fact. The location is also unique. Some of what I learned at Cranfield is only just coming into use now that I am in a senior role, and that is nearly 30 years later. At the time I remember thinking “when will this ever be relevant?” It is now.