Few are better qualified to comment on the momentous changes taking place within the city’s University Quarter (UniQ) than Dr Steve Wyn Williams.
He’s a man who talks my language. A language that acknowledges that there was life before email and mobile telephones.
Earlier this week The Sentinel produced a special 16-page supplement updating people on the multi-million pound UniQ development.
It coincided with the official opening of the new £30m Science and Technology Centre on Leek Road – the UniQ’s latest piece of education-led regeneration which is transforming Hanley west, Shelton and Stoke.
The UniQ project is a partnership between Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College and Stoke-on-Trent City Council.
It aims to raise aspirations and levels of educational attainment among the people of North Staffordshire in order to make them more employable and while, at the same time, improving the area between Stoke Railway Station and the city centre.
It’s the most significant, focused regeneration project the city has seen since the 1986 Garden Festival and the results, thus far, are spectacular.
The UniQ is creating a distinct, ‘one-campus’ feel for university and college students alike and impressing visitors (and the locals) with stunning new architecture.
It is a far cry from when Steve first joined the staff at was the old North Staffs Polytechnic back in 1988.
He said: “It’s amazing really. These new buildings are making a statement. They are cutting-edge facilities and are really enhancing the learning experience for students.”
Steve, originally from North Wales, first moved to North Staffordshire 34 years ago when he took up a post at Keele University.
A geographer, he worked as a demonstrator for students at Keele – teaching them everything from map reading to data inspection skills.
Eight years later he joined North Staffs Poly as a lecturer in Geography.
He said: “I think it was a more relaxed time. Because the place was much smaller and had fewer students (5,000 to 7,000) there was also very much a community feel to it.
“I recall that everyone seemed to smoke back then – in the corridors, the bars and even the lecture theatres.
“You’d see lecturers puffing away as they taught. Indeed, the whole place seemed to be under a constant fog.”
Now aged 59, Steve has risen through the ranks to become first Head of Geography and is now Dean of Academic Policy and Development.
However, he recalls his early days at the old Poly, which became Staffordshire University in 1992, with fondness.
He said: “When I came here in the late 1980s we are talking about the very early days of computing. We’d write memos to colleagues and students and stick them in pigeon-holes and then wait a week for a response.
“The students themselves would carry around bags containing big, heavy text books which they would actually have to read.
“Students received grants, of course, and there was a sense that they felt privileged to be at studying at the Poly university because only a minority went on to higher education at that time.
“Nowadays, of course, around 40 per cent of school and college leavers go on to receive a university education which, in itself, presents different challenges.”
Nowadays Staffordshire University is a truly international place of study, looking after around 20,000 students, 2,850 of whom at the Stoke campus are from overseas.
Steve said: “We are acutely aware that students are now our customers. We like to view them as customer-partners because while they are paying to come here and study it can only be a success for them if they are prepared to put the work in.
“The university has always had a reputation for delivering courses which give students skills which are perhaps more vocational-based and enhance their employability skills and, given the current climate, that has never been more important.”
Steve added: “I’m very passionate about the university and our students and I’ve been lucky enough to have been involved with the UniQ project for several years now.
“Seeing the changes taking place, it makes me incredibly proud to have contributed in some small way and that the university I work for has such wonderful facilities and ambition.”
Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia