Motivated to make a real difference to young people

PROFESSOR Les Ebdon’s light-hearted advice to his successor as vice-chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire is “be immortal, so you don’t have to retire”, writes business editor David Tooley.

Only a matter of days after he picked up the first ever lifetime achievement accolade at the Rising Stars awards, Prof Ebdon announced he will be stepping down in September next year.

“Maybe they are trying to tell me something,” said Prof Ebdon, who grew up on a ‘corporation estate’ in Hemel Hempstead.

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“But I won’t be leaving the post until September and I will be working very hard up until that deadline because there are still things that I want to achieve at this university.”

The university has changed immensely since Prof Ebdon arrived in 2003. A merger with the Bedford campus of De Montfort University, new student accommodation and plans for a training centre are just a few of the strides forward.

“I came with some clear strategy ideas,” said Prof Ebdon. “We had problems with recruitment and retention. Those were the key things to deal with.”

He said success wasn’t about being obsessed with league tables but an obsession with being the “most welcoming and friendly university.”

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The university now contributes an estimated £270million a year to the local economy as well as graduates who start companies.

“We can’t be the engine of the economy but we can be the gearbox that allows the economy to pick up speed,” he said.

Prof Ebdon admitted he is ‘not a great person for detail’ but has a capacity to see what’s ahead. “If I have had success it’s because I have called the future right.”

Professor Ebdon is a Baptist lay preacher and while he has his beliefs he says as head of a secular university it is not his job to force his faith “down other people’s throats”.

But he admitted that in the tough early days having people offer their prayers gave strength.

> See Natalee Hazelwood’s video at